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Friday, 04 May 2007 07:27

A community for Hicks

    I have never watched an entire episode of American Idol, but it has been hard to avoid Taylor Hicks, who won the competition last year.  Before, during and after the Super Bowl, he was all over television hawking automobiles for a company whose name I have forgotten.

    Now, according to a flyer we received this week, he is hawking a community in Alabama, not far from the Tennessee border.  The Oaks at Goose Pond Island advertises home sites from $49,900, including lake access, and dockable waterfront sites from $194,900.  A few hours away in the Knoxville, TN, area, similar dockable sites can approach $1 million. 

    This is a lake-oriented community, the lake being the 70,000 acre Lake Guntersville.  Down the road is the Goose Pond Colony Golf Club and 36 holes of lakeside golf.  George Cobb, a respected architect, designed the Colony course in 1971; the Plantation course is the work of Don Croft and Phillip Green.

    Taylor Hicks has bought property at The Oaks and will be on hand May 19 when the developers release sites in the next phase.  Mindful that fame is fleeting, Mr. Hicks is keeping a close watch on his investment.  For more information, see The Oaks web site at http://www.theoaks-gpi.com.


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Thursday, 03 May 2007 05:44

Buying vacation home hedges your bets

    Remember that famous speech in the movie "Wall Street" in which the oily slick Gordon Gecko proclaimed that "Greed is good?"  Well, maybe greed is good on the street called Wall, given the incredible compensation packages of the last few years, but certainly not among those late to the game of "flipping" real estate in places like Miami and Las Vegas.  There, greed kills.

    According to a National Association of Realtors report a few days ago, investment home sales fell almost 29% compared with 2005 figures.  Vacation home sales, on the other hand, hit a record last year, up 4.7%.

    People are not stupid, and most are not greedy.  They understand that, the housing bubble notwithstanding, a house is first and foremost shelter, and secondarily an investment.  And chances are that if you buy a vacation home in a place you have researched and that offers all the activities and other benefits you and your family want, then others will find it attractive when it comes time for you to sell.  Even if you aren't prepared to sell your primary home up north, using some cash to buy property in a growing market in the south -- and using the property for vacations -- might make sense for those who can afford to do so.

    Areas of the southeast we have visited recently are not in a market funk (obviously we haven't been to Miami or Orlando).  Prices in the Carolinas, Virginia and Georgia, for example, are holding pretty steady. But a number of metro areas in the north are suffering price depreciations.  People contemplating retirement from north to south face a quandary:  Do they wait for the housing market to snap back and provide them with what they think is the true value of their homes, or do they get the best price they can now?  (This all assumes they are ready to move).

    The numbers say sell and move now, if you can.  According to Money magazine's website, people who own property in the Nassau/Suffolk County area of Long Island, NY, where median home prices are around $483,000, are likely to see the value of their homes decrease by about 6%.  Yet prices in popular areas in North Carolina, for example, like Greensboro and Charlotte, are forecast to increase around 2% over the next 12 months.  Factor in the relatively lower cost of living in the Carolinas compared with some high-tax states in the north, and the spread of 8 points above looks even wider.

    We understand that people do have emotional ties to homes they have lived in, raised kids in and invested in over the years. It will be difficult for my wife and me to leave our home in Connecticut in just a few years when both kids are off to college and we don't need a five-bedroom house for two people.  We hope at that time that we don't try to wring every last dollar from the sale of the house, especially since we intend to build one in a faster appreciating market in the south.  Waiting would be fool's gold.

    A list of forecasts and housing information for 100 cities can be found at cnn.money.com

    Shameless real estate shill David Lereah is trading in his cheerleader's uniform for a business suit.  The chief economist for the National Association of Realtors will become an executive VP with Move Inc., which operates real estate related web sites. 

