Golf Community Reviews

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Monday, 18 June 2007 06:56

Ground floor opportunity

    Flooding is a nasty word to many golf community owners, especially those who live in coastal areas.  But many happy homeowners live on properties that were the result of controlled flooding by the government in the name of hydroelectricity in the middle of last century.  Although power was the primary concern, the flooding also spawned thousands of homes and golf courses on manmade lakes.
    One such property is Lake Blackshear Plantation, which is set beside the 8,700-acre lake from which the community takes its name.  Blackshear is just a few miles from Interstate 75 in south central Georgia, near the town of Cordele, and it features all the customary amenities of a golfing community, such as pool, fitness center, and clubhouse. Boat related facilities are planned as well.  Homes are reasonably priced, as you would expect for a community that is a few hours from any major urban area; Atlanta is a good two hours up the interstate.  Villas start below $200,000, and single-family homes begin in the $200s.  Many properties on the golf course are still available.
    For the price of a high-end home, the golf course itself is available to those not content with a simple membership.  Golf Course Brokers, Inc. has the course listed at $1.75 million, which includes a 70-seat restaurant and 3,300 foot clubhouse.  That seems a reasonable price for a full-fledged course in the midst of a fair-sized community; with proper marketing and a quality operation, the course could attract most of its members from the neighborhood (the course is daily fee for now).  
    The Ray Jensen layout, which reaches 6,900 yards at the tips, winds its way across and around ponds and streams and is set on rolling land amid the ubiquitous loblolly pines of this part of Georgia.  Golf Digest gave the course a 4-star rating.

Reading the fine print

    A recent piece of legislation in Maryland is a good reminder for all of us counting on a certain level of amenities, including the golf course, in our next living situation.  Regulation H679 "would require that, in Prince George's County, a homebuilder that agrees to provide a community amenity to a community development must include specified information in the contract of sale."  The legislation also provides for penalties in the case of non-compliance.
    When shopping for a home in a golf course community, ask tough questions and read the fine print.  Buyers have a little more leverage than they have had in recent years, and you may be able to help the developer write your sales contract.

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Sunday, 17 June 2007 06:10

The Ultimate Father's Day Gift?

    I'm counting on a pair of golf shorts or two from my wife and children for Father's Day today, although yesterday I went out and bought myself a new digital camera to improve the photos here on the web site and in the HomeOnTheCourse community guide. (By the way, a subscription would make a great Father's Day gift or belated Mother's Day gift at just $39 a year, hint hint.)  But in my wildest fantasy, I wouldn't mind membership in one of those destination clubs that feature a range of high-end properties in renowned golfing locations.    
    Private Escapes is one such destination company.  The firm's ad in the latest edition of Travel & Leisure Golf indicates that, if I hurry, I can gobble up one of the 16 remaining charter "positions" in the Pinnacle category of membership, and save $65,000.  I can stay in $3 million "private" homes that include such high-end accoutrements as Bang & Olufsen entertainment systems, and I'll play the finest courses on Kiawah Island, at La Quinta, The Abaco Club in the Bahamas, Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic and many other locations.  And when I need a break from golf, a nice apartment on Central Park in New York City will be waiting for me, with the refrigerator stocked by my Private Escapes concierge.
    If I have to ask how much all this costs, well then I can't afford it.  But since this is a dream, here goes:  Individual Pinnacle membership, the most expensive of the three plans offered, requires a $325,000 one-time fee, 100% refundable if you are one of the lucky charter members (other plans return 80%).  It permits unlimited nightly stays.  Annual dues, billed quarterly, are $22,000, and nightly fees are $185.  The entry-level Premiere membership carries a $105,000 initiation fee, $7,700 a year in dues and just $82 in nightly fees (again, unlimited nightly stays for the individual plan).  Corporate and extended family plans are priced the same or a little higher -- depending on the plan you choose -- than the individual plan, but overnight stays are restricted to 40 per year, plus seven nights of reciprocal privileges with the other clubs.  (The three private clubs, each with their own set of properties, provide limited reciprocal privileges with the others.)  Private Escapes' web site is private-escapes.com .
    The destination club model will appeal to those with a little wanderlust, and who want variety as well as high quality.  It won't appeal to those who like sleeping in their own beds and find owning traditional real estate comforting.  Also, if it is important to you to know well your fellow members at your private club, the destination model is not for you.
    Still, if variety does spice up your life, then the destination club may be appealing.  As with buying a home on a course, do your homework, ask lots of questions, and kick the tires of any destination club you might choose to consider.  The best source for information about the industry, including insights into the two-dozen clubs available, is The Helium Report .  Their web site is informative, comprehensive and offers free reports.

