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You just don't see this every day on a golf course, as you do at Mountain Air.


    I won't easily forget the day I spent 18 months ago at Mountain Air near Burnsville, NC, just about 35 minutes northwest of Asheville.  It isn't every day that you wait for an airplane to land before you can cross a runway to get from green to next tee.  Or hit a six-iron 200 yards (assisted by thin air and about five stories of elevation).  Or watch a plane set down not 60 yards away from your table at the 19th hole.  Or drive your golf cart about a half-mile to the practice tee.  This kind of experience at almost 5,000 feet is cool, literally and figuratively (about 15 degrees (F) cooler than down in Asheville on a July day).
    The landing strip and golf course share the top of the mountain at Mountain Air.  The course, by little known architect Scott Pool, is a roller coaster affair, with unusually small greens, some of them perched on the edge of the mountain.  The golf is not for the faint of heart, but the views out along the Blue Ridge Mountains are dramatic and exhilarating.
    The developers, the local Banks family, are adding another nine holes to the original 18, to be named the Banks Creek Nine.  A new development of maintenance-free single-family homes, called Spring Rock, will look out over the new course.  Each home will feature almost 2,600 square feet of living space and three or four bedrooms.  Although prices were not available, we'd expect them to come in from the mid to high six figures.  The community's Cabins at Creekside, slightly smaller detached single-family homes, run $400,000 to $650,000, and the Hawks Ledge Cottages, slightly larger, from $650,000 to $1 million.       

    Mountain Air has done a great job of situating home sites with commanding views.  Not surprisingly, the community appeals to well-heeled professional and amateur pilots.  It also employs a full-time naturalist to take club members on discovery walks amid the wide range of flora and fauna; I was 100_0724mtna1 particularly impressed by the list of animals that local home owners had spotted, indicated on the blackboard outside the nature office.    

    On the busiest days of the summer season, a dozen planes might take off and land on the airstrip, triggering warning lights and alarms between the fifth green on one side and the sixth tee on the other side of the runway.  Yet in the dead of winter, the mountaintop can be a little lonely with as few as 10 percent of owners staying on property, although the clubhouse will make special arrangements for those who desire the romance of a dinner by the fireplace; the club will even call in a chef for the evening.   

    For a pilot and/or naturalist and/or golfer, Mountain Air is high and mighty.

Note:  The Mountain Air website isn't long on information, especially about the golf course, but they do offer to send a DVD if you are interested. Overnight stays in one of their mountain lodges is $199 per night which includes breakfast for two and the obligatory tour of the community's real estate offerings.



The plug at the tee box says "215 yards, Plays like 155."  And it did. 

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They may not be building more railroads, but Pete Dye is keeping the railroad tie manufacturers in business.  He uses them to advantage at DeBordieu.


NOTE:  A technical glitch sent this two part review past the front page of the site in the last two days and to the reviews section.  We didn't intend that.  For those who may have missed it, we include it here today (and the second part tomorrow) and apologize to others for any duplication.


    They have torn down the locally famous boardwalk pavilion in the golf supermarket of Myrtle Beach.  No more roller coasters, cotton candy and cheesy door prizes for knocking down a few bottles.  But that's not quite enough to take the honky tonk out of the southeast's Coney Island.  There is still plenty of neon both on the beach and off, but for thousands of golfers each week, it is a small price to pay.   

    If you are looking for a permanent place within striking distance of 120 golf courses, the best choice is 30 minutes south of Myrtle Beach, in the towns of Litchfield, Murrells Inlet or Pawleys Island.  You will have easy access to the beach and the Intra-Coastal Waterway, and the collection of golf courses are consistently ranked among the best on the Grand Strand.  So too are the restaurants; some rival those in foodie-town Charleston for quality and originality.     

    The best golf course communities on the South Strand are DeBordieu Colony, Pawleys Plantation, The Reserve at Litchfield Beach and Wachesaw Plantation, although there are numerous other choices to fit virtually every budget.  DeBordieu, the farthest south, features a Pete Dye course and the most expensive homes in the area, owing to its location on the ocean.  Homes facing the Atlantic have sold for upwards of $5 million, but just a few hundred yards inland, you can still find a single-family dwelling for under $1 million.  The Dye course is not his most revered and, disappointingly, none of the holes approach the ocean (although you can hear it and 100_1006_1deb3 smell it, and the breezes make the otherwise open routing a bit of a challenge).  But the links-style course stands in nice contrast to some of the parkland courses in the area.  DeBordieu is just five miles from the charming old southern town of Georgetown, whose Rice Paddy restaurant, in an old bank building, is one of the best in the area.     

