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Monday, 07 May 2007 21:52

Notes on golf at The Landings

    Yesterday in this space we reviewed The Landings at Skidaway Island, just outside of Savannah, GA.  The private, gated community provides as much quality golf as any non-resort in the southeast.  Today we present a few notes on two of the courses at The Landings.


Marsh and moguls are but two of the challenges Arthur Hills throws your way at the Palmetto Club. 

The Palmetto Club

Designer:  Arthur Hills

    A wonderful, challenging layout, with not a single boring hole.  The toughest course of the six at The Landings.  Even seemingly routine par 4s display well-placed live oaks to gobble slightly errant shots.  The marsh provides beautiful framing on some holes, and the undulating greens are well bunkered, with plenty of moguls and swales around them.  Grass on the greens was thin in late February when we played, but they fill in nicely by the spring.
    Our playing partners, Bob and Bill, had 150 years between them.  Bill, a former pharmaceutical exec, and Bob, who owned the last Amercian maker of phonograph needles, had been friends and fellow club members in Waukegan, Illinois. Two other members of their Illinois club had moved to The Landings as well.  With threesomes and foursomes in front of us, we finished the round in less than 3 ½ hours, even though some holes were cart-path only.

    The driving range is ample and heavily used, as is the practice green.  Service was fine, except attendants did not move to get our bags onto a cart, a big miss for a private club.  The clubhouse is the biggest in the community and used for weddings and other affairs.  Lunch was fine, with a small but nice selection including buffet (pot roast plus salads), as well as menu items.  Hallway held a small art show on the walls, courtesy of one of the many women's clubs in the community.

Pete Dye may have "invented" railroad ties for golf courses, but Hills knows how to use them too.



Although Fazio's Deer Creek is not a stiff challenge, you cannot relax on many shots. 


Deer Creek

Designer:  Tom Fazio

    Tame Fazio with interesting short doglegs around beautiful live oaks.  Fairway bunkering in play on a number of the easier holes, but the par 5s are pretty tame affairs.  Marsh mostly there as backdrop.  Greens hold shots fairly well -- even though they were a little thin in February -- and they roll true and pretty fast.  Slight to significant break on virtually every putt; we under-read the putts on the front nine, over-read them on the back.  Marsh is not a reliable magnet for putts; a few break away from the water.  Bunkering is tight to the greens. 

    The 17th is picture perfect, with a green backed by long stretch of marsh that begins before mid-fairway to just beyond the rise in the rear of the green.  Putting surface slopes severely back to front.  The 18th is a finishing hole we see often, with marsh down entire right side and a forced third shot over a glob of the marsh and a trap to a pin position that, no matter where it is placed, is tough to get close to.  Back of the clubhouse provides nice view for those cheering you on or feeling your pain.    

    Driving range is fine, with a nice touch for distance markers at the tee -- a small board whose yardages are changed as the tees move forward and back.  Can of water and rag at each station to clean clubs is a nice touch as well.  Can't chip on putting green, but there is a chipping green and practice trap between the range and first tee (we like such proximity to the tee, especially on crowded courses).

    The club emphasizes fast play.  A loudspeaker calls foursomes to the tees 15 minutes in advance.  Even with play starting on both nines, we finished our round in four hours.  We saw no water fountains on the course; in stifling summer heat that could be an issue.

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    It might seem counterintuitive, but if you are pointing toward a home on a golf course when you retire, there may be good reasons not to wait until then.  So says Chicago Tribune columnist Jane Kidd Stewart in a syndicated article I read today in the Hartford (CT) Courant.
    On the face of it, such advice might seem rash, but Ms. Stewart does have a point - actually a few of them - however, her approach will only make sense for those who are on track with their retirement savings.  First, by purchasing now, she writes, you get the costly stuff out of the way while you are still earning a regular paycheck, which is better than drawing down retirement assets you will need for a few decades.  Second, making the investment now might compel you to defer retirement for a few years more, shortening the length of your retirement and preserving your retirement assets longer.  Of course, this only works if you don't hate your job.      

    Finally, Ms. Stewart writes, a big dream purchase now - whether it is for a home or a trip around the world or whatever - has psychological benefits.  You find out before retirement if the lifestyle you've dreamed about is really, truly the one you want.  Many couples retire cold turkey to a community only to find the lifestyle there is not for them.  That is no way to start life's next journey; better to kick the tires before you make the full-time commitment (and you can rent the place out to help pay the mortgage).  Plus, you don't delay the gratification that might otherwise cause you to retire prematurely.  (We baby boomers want what we want when we want it, which doesn't always make good sense.)    

    One other reason for considering buying your dream home now, which we harp about in this space often:  Prices in golf course communities generally are increasing faster than homes in many markets in the northern U.S.    