Saturday, 16 June 2007 05:33

Wilmington singing new tune downtown

    Wilmington, NC, has many cultural activities to recommend it.  But a viable concert hall isn't one of them.  That may change if a growing group of Wilmington citizens have their way.

    The group, ARCH, for Alliance for a Regional Concert Hall, has been working for a decade to get the city's fathers to consider building a performing arts center to host shows, concerts and ballet.  The only venue for such cultural events has been UNC Wilmington, the local branch of the state's university system.  Now local government officials are entertaining proposed plans for the expansion of the city's riverfront district, which would have room for a performing arts center as well as marina and residences, most likely condos.  It is exciting stuff for a city that has had a lot easier time attracting movie companies to shoot films in the area than it has attracting industry.  Maybe the performing arts center will help.

    We have a great real estate contact in Wilmington who is knowledgeable about the area's golf course communities and a member of one of its better golf courses.  If you are planning a visit to the area and would like a tour or just some information, let us know and we will be pleased to put you in touch at no cost or obligation whatsoever to you. 



  Porters Neck Plantation is one good option in communities near Wilmington.
















Porters Neck Plantation is one of the best choices of golf course communities in the Wilmington area. 

    Every time I see his picture taken with some developer or other, Jack Nicklaus looks tired.  Not to sound too motherly, but he needs a little more sleep, maybe a few more carbs to round out the flesh a little.  

    The Golden Bear could be the busiest man on the planet right now, certainly the most in-demand of all the golf architects.  His 60 projects in process worldwide under the Nicklaus Design name will bring his total to nearly 400.  His reputation as a designer is what it was as a player -- a fussy perfectionist.  Those courses that bear the Nicklaus "Signature" designation get a lot of his attention, as opposed to those under the Nicklaus Design umbrella which are largely administered by the Bear's excellent group of senior designers (but you can bet his hand is on those projects as well).

    Perhaps it is ironic that Nicklaus has now taken on a "sponsor" of sorts, something a wannabe tour player will do early in a career to pay expenses from week to week with the thought, to the investor, of a nice return if the player becomes a consistent winner.  New York billionaire Howard Millstein is paying $145 million for a stake in a new Nicklaus company that encompasses the Bear's design, licensing and golf club activities.  In short, it looks as if Nicklaus has rung the register.  After racking up thousands of miles in his Gulfstream and establishing the most successful golf design company in the world, maybe he has looked in the mirror and counted his days away from his grandchildren and will now slow down a little at age 67. 

    And maybe not.

    One 80 something who never seems to slow down is the icon of corporate takeovers, Carl Icahn.  He has been after the huge Florida developer, WCI Communities, and has put together nearly 15 percent of WCI's shares, the largest holding of any of the company's shareowners.  WCI earlier this week postponed its annual meeting so it could regroup and take other offers, but with the Florida condo market deep in the dumper, and WCI a big player in that arena, company shareowners are restive.  Icahn usually gets what he wants, and it will be interesting to see what a financial acquisition of a major developer will do to community real estate in Florida and across the south.  We will stay tuned.



Thursday, 14 June 2007 05:59

Can you stand the heat?

    Climate is a major criterion for choosing a home on the course.  Except for those lucky individuals with oceanfront property in Florida, the Sunshine State's flat, often boring topography is certainly not an attraction.  Frankly, Arizona provides more diversity of views than does Florida (again, except for those on or near the beach).  Real estate agents in the Carolinas report more and more people from Florida are buying property in the Blue Ridge mountains, and their chief complaint about Florida is the heat in the summer (and the traffic and, for those at the coast, the bump up in insurance premiums).  These "bounce backs," who moved originally from north to south, are now content to generate their own winter warmth with a sweater or jacket.

    If you are planning to live in just one place in retirement, it makes good sense to spend a few experimental weeks in your preferred location during the dog days of summer.  Play golf at all times of the day as an experiment to see if you can stand the heat.  Determine if your intended course opens for play early enough in the morning so that you can complete your round by 11.  The nice thing about taking the temperature of the lifestyle in a hot weather climate in summer is that rentals are abundant and cheap.