    Pawleys Plantation, the only one of the four communities whose golf course is not private, was opened in the late 1980s and is a good example of how a residential community can double as a quiet resort community.  A nice mix of condominium units and single-family homes, Pawleys Plantation runs from Route 17 to the marsh that separates the mainland from the beach.  Single-family homes rarely exceed $1 million, except for those with spectacular marsh views.  Condos start around $300,000, but the best bargains might be the "patio" homes, set on just ¼ acre, which start in the mid $300s.  From Jack Nicklaus' dramatic marsh holes on the back nine, you could see the ocean if it weren't for the three rows of houses on Pawleys Island, America's oldest beach resort community.  But you can certainly feel the effects.  The course is tough, long and necessitating high-entry approaches to the well-trapped greens.  The short 13th hole, about 125 from the men's tees and virtually surrounded by marsh, may be a tougher challenge than #17 at Sawgrass.  The green is tiny and hard, and when the wind blows and the tide is out, the intimidation is intensified by a view of hundreds of golf balls lying in the muddy bog below.

Coming tomorrow:  The Reserve at Litchfield Beach (Greg Norman) and Wachesaw Plantation (Tom Fazio), as well as the fine array of daily fee courses on the South Strand. 

    We maintain an excellent network of real estate agents throughout the southern U.S.  The are knowledgeable about all the golf course communities in their areas.  One of our pre-qualified agents can help you cut through all the marketing hype and see any houses you want...at no cost or obligation to you.  Contact us if we can help.


The short par 3 13th at Pawleys Plantation, with its tiny green, has ruined many a round. 

Tuesday, 29 May 2007 05:37

Two provocative items in today's WSJ

    The Wall Street Journal 's Personal Journal section today includes two front-page articles that should be of interest to readers of this site.  One is about golf and one is about real estate.  (Note:  Full text of the articles is available only to subscribers).

     Tara Parker-Pope, the editor of the paper's Health Journal column, has some sobering news and advice for those of us who play the game.  Her contention is that our golf swings can tell us something about our overall health.  What, for example, does an inconsistent swing tell you about your health?  Parker-Pope's contention is that such a swing indicates we "lack strength in our 'core' muscles."  These are the deeper muscles in places fundamental to a smooth, repeatable swing, such as thighs, hips and buttocks.  What about accuracy issues?  The problem, the author contends, may be a sign of looming neck arthritis and shoulder problems.  I have both physical issues as well as the consequent misdirected hits.  Indeed, in my younger days, I either drew or, when I mishit, pulled the ball.  Now I spray right almost as often as I go left.

    The accompanying chart, attributed to a 2006 Golfer Health Study commissioned by Golf Digest, comes to some depressing conclusions.  Eight-percent of golfers suffer from pain, injury or illness; 27% have back pain; 66% are overweight; and 30% have played with a hangover.  We really have to love the game to put ourselves through all that (the drinking aside).

    The other Personal Journal article indicates that more and more young people -- those barely out of their 30s -- are purchasing second-homes in anticipation of using them as retirement homes later.  Most of the examples highlight properties on lakes, and most of those are within a few hours driving distance of the young couples' primary homes and workplaces.  In the more reasonably priced golfing communities we have visited in the southeast, we have noted that young couples -- some without children -- are buying their primary homes in golf course communities, and those who can afford it, are buying second homes a reasonable distance away, some with golf courses on site or nearby.  This developing phenomenon could continue to help prices stabilize in the south even as they wobble in the north.

    Every once in a while, I get the urge to imagine I am someone other than me.  The web site FindYourSpot.com is a good place to do it.  FindYourSpot is one of those sites that asks you a bunch of questions -- in this case, about what you want in a place to live -- and then provids a list of towns based on your responses.  When I first tried FindYourSpot a few years ago, it told me, quite emphatically, that my responses indicated I wanted to live in the Texas Hill Country.  That is one of the reasons I intend to visit the best golf course communities between Austin and San Antonio in the coming months.