    You wouldn't think a bland economist could inspire blog sites devoted to him, but Lereah's unremitting words of love about the market fed the bubble, many believe, and people needed places to vent.  No fewer than four times did he predict the bottom of the housing market.  The business media enabled the guy by going to him as if he were real estate's equivalent of Mariano Rivera (for those who don't follow baseball, Rivera is the relief pitcher who closes games for the New York Yankees).

    I first caught Lereah's act four years ago when he shared the stage for a panel discussion about real estate on CNBC.  I didn't know him from a one-iron, but he sounded as if he were reading from a press release issued by the realtor's assocation.  I didn't trust him from the gitgo, but there were probably others who made some bad buying decisions based on his Pollyanna predictions.  Good riddance. 

    According to today's Wall Street Journal, Lereah's parting words were unusually candid:  "I represented realtors so I tried to be as positive as I could," adding that he "believed it [i.e. his own hype]."  Lets hope the NAR can do better than deceptive and dumb in their next hire. 


    When was the last time we read about a professional golfer drinking and driving his car into a tree?  The baddest boy the PGA tour can offer is John Daly, whose flaws seemed to give the tour a more human face, not a nastier one.  And how great it is that Daly seems on a strong reformation kick lately.

    Growing up, my favorite golfer was Champagne Tony Lema, but I don't remember Lema wrecking any cars (I do remember he drank a lot of champagne, though).   

    I thought of Champagne Tony today.  If you read the U.S. sports pages, you know that St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Josh Hancock was killed in a tragic car accident in the early morning hours a few days ago.  He was a well-respected and well-liked young man (too young).  In the days that followed his death, the media respectfully did not speculate about what caused the one-car accident.  But the media can be respectful only so long.  Today the specter of alcohol looms large in follow-up reports. (He ran into a tow truck with its warning lights blazing, so where's the surprise?)       

    Baseball has its alcohol and steroids problems and football has its convicted murderers.  And if we totaled up the number of children across the land that are carrying the DNA of their absentee NBA basketball player dads, we'd probably fill a small city (Heck, Wilt Chamberlain did that himself!).     

    Golf, on the other hand, is a game played by gentlemen whose adherence to the game's intricate set of rules and regulations is almost anal-retentive.  These are not perfect men by any means, but their flaws seem almost quaint compared with those of other professional athletes.  I loved playing all sports as a kid, especially the "major" ones but, on balance, I'm grateful my son is a golfer.

Monday, 30 April 2007 08:14

Coming attractions

    I met this morning with the folks at Fox Computer Systems, a web design firm that helps me with this site.  The goal of the meeting was to discuss ways to make the site more meaningful for those looking for golf community reviews and related information.  In the coming weeks and months, we will be adding a few new features to the site.  These include:

  • An area containing scorecards of courses we have played with accompanying photos.
  • A one-question poll about golf communities; we'll include real-time results.
  • A network of experienced real estate agents with in-depth knowledge of golf communities (free service to all who register at this site).  You tell us where you are visiting and we identify someone to show you the communities, with no cost or obligation to you.
  • A golf lifestyle questionnaire that we match against a database of golf course community information.  You tell us what is important to you, we run your responses against our database, and we provide a list of communities that best match your criteria, at no cost or obligation to you.
  • A new, improved HomeOnTheCourse advisory newsletter at a special discount price for GolfCommunityReviews.com registered users.
  • Access to a currency converter for our friends from the UK and elsewhere.

    If you have your own ideas for how to make this site more useful, please let us know via the "contact us" button on the right-hand side of this page.

    Thank you for visiting GolfCommunityReviews.com. 

Sunday, 29 April 2007 09:33

One SC county gets smart about growth

    Faithful readers of our newsletter and this site know that we are obsessed with traffic.  It is one big reason we haven't rushed to review golf course communities on the coasts of Florida or in Orlando, and why a number of Floridians are packing it in and bouncing back to the Carolinas, Georgia and Virginia.  We loathe the idea of spending our retirement years or vacation weeks at a stop and go pace. 