    Be mindful that it is not just about the heat but rather the combination of heat and humidity, or the Temperature Humidity Index (THI).  Residents of the desert southwest are fond of saying, "Yeah, it's hot, but it's a dry heat."  Residents of Florida can make no such claim but, on the other hand, you can almost set your clock by the afternoon summer thunderstorms that cool down temperatures, at least for a while. 

    Weather.com has a decent function to compare high and low temperatures between two cities on a month by month basis (although when we tried it earlier, it did not work).  We have yet to find a site with a good comparison of THI, but we'll keep looking and hope if one of our faithful readers knows of one, they will leave a comment here.





    Sometimes developers bite off more than they can chew.  Six hundred acres and a golf course at a small price per acre probably seem like a good idea at the height of the market.  But then the folks from New York and D.C. stop looking and you go over budget for the golf course, the community infrastructure and the nicely appointed clubhouse and, before you know it, things go all soft and squishy and reality sets in.
    The Highlands in Franklin, West Virginia, 600 acres and an 18-hole golf course, will be auctioned off on July 19th.  Background details are a little sketchy, but there is an odor of desperation about the sale.  Last year the owners put a reserve price on the property and the highest bid didn't meet it.  This time around it will be an "absolute auction," which means the community and course will go to the low bidder, no matter how low.   The road that runs alongside the golf course is called Troublesome Valley.  Someone either had great prognostication powers or a gallows sense of humor.
    The Highlands Golf Club opened in May 2006 and was designed by Bill Ward, a West Virginia architect who has completed 17 other projects in the region.  He carved the Highlands from a pine tree forest in the Potomac Highlands, and his design appears to follow the contours of the land; from photos I looked at, he didn't move a lot of earth.  
    Ward has an inclination to add one unforgettable hole on each of his courses; at Meadows Farms in Virginia, for example, he built the Guinness Book of Records' longest par 6 in America, an 841-yard monster.  At The Highlands, he built his excess around the greens on two successive holes on the back side.  The approach shot to number 10, a par 4 and arguably Highlands' signature hole (and its #1 handicap hole), is played to a small island green set in the middle of a small lake and reached by an iron bridge.  The pro shop estimates the green's dimensions at 30 yards deep by 20 yards wide. 

    The 11th, another par 4, presents a similarly sized green totally surrounded by sand.  Holes 13 through 16 are significant doglegs, with the approach to number 13 requiring a long drive down the right side to afford a view of the green snuggled behind the trees at a 90-degree left angle to the fairway.  To add an element of intimidation, out of bounds stakes run down the right side of the hole.
    Championship tees play to 6,800 yards with the men's tees a more reasonable 6,250 and the ladies tees just 4,680.  The senior tees play to less than 5,700 yards.  The course rating from the back tees is 73.7 with a slope of 144.  Comparables from the men's tees are 71.0 and 138.  This is not by any means an easy course, but it charges reasonable daily fees as low as $35.
    In its first abbreviated year of operation - the course opened in May 2006 - The Highlands hosted 15,000 rounds of golf, and based on rounds played so far this year, the run rate appears to be about 30,000 rounds, not bad for an April to October season.  The pro shop says most of its traffic is from the I-81 corridor of Virginia and the towns of Harrisonburg and Staunton, about 45 minutes away, but some folks from Washington, D.C., about three hours away, will make a long weekend of it in the area.
    Franklin, WVA sits in the valley between two large national forests west of Interstate 81 - the Washington and Jefferson and the Monongahela Forests.  Together they comprise about a million acres of public land.  From my research, and drives through the area in the past, it must be the kind of property that can make a man dream large.
    I am still waiting for a call back from Albert Burney, the auction house, handling the sale.  If more details become available, I will provide an update here.  The golf course has a nice web site with course layout and descriptions at HighlandsGolfWV.com.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007 09:27

Up for auction; details soon

    I am working on an article about a 600-acre development in West Virginia that includes a nice-looking and challenging new golf course.  Everything will go to the high bidder at an auction on July 19.  As soon as I talk with the auction house, in the next hour, I will post the story here.  Stay tuned.