    With a little free time today, I decided to "pose" at FindYourSpot as a serious golfer who is concerned about little other than identifying a place where I could play all the time.  I answered the climate questions in that regard, indicating that summers were meant to be long and hot, and when it asked if I needed to play golf often, I provided a "Strongly Agree."  Virtually everything else I marked as "Neutral," including the question about whether I like weather that is neither too hot or too cold; I went "Neutral" on that one on one taking, and then "Strongly Agree" on the next.

    The results were interesting, and dramatically different just by switching my responses on the not-too-hot, not-too-cold question.  When I empahsized long, hot summers, my top five selections came up, in order, Key West, Naples, Hilton Head Island, Opalousas, LA, and Covington, LA.  When I opted for the more moderate annual climate, FindYourSpot found me locations in Tennessee and Kentucky.

    The thing is, I have no interest in living in Kentucky, Tennessee, or the hottest places in Florida, although I am intrigued by the Texas Hill Country, as I mentioned above.  But maybe FindYourSpot knows something I don't know.  If I fall in love with the Texas hills, you will be the first to know.  In the meantime, FindYourSpot is a pleasant diversion, if not a deadly accurate one.

    This is the second part of an updated review that was mistakenly 'buried' on the site earlier this week.  We repeat it here and apologize to those for whom this might be a repetition. 


    The Reserve's Greg Norman golf course winds its way through the live oaks and scrub pines that are indigenous to this part of the world.  Green complexes are roller-coaster contoured but not heavily trapped, and we were delighted that we could putt on some holes from 15 yards off the green.  The course is always in nice shape too.  The community brackets Route 17, the main north/south thoroughfare through all of the Grand Strand of Myrtle Beach.  To the west of the road is the largest part of the community with single-family homes that range generally from the $400s to $1.5 million.  Across Route 17 and within walking distance of the beach, a small group of single-family homes are set up in a Charleston-type row house configuration, but separate from each other.  These sell for more than $1 million and are within a three-minute walk of the beach.  At the beachfront are a number of high-rise condominiums that are rented out by their owners.  At prices in the low-mid-six figures and up, they are one alternative for second-home owners who want oceanfront living and aren't unwilling to live in close proximity to others.     

    Wachesaw Plantation is also west of Route 17, and a river runs through it (the Waccamaw).  The community had some marketing and image issues when it first opened in the 1980s, but those seem behind it.  The excellent Tom Fazio golf course can get a little moist after heavy rainfalls, but the layout is unmistakably Fazio, with large cloverleaf bunkers and roller coaster fairways.  Some grasses (see photo below) grow long, adding a Scottish links cachet to the routing.  Wachesaw is probably the most reasonably priced of the communities; the quality of golf4wach housing and cost per square foot are relatively low for the area, which probably has something to do with its west of Route 17 location and some marketing problems in the community's early years in the mid 1980s.  But Wachesaw is closest to the best variety of shopping and other conveniences, including Myrtle Beach International Airport, which is about 25 minutes away.  The beach is about 10 minutes farther away than it is from the other communities, but the scenic and lazy Waccamaw River provides plenty of watery compensation.         

    The South Strand offers a wide range of high-quality daily fee courses to supplement the private ones.  The renowned Caledonia Golf & Fish Club is in Pawleys Island, along with its companion course, True Blue, both designs by the late Mike Strantz.  They could not be more different.  Caledonia effects a bit of Augusta National with azaleas and other flora in profusion; True Blue has an abundance of sand off the fairways and around the greens, a desert-like course in the Low Country that is vintage Strantz, which is to say "muscular."  Nearby is Heritage Golf Club, more of a parkland style course that is always in peak shape.  And coming later this summer is the redone Sea Gull Golf Club, renamed The Founders Club, whose distinctive notes will likely revolve around the significant mounding we saw in the early stages of reconstruction.  And if all that is not enough variety for you, Litchfield and Murrells Inlet add another seven courses, including Willbrook, The Tradition, The River Club, Litchfield Golf Club, Wachesaw East, Blackmoor and TPC of Myrtle Beach.  And for a wondrous if expensive day trip of golf, Kiawah Island and the Ocean Course are about 90 minutes away.   