    And it isn't just Florida, either.  We've seen problems brewing in places like Charlottesville, VA, and Wilmington, NC; these issues are partially the result of geography, since many of the most desirable areas are almost surrounded by water, as is Wilmington, and partially the result of bad planning.  Mark Twain might have put it this way:  "Everyone talks about the traffic, but no one does anything about it."

    Apparently officials in Jasper County, South Carolina are doing something about it before it is an issue.  Jasper, the county immediately to the west of Hilton Head and Beaufort, SC, is one of the few remaining "low country" areas of the east coast that hasn't been overrun with development. County officials are not anti-development, but they seem intent on making sure growth is reasonable and that the inherent nature of the area is preserved.  According to a story in today's New York Times (Real Estate section, page 7), developers in the county have to meet certain restrictions, and make certain investments, that ensure high-quality communities that respect the land.       

    Jasper County is bisected by I-95 and is a convenient drive to Savannah.  Although the county doesn't run to the coast, it is within easy reach of the beaches and the buffet of golf courses on and around Hilton Head.  Toll Brothers is developing a community called Hampton Pointe , about seven miles from the interstate, that will feature a Nicklaus Design course as well as a fitness center and spa and all other amenities typical of communities that encompass more than 1,000 homes.  Prices start in the mid-$300s.

    The New York Times article can be found currently by clicking here.


Saturday, 28 April 2007 05:32

Phil Mickelson to design NC mountain course

    We missed the announcement of the formation of Phil Mickelson Design.  Perhaps it was the same day that Tiger announced he would be designing his first course (in Dubai); once again, Tiger beats Phil.  We learned about Phil's new venture in an advertisement for a new community, River Rock, near Cashiers, NC, way up in the mountains.

    What especially caught our eye in the double-page ad was the photo of a smiling Phil, rising like a god above the mountain landscape, his head literally in the clouds.  He looks like a giant billboard.  On his head is the ubiquitous golf cap bearing the unfortunately horsey Bearing Point logo, and on the left breast area of his shirt the Callaway Golf logo.  Near his right sleeve is the River Rock logo, larger than the others but almost a half page below Bearing Point, which is the first thing you see on the page.  Bearing Point's lawyers must have done a great job of the fine print when they signed Phil to the contract.

    River Rock is Mickelson's first project since announcing formation of his design company in January.  His only other golf course design was for Whisper Rock in Scottsdale, AZ, which opened in 2001.  Mickelson Design also has other projects on the drawing board in Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean.  No scheduled opening date for the course at River Rock is listed.  We've visited the area and know that the landscape is breathtaking.  River Rock will be composed of five separate villages within a short drive of each other and near Lake Glenville, the most elevated lake east of the Mississippi River.  The planned $100 million in amenities will rival the Cliffs Communities which are about an hour away.  Home sites are offered at prices up to $1.5 million.

    One final note:  The logo for Phil Mickelson Design is clever and cute.  Between the words Phil and Mickelson is a graphic icon of a golfer, arms raised with putter extended from one of them, feet slightly off the ground.  Anyone who watched the end of the Masters tournament three years ago will recognize it as Phil's magical levitation after his clutch winning putt at the 18th.

    I wish I had a dime for every time I have seen the following overheated words and phrases (or their relatives) in advertisements for golf course communities:

    "Setting a new standard..." When multiple developers claim they have set a new standard, it becomes standard but not new.

    "Small town charm..."  This is code for no grocery stores or health care facilities within a half hour.

    "Distinction"  One of those claims that lack distinction.

    "[Anytown's] premier private community..." Every community in town will claim this.

    "A special place..."  How special can it be if you have to say it?

    "Unique..."  In the Hall of Fame for advertising banalities.

    "The perfect place [for you]..."  Marketing professionals are mindreaders too.

    "Timeless..." Brainless.  Even in the event of nuclear devastation, a place is still timeless.

    "Start a new life at [name of community]..."  Insulting.  What was wrong with my prior life, especially if I can afford to buy a place in your community.