    Queens Gap, a new community in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, is an interesting story.  Its visionary developer, Ohio-bred Devin McCarthy, sold a chemical business he had started in his basement and parlayed his newfound millions into land purchases in Ohio and Florida.  But after a few trips to the mountains, he was smitten.  McCarthy started buying land near Rutherfordton, NC, 20 minutes from the manmade Lake Lure and about an hour's drive from the popular Asheville area.  He scoped out a 3,500-acre tract at elevations up to 2,800 feet and set about developing a property with virtually every popular amenity, including a wellness center and spa, an equestrian center, and a Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course set to open early in 2009.  
    Queens Gap seems as if it is trying to sniff the same air as the amenities-loaded Cliffs Communities (even the Queens Gap logo, a circle with overlapping mountains, echoes the Cliffs own logo).  The choicest land at Queens Gap - an abundant 600 acres of it - was presented to Nicklaus to ensure the best possible routing and little encroachment from homes.  But the golf course, according to Queens Gap Land Consultant John Stump, is not the main attraction in the community.
    "Our research said our market is first and foremost interested in hiking and walking trails," he says.  A $1 million budget has been allocated for the trails, quite a healthy commitment to the fitness of Queens Gap's residents.
    The community's target market is substantially people who are still working but are seriously contemplating retirement.  The developers are confident those who purchase a second-home in the community will eventually move there full time.  Perhaps by then the local services will have caught up with all the development in the area of Lake Lure, which is about 20 minutes away but a circuitous, if beautiful, one-hour ride from Asheville.  Currently, a supermarket is a 40-minute round trip from Queens Gap, and doctors and hospitals are at a similar distance.  Rutherfordton and its town fathers, having suffered the loss of jobs to overseas competition in textiles and furniture making, have developed a strategic plan to orient the town's economy toward services, but reality is still a few years away.  In the meantime, Queens Gap has taken a page from the destination-club playbook and will offer its second-home residents "concierge" service:  Call before you arrive at your home, and the concierge will stock your refrigerator and get things in order for you.  
    At full build out, the community will encompass 1,400 residences, most single family.  The remaining 70 lots in Phase I range in price from the mid $200s to the $800s; the higher priced properties are located on a ridgeline with long views to Mount Mitchell and Grandfather Mountain to the west.  Membership in Queens Gap's club is mandatory for owners; there is a choice of golf or social membership, and all amenities are included.  As an incentive to sell the remaining 70 of the original 200 lots in Phase 1, the developer is offering free golf membership.  John Stump says the value of the membership is $25,000 "but it will likely rise when the course opens."  Until opening, no membership dues will be assessed.
    I was caught up short last week when I heard an advertisement for Queens Gap on a nationally syndicated talk show on XM Satellite radio.  It was the first time I had heard any community market itself on a national radio program.  It shows Queens Gap is mindful of its competition from the Cliffs and others in the Carolina mountains and that it is serious about appealing to a broad constituency.  John Stump says satellite radio is an efficient way for them to advertise becaue they can reach their niche demographic without spending too much.
    Queens Gap's niche appears to be well-to-do folks of the conservative political persuasion, and the developers are spending liberally to appeal to that cohort.  The stations the community advertises on include Fox News and America Right, a satellite station that counts G. Gordon Liddy, Laura Ingraham and Dr. Laura Schlesinger among its hosts.  Don't count on many neighbors from San Francisco at Queens Gap.    

    Queens Gap Land Consultant John Stump can be reached at John@queensgap.com .

Monday, 11 June 2007 06:41

Augusta National way better than par

    In our informal poll over the last week, Augusta National beat out Pine Valley by a margin of 5 to 1 as the course our readers would most like to play.  The responses to this week's poll question will help us better serve you by giving us an idea of what is most important in a golf course community.  Thanks.
    Florida does not charge its residents a state income tax.  For that reason, the Sunshine State has been especially attractive to well-heeled retirees with investment portfolios that generate significant dividend income.  But in terms of total tax burden, Alabama is a better deal.  And if you don't mind wearing a sweater on the course in winter, Tennessee is the best deal of all.
    Sales and property taxes neutralize the positive effects of a zero income tax.  Of the states where you can play golf year round, Tennessee is 48th in tax burden, taking an average 8.5 percent from its citizens.  Alabama follows at #46, assessing an average total 8.8 percent, with Texas at #43 (9.3 percent), Florida #38 (10 percent), and Virginia #33 (10.2 percent).  A chart at RetirementLiving.com ranks all the states by total tax burden.
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