    Although there are many art galleries in the Pawleys Island and Georgetown areas, and Charleston is within 70 minutes or so, the area is a little short on culture and entertainment, except for the excellent restaurants.  Shopping, though, is ample enough for any but those who crave Nordstrom nearby.  A large number of outlet stores are available within a half hour.  Myrtle Beach airport, with non-stop service to Washington, Charlotte, the New York airports and a few other northern cities, is within 40 minutes.  Much of a couple's social life in the area will revolve around the clubhouse and friends' homes in the communities.

    We have excellent real estate contacts in the Myrtle Beach area who are familiar with all the golf communities.  One of our pre-qualified agents can help you cut through all the marketing hype and see any houses you want...at no cost or obligation to you.  Contact us if we can help.

Sunday, 27 May 2007 01:19

Graduation advice

    We celebrate our son Tim's high school graduation today, so I am taking a day off from golf.  It seems appropriate to offer the best advice to graduates I have read, a piece written almost 10 years ago and attributed, falsely, as a commencement address at MIT by the late author Kurt Vonnegut.  It actually was written by a columnist in Chicago, Mary Schmich. Congratulations to Tim and all other grads.


    Ladies and gentlemen of the class of '97: wear sunscreen.  If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it.  The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience.  I will dispense this advice now.
    Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth.  Oh, never mind.  You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they've faded.  But trust me, in 20 years, you'll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked.  You are not as fat as you imagine.  
    Don't worry about the future.  Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum.  The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 pm on some idle Tuesday.

    Do one thing every day that scares you.


    Don't be reckless with other people's hearts.  Don't put up with people who are reckless with yours.


    Don't waste your time on jealousy.  Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind.  The race is long and, in the end, it's only with yourself. Remember compliments you receive.  Forget the insults.  If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

    Keep your old love letters.  Throw away your old bank statements. Stretch. Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives.  Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don't.

    Get plenty of calcium.  Be kind to your knees. You'll miss them when they're gone.

    Maybe you'll marry, maybe you won't.  Maybe you'll have children, maybe you won't.  Maybe you'll divorce at 40, maybe you'll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary.  Whatever you do, don't congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either.  Your choices are half chance; so are everybody else's.

    Enjoy your body.  Use it every way you can.  Don't be afraid of it or of what other people think of it.  It's the greatest instrument you'll ever own.  Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

    Read the directions, even if you don't follow them. Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly. Get to know your parents.  You never know when they'll be gone for good.  Be nice to your siblings.  They're your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future. Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. 

    Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young. Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard.  Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.    


    Accept certain inalienable truths: prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old.  And when you do, you'll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble, and children respected their elders.  Respect your elders. Don't expect anyone else to support you.  Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you'll have a wealthy spouse.  But you never know when either one might run out.

    Don't mess too much with your hair or by the time you're 40 it will look 85.  Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia.  Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth.

    But trust me on the sunscreen.

    The news in the last two days has not been good for those looking to sell their homes.  But for those looking to sell and then buy something else, especially a new home from one of the major builders, the news isn't all that bad.
    On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Commerce reported that the median price of a new home had dropped 11.1 percent between March and April, and almost 11 percent below the same month a year earlier.  Sales of new single-family homes jumped by 16.2 March to April, signaling nothing less than a fire sale by builders.
    Then yesterday, more bad news:  Sales of existing homes dropped 2.6 percent between March and April after dropping 7.9 percent the previous month.  The median price of homes sold in April dropped a moderate .8 percent, but median prices are whimsical; given the sub-prime lending problems, fewer homes at the lower end of the spectrum may have sold in the month, artificially inflating the median.
    So where is the silver lining.  Sales of existing homes slipped only 1.2 percent in the South, compared with 8.8 percent in the Northeast.  The slightest decline was in the Midwest, just .7 percent, but how many people are contemplating retiring to a golf course community in Iowa (apologies to Iowa, a great state in all other regards)? 

    In terms of new home sales, the South led the way with a whopping 27.8 percent increase compared with just a 3.8 percent increase in the Northeast.

    You have heard it here before.  The spread between prices in the North and South are widening.  If you really, really want to move South, don't be too greedy about pricing your house.  You likely made as much as 50 percent in the five years before the current bust.  Consider giving back a little of it just to get out from under, and start that new life below the Mason-Dixon line.     