    You can find Jane Kidd Stewart's column at the Chicago Tribune web site (Note:  This is a link to the article itself.  If the site asks you to login or register, just go to the main site at chicagotribune.com , do a search on "Jane Kidd Stewart" and you will find it).


    The Peninsula on the Indian River Bay is a high-end community near Rehoboth Beach, DE.  It is not exactly a place for year-round golf, but you can certainly don a heavy sweater and get through January and February in fairly good shape.  Rehoboth Beach is a popular summer destination spot for people from the Middle Atlantic states.  The Peninsula offers town homes, single homes and home sites that begin in the $300s and range to over $1 million; because of its proximity to the beach, it could have strong-second home appeal for New Englanders, New Yorkers and Philadelphians.  The community's private Jack Nicklaus Signature course opened recently and, in our experience, Jack does quite well when presented with land at water's edge.

    I like the location of The Peninsula because it is just 21 miles from the quaint little town of Lewes (pronounced Lew-Is), which is where you catch the ferry to Cape May, NJ.  This is no occasional trip across the the Delaware Bay, with scheduled departures every few hours in the winter and up to 15 departures from each port in summer.  The ferry trip takes about 80 minutes and cuts out a few hours and the headache-rendering New Jersey Turnpike for those who live in NJ, New York and New England.

    The Peninsula is offering a taste of its community on the weekend of June 22 that will include tours by boat, golf cart and helicopter, as well as what they are callilng "signatures" (sic) foods and "an amazing array of wines."  Although advertisers who spend $40,000 or so for an ad in the Wall Street Journal should do a better job of proofreading, and visitors to this space know we are not fans of hyperbole ("amazing array"), still I would consider attending.  I love Lewes, Rehoboth has a well-regarded beach area, and it would be fun to try out amazing wines.  If you are interested, more info is available at TasteOfThePeninsula.com.


  Arthur Hills' Palmetto Course often invites you to take the short way home, but beware.

    We had dropped into the golf community version of Apocalypse Now.  The daily cart invasion along the roads of The Landings at Skidaway Island, GA, reaches its peak around 8:30 a.m., as residents scramble to make their tee times at one of the community's six golf courses.  As the golf carts rose up and down the swales of streets and cart paths, we almost dove for cover.
    Except for the sheer number of golf carts, we experienced little of the high-density we had anticipated before our two days in The Landings community, although with 1,900 members for the six courses available, we would hate to see them all decide to play at the same time.  Overall, The Landings developers planned well.  We drove a few times from the community to Savannah, 12 miles to the west, and never hit traffic of any consequence.
    The Landings golf courses appeal to the widest range of golfers, from the least difficult, wide open and nicely groomed Arthur Hills track (Oak Ridge) to the complex's most difficult layout, the Palmetto Course, also an Arthur Hills design, which we played and loved (see notes tomorrow at this site).  Rounding out the rotation are two Arnold Palmer courses, a Willard Byrd design, and the Tom Fazio Deer Creek course, which we also played and found less challenging than some of the designer's more notorious layouts.  With all the traffic the courses get, we were amazed at the speed of play.  Our two rounds took less than four hours each.     

    The clubs at The Landings exhibit styles somewhere between private club and daily fee course.  Because everyone seems to own a golf cart, there is no need for locker rooms; members keep their clubs on the carts in their garages and change into their golf shoes at home.  For our two rounds, there was no greeting at the bag drops, and when we signed in at the pro shop, our instructions were to "take any cart available," meaning we hoisted our clubs onto the cart.  At the end of the round, no attendant waited with a rag to clean our clubs.  We don't consider ourselves country club prima donnas, but those looking for a little more in the way of private club amenities for a $55,000 (equity) initiation fee might be put off.  On the other hand, maybe we just caught them on a bad day. 100_1174savb

    By the way, when you give up your membership, $25,000 of your equity comes back to you, a little lower than many other private clubs.  Monthly dues for golf, which also includes tennis and social memberships, is $483, which seems reasonable for access to six good courses and their clubs' facilities as well as other amenities.     

    Housing options at The Landings run the gamut, from condominiums that begin at $275K and end beyond $1 million for a 3,000 square foot unit with a marsh view; to patio homes (on ¼ acre lots) from $350K to $1 million; to single family homes that range up to a $2.5 million.  There are only a few original developer lots still available.  Almost 90 percent of the community's 4,300 lots have been built on, and the lot-resale market is tight (about 25 lots on the market at any given time).  Available lots range from $250,000 to $1.4 million for the choicest (large and on the marsh).  Once you buy a lot, you can count on construction costs of about $175 to $200 per square foot.

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.


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.


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