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You'll need to warm up on the irons-only practice range before you tackle the golf course at The Preserve at Jordan Lake near Chapel Hill, NC. The Davis Love III course is a stiff challenge, right from its opening hole. A short par 5 at just 492 from the men's tees (512 from the back), it is one of the toughest starters I have played, with a fairway that slopes severely left toward a creek and marsh area and then forces a second shot that must carry the same creek as it meanders across the fairway (and you better hit a power draw to position for a reasonable third shot). The pin on the elevated green was rear right, behind a menacing trap. We prefer our warm-up holes a tad less penal.
Later, have a Power Bar or two at the turn, because you'll need the energy on the par four 10th. A dogleg right, it plays 438 from the men's tees (470 from the back) over a stream, with a trap guarding the inside elbow at 222 yards out from the tee box. If you are fortunate to have hit a 250-yard drive down the left side of the fairway, only 180 yards or so remains to carry the stream that guards the front of the long, deep green. That is a big "if," since the dog's leg is narrowest where good drives should wind up. We won't easily forget number 14 either, a 500-yard par 5 that dares you to carry a long second shot (or short-iron third) to pin positions set beyond 30 feet of false front. "False" is putting it mildly, since the front goes almost straight up. We wondered if they throw a rope around the guy who cuts the green to keep him from tipping over.
Players with handicaps of 13 or more shouldn't go near the men's tees (rating 72.7 and slope of 140), and many will suffer frustrations from the shorter tees (6,116 yards with a rating of 70.6 and slope of 128). As for the tips at 7,100 yards (75.1 and 145), the scorecard recommends that routing for handicaps of 6 or less. The 6-handicap may be a 10 after a few rounds at The Preserve.
The community that surrounds the course has grown quickly since properties were first sold in 2002, the same year its golf course opened. Lots average ½ acre, although some top one acre, with prices generally running from $150,000. The developers maintain a list of four "preferred" builders who account for more than 90% of the homes built to date. The Preserve is not gated and, for the time being, anyone can play the "semi-private" course by calling for a tee time.
The Preserve, which has no townhouses or condos, has a neighborhood feel to it. Landscaping throughout is well maintained by the residents who are an equal mix of young professionals and "empty nesters," age 55 and older. However, if you have done your job of raising kids and would like to be in the company of adults-only in your new community, there may be better options than The Preserve. The young adults have produced a significant number of offspring.
All the customary amenities are available on the property. The fitness center is modern but small; more than the current two tennis courts may be needed at full build out. For water aficionados, Jordan Lake is close, but we did not have a peek at it as we made our way around the golf course.
The Preserve, which seems out in the country, is 30 minutes from mall shopping and 15 minutes from a supermarket and pharmacy, but commerce is coming closer every day; a few miles down NC Highway 64, the big handyman chains Lowes and Home Depot are both putting up stores. The University of North Carolina Hospital is just 20 minutes away.
The Preserve at Jordan Lake is more like The Preserve Near Jordan Lake; the lake is actually across the road from the entrance to the community. Nevertheless, the community is finding its audience.
The Preserve course is tough enough without pins tucked behind bunkers.
A few areas around the country have so much to offer to so many that they defy the gravity (double entendre intended) of falling house prices and the reality of higher home inventories. Austin, TX, is a prime example (as opposed to a subprime example -- sorry, couldn't resist).
Austin has been considered for decades one of the best values in retirement living. Texas has no state income tax, and Austin is a huge-university town (University of Texas) with all that has to offer in the way of vitality, continuing education and a stable economy.
Real estate reports in Austin indicate that May was good month. Single family home sales were up 2 percent over the same month in 2006, according to the Austin Business Journal, the highest May ever. The median price for a home, a reasonable $183,160, was up 5 percent year over year.
Although total listings were up 8 percent, houses were closing faster, at just 55 day, down 7 percent from May 2006. Best of all for local homeowners, prices appreciated more than 10 percent in the first quarter of this year compared with the same quarter last year; that was double the national average.
Real estate in the Austin area remains reasonbly priced; you can find a nice single-family home with golf views, three bedrooms and three baths for less than $400,000.
Our real estate contact in Austin, a member of our growing network and a golfer, is familiar with all the golf course communities, private clubs and best neighborhoods in the area. If you would like us to put you in touch with him, please let us know. Remember there is no cost or obligation for you. Later this year we will visit Austin for in-depth reviews of the golf communities in the area.
Airline travel is becoming more inhuman by the week. Computer malfunctions, toilet backups, cattle car seating are just the most notorious stories. We used to fly back and forth to South Carolina from Connecticut, but we are doing that less and less (We lament the loss of Independence Air, which seemed to be doing almost everything right except making money). It's too much work to find a seat at a halfway decent price, and no price is worth the inconveniences.
For others who travel between homes north and south, or who vacation at southern golf resorts, driving isn't the worst option. There are essentially three major routes south that we have used, and they all have their positives and negatives. For convenience, I refer to them as: The Inland Route; The I-95 Route; and the Ferry Route.
The Inland Route is along Interstate 81 through central Pennsylvania and relatively short drives through small swatches of Maryland and West Virginia before the interstate moves through the states of Viriginia and North Carolina. The positives: generally clear sailing and nice views of the mountains. The I-95 Route is the traditional one most folks take to Florida. It is the most direct when you can avoid traffic in Baltimore, Washington and Richmond. That's a big if; many veterans of the trip drive through the night to limit the chances of a two-hour stoppage (that's happened to us too many times during midday drives). The most services -- restaurants, gas stations, etc. -- are along the I-95 corridor.
The ferry and Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel is a nice option but, like I-81, will cost you a few hours. But what you lose in time you more than make up for in lack of stress. The ferry from Cape May, NJ to Lewes, DE -- and vice versa -- will give you an hour to unwind outside your car. And side benefits are that both Cape May and Lewes are charming seaside towns with cafes and shops that will provide a nice diversion if you are early for your ferry crossing. There is also something to be said for the drive across (and under) the Bay, a $12 adventure that also chops off a good piece of geography on the road south.
I head south on the I-81 route today. In the coming weeks, I'll offer some ideas about golf courses and other attractions along these routes, each of which offer benefits and downsides. Weather and traffic permitting, I may even get in a round of golf today in Virginia.
Sales of "vacation," or "weekend," homes rose nearly 5 percent nationwide last year, up by a half million to 1.07 million, according to the National Association of Realtors, as reported in the Hartford (CT) Courant. I'm not a big fan of the NAR's observations, which tend to hyperventilate on the optimistic side, but their numbers do seem to reflect reality.
Across the nation, sales of primary residences fell 4.1 percent, implying that at least some folks are adopting a stock-market strategy of "laddering," buying what they think is a bargain second home whose value will rise later and take the sting out of a soft market for their primary home. If the overall market snaps back, then they win both ways (something like a "double down" in blackjack). This notion is backed by responses to the NAR survey; 34 percent of those who purchased a vacation home did so to "diversify" their investments.
Not surprisingly, the share of vacation homes sold was greatest in the south, at 38 percent, followed by the west and northeast, both at 25 percent. By far, the most popular type of vacation home is single-family (63 percent), followed by condos (26 percent). Rural (29), resorts (24) and suburban (22) were the most popular locations for the homes.
In a separate report on baby boomers, the NAR indicates that boomers plan to live in their current primary homes for a median of five more years and that only 5 percent of them already own at least one vacation home. The migration south will continue.
You can read the Courant's story here, although it has a Connecticut orientation.