    The South will rise again...and again.

Friday, 25 May 2007 04:58

Horses for courses

    In the rush to provide more amenities than the next community, some developers are appealing to horse owners who also like to swing clubs.  No, we aren't talking about polo players, but rather golfers who have a taste for the equestrian.
    Two communities that provide the best of both sports are featured in the Wall Street Journal today.  The Cliffs at Keowee Vineyards is the one we are personally familiar with; its Tom Fazio course, which runs along the lake, is one of the best and most scenic we have played in the southeast.
    The other is at the Club at Black Rock in Coeur d'Alene, ID, across the lake from the famed course that bears the town's name and features a legendary "floating" green that is motorized and can be moved from place to place on the lake.
    Prices are steep for homes and communities of the quality of these two.  The featured homes at The Cliffs and Black Rock in the WSJ article are priced at $1.99 million and $3.2 million respectively.  Annual taxes are a stratospheric $22,000 and $42,000.


 The lake at The Cliffs at Keowee Vineyards is in play literally and visually.


Wednesday, 23 May 2007 22:16

Review: Porters Neck, Wilmington, NC


In just the last year, Porters Neck's Tom Fazio designed course has gone from good to excellent thanks to the investments the club made.  (Photo courtesy of Porters Neck)


    It is a challenging and scary proposition to take a golf club private. First, you need a governing board with the backbone to make an investment in the course up front, before membership rolls are filled.  There's a reason you don't see marketing lines like, "If you join, we'll use your money to improve the golf course."  Then you need to communicate, without being too stuffy, that privacy brings a certain amount of privilege not found at daily fee courses, and that the privilege is worth the price of initiation.  Simple math is working against you; a $30,000 initiation fee divided by a $70 daily fee at a good public course works out to a decade worth of golf elsewhere.
    That is the challenge that Porters Neck Country Club, about 12 miles northeast of Wilmington, NC, is facing.  Although the club is being coy about its intentions, all signs point to a transition to 100_1043pnp3 exclusive status.  Greens fees for non-members have been raised to $110 and up, the club is in its second contract with a marketing firm that specializes in attracting new members, and the golf membership rolls are nearing 400, certainly a good number for an 18-hole course.  The club's members, who took over from the developer in 2004, invested aggressively and smartly, spending $1 million in 2006 to restore and upgrade the terrific greens on the Tom Fazio layout, improving tee and fairway grasses as well as the drainage systems that support them, and enhancing the practice facilities (they added another $200,000 for new lighted tennis courts).  We played the course before the renovations and after, and the money was well spent in our estimation. 
    Over time, we have found that Tom Fazio designs the most consistently good routings of any architect.  On otherwise excellent courses, some holes by Nicklaus and Dye just make you scratch your head at how odd or brutal they are (or both).  We've yet to find a clunker among the dozen or so Fazio courses we've played in the two years.  He may not provide the drama of the others, but neither does he provide any unpleasant surprises.  [Continued; click below]

Wednesday, 23 May 2007 16:54

Westies finish 3rd of 24 teams

    As I wrote earlier, today was the big season-ending tournament for New England prep schools (only 24 competed, one less than planned), the Kingswood-Oxford Invitational.  My son Tim's Westminster team finished 3rd behind Avon Old Farms, whose five players shot a combined 391, and Deerfield Academy which posted a 396.  The Westminster Martlets posted a 401, which included a 74, 75, Tim's 78, an 86 and 88.

    The host club for the match, the Oak Ridge golf course in Feeding Hills, MA, is not long but today it played tough.  The rough was almost U.S. Open length, the greens were hard (but not particularly fast) and the wind was gusting up to 15 mph.  The overall low score of the 120 golfers was a 73.  One of the low-handicap players in my son's group posted two quadruple bogies on the front nine, and a Westie teammate suffered a 10 on a par 5. 

    Although disappointed with the third place finish today, Westminster had an excellent season.  When multi-team as well as head to head matches are calculated, the Martlets finished the season with a very respectable 39 wins and just 5 losses.  Congratulations, Westminster.

Coming tomorrow:  A review of Porters Neck Plantation in Wilmington, NC. 

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