    "A vacation every day..."  Except when it rains, snows or is 100 degrees and humid outside.

    "Close...but world's away..." and its partner, "So near yet so far..."  Translation:  Remote; close to nature but not to the mall.

    "The allure of [name of community] will last forever, the oportunity to live here will not."  My favorite:  It is as if they are selling the Roach Motel ("Roaches check in but they don't check out!").  Have they not heard of resales?

    Caveat emptor.  We admire the restraint some developers -- and their marketing firms -- show in being straightforward.  They list the amenities, the course designer and the communities' points of distinction, without saying they are distinctive.  They respect the fact that if we are in the market to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a place to live, we probably know what we are looking for, and that we aren't looking for inflated language.

    In the coming days, we'll share a few examples that seem to get it right.  In the meantime, if you have any questions about a specific community, let us know.  If we aren't familiar with it, we'll do the research and report back. 


Thursday, 26 April 2007 06:59

Uwharrie Point on the list to visit

    We have an informal list of areas and golf course communities to visit in upcoming months for our newsletter, HomeOnTheCourse, as well as for articles at this site.  These include the Gulf Coast areas of Mobile and Biloxi, the Texas Hill Country between Austin and San Antonio, the high elevation areas of Boone, Brevard and Cashiers in North Carolina, Reynolds Plantation in Georgia and developing areas in New Mexico.

    One community we definitely intend to visit is Uwharrie Point in central North Carolina.  Although Uwharrie is secluded, with an adjacent 50,000 acre national forest, it is within easy drives of two major airports in Charlotte and Raleigh.  Its Tom Fazio-designed Old North State Club is one of the best private courses in a golf-rich state, and with three finishing holes along Badin Lake (see photo below), the layout is eye-appealing as well as challenging.  The community offers a nice range of townhomes as well as single-family homes.  It adds all the amenities you would expect to find in a high-end community (Har-Tru tennis courts, a large clubhouse with views of the lake, many swimming pools, and miles of walking trails).  A full-service marina is available for boaters.

    Cottage-style patio homes begin around $300K.  The largest single-family homes with prime views range into the millions, but there appear to be quite a few nice selections in between.  Home sites with views of the lake begin in the mid $100s, and those with views of the golf course are still available at less than $100K.

    For more information, see the community's web site at www.uwharriepoint.com .  Who knows, maybe we will see you there. 



    Our next issue of the HomeOnTheCourse advisory newsletter will feature the communities north of Jacksonville, FL, including those at the Amelia Island Plantation resort.  During our recent visit, we played three of the four courses at the resort, including the Pete Dye Oak Marsh, the Dye/Bobby Weed Ocean Links and Tom Fazio's sleek Long Point. (We passed on Royal Amelia, a Tom Jackson layout, because it will be undergoing renovation soon.)

    Despite some thinly grassed putting surfaces on the Oak Marsh course, too many unrepaired fairway and green divot marks on Oak Marsh and the Ocean Links, services at the bag drop that left something to be desired and a practice area no better than Joe's Driving Range, we enjoyed the courses, especially the eight holes along the Plantation's 31/2 mile stretch of beach.  We will have much more to say in HomeOnTheCourse, which will be available in two weeks.  In the meantime, if you are considering a stay at the resort to explore real estate options, or just for a vacation, you would do well to read the latest offering from our friends at Golf Vacation Insider with their hints about the best options for lodging.  Click here for the article.

    As always, if you have a question about Amelia Island or any of the places we have visited, please drop us a line and we will be happy to answer promptly.  And if you are considering a visit to look for property, please let us know and we will connect you with a qualified broker/agent in the area, at no obligation whatsoever to you. 


Eyes right:  Ocean winds bouncing off the homes and seven-story buildings across the fairways from the Atlantic at Amelia Island Plantation can play havoc with ball flight, but beauty outweighs the occasionally beastly conditions. 

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