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Saturday, 24 March 2007 19:00

Mascots gone wild

From time to time, I can't resist the urge to comment on things unrelated to golf, especially if they irk the political correctness lobby...

    I had the pleasure last Sunday of sitting next to my former boss, Walt Harrison, president of the University of Hartford.  We were both in Columbia, SC, for the Lady Hawks’ WNIT tournament game against the Lady Gamecocks of the University of South Carolina.  Neither of us took much pleasure in the drubbing the Hawks endured at the hands of the tall and athletic USC team.
    Walt is a high-ranking official within the NCAA, and I’m sure he’d like a nickel for every time someone asks him about the organization’s policy toward Native American mascots like Illiniwek, the University of Illinois mascot who left for his happy hunting grounds a month ago.  Poor Illiniwek was just the latest in a series of such defenestrations. 
    During one of the many low points of the game Sunday, I suggested to Walt that he and the NCAA turn their attention next to the problem of cross-gender mascots.  A Lady Gamecock, for example, is an oxymoron, since a cock is, by definition, a male.  There must be something in the water in South Carolina; at Coastal Carolina University, the nickname for the women’s teams is the Lady Chanticleers.  Again, a chanticleer is a rooster.  This must be very confusing to young children, as it is to an old fogy like me.cheer065.jpg
    Of course, we live in an age of political correctness, and every group has the right to be, or not to be, as it sees fit.  So, on second thought, I rescind my suggestion to Walt.  The NCAA doesn’t need the burden of a cockfight with the transgender mascot lobby.

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    National Association of Realtors data released yesterday indicates that existing U.S. house sales increased almost 4% in February compared with January, the biggest single-month gain since March 2004. 
    Okay, so much for the good news.
    The rate of annual sales still lags last year’s rate by 3.6%.  The median price of a home dropped to $212,000, a reduction of 1.3% compared with a year earlier.  In same-month comparisons with a year earlier, February marked the seventh straight price decline.  As the sub-prime lending mess sorts itself out, stress sales will increase and add to housing inventory, which will have an indirect negative effect on prices at other levels of the market. 
    Of course, like politics, all real estate is local, and for every home that declines in price by 5%, there is another one somewhere that sold a little higher than expected.  As we have warned at other times, if you are planning to relocate south soon after selling your house up north, don’t hold out for the last penny you think you can get.  Chances are that property in Chapel Hill or Charleston is appreciating at a rate a few points greater than your northern home is appreciating (if your home is appreciating at all).  Many of those who sold their homes last month may have realized this. 
    If you wait, the delta between your selling price and purchase price for what you want could very well widen beyond your ability to pay the difference.  Of course, if you have had your eyes on a condo in Miami, Naples or the Phoenix area, waiting may not hurt as much since those markets continue to drop.
    The old line about the stock market is instructive in real estate as well:  “Bulls make money, bears make money but pigs get slaughtered.” 
&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Thousands of male golfers mourned the loss last year of Hooters Airlines, which had provided cheap and reliable service to Myrtle Beach (and, ahem, friendly flight attendants) from Newark and a few other airports.&nbsp; Into the breach has stepped Myrtle Beach Direct Air, the brainchild of a few Myrtle Beach citizens in the tourism business.&nbsp; The new service was launched on March 7 with flights to and from two likely, and one odd, northeast cities.<br />
&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; For now, the airline will offer service only during the peak tourist season, March through October, from Newark, Pittsburgh and Niagara Falls.&nbsp; The latter city, which appears a weird choice, was selected in an effort to fill seats going from Myrtle Beach to a northern tourist destination.&nbsp; In the early weeks of the airline, Niagara Falls has been the most frequently booked flight.&nbsp; We expect that route will appeal as well to some of the thousands of Canadians who flood Myrtle Beach during March and the fall.<br />
&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Airfares should appeal to everyone.&nbsp; Prices range between $99 and $169 each way on the three routes for flights we checked in April.&nbsp; In the coming months we plan to fly the new airline and will report back to you.&nbsp; At those prices, we are hoping that Myrtle Beach Direct will find its sweet spot.
Wednesday, 21 March 2007 19:00

News and notes

    Cutter Creek, a new community near Greenville, NC, will soon release its second phase of properties (although their web site says this will happen in the summer, but a note to us says the spring).  Prices for lots will run between $80,000 and $140,000.  Cutter Creek is stressing education in its marketing materials, both on property and outside.  A planned Family Activities Center will offer classes in art, dance and cooking.  Also, East Carolina University is just a few miles down the road.  The community's 18-hole golf course will be designed by Bob Moore and certified by the Audobon Society for its nature friendly design.  See www.cuttercreekplantation.com for more information...
    St. James Plantation, the huge community near Southport, NC, will release new homesites in it Woodlands Park neighborhood the weekend of April 27 and is offering a special visitation package that weekend.  The Preview Weekend includes two nights accommodations on site; golf at The Reserve Club, the new Nicklaus Design course; cooking classes; massages; a sunset yacht cruise on the Intracoastal Waterway; dinner and dancing; and extra incentives St. James values at up to $35,000 if you purchase a piece of property.  Cost for the weekend is $199, and lots begin at $200,000.  Go to stjamesplantation.com/AprilGetaway.aspx for more details...
    Magnolia Greens, near Wilmington, NC, is offering a range of builders' spec homes that begin at $270,000 and range up to nearly $500,000.  The less expensive homes are in Cornerstone Village on smaller "patio" lots but are "association maintained," which means you don't worry about exterior maintenance.  We did not play the Tom Jackson layout in the community, but we did note its wide fairways and generally flat contours.  www.magnoliagreens.com
    Fawn Lake, near Fredericksburg, VA, is offering some fairly large new homes at "buyers market" prices, according to their latest brochure.  Four bedroom homes begin around $699,000 and range up to $898,000 for a monster with two kitchens -- one in the basement -- and views of the 4th hole of the community's Arnold Palmer Signature course.  The community's web site is www.fawnlakevirginia.com...
    Cooper's Point Communities at Shellman Bluff, GA, is sponsoring a Discover Coastal Georgia weekend March 30 to April 1 which includes golf on the fun Sapelo Hammock course next door, 2 nights accommodations at the Westin Savannah Golf Resort (about an hour away), boat tours and other goodies.  Our invitation says "Free" weekend, but the web site is a little coy about the price.  We are confident you can probably wangle the free deal if you are serious about looking at property.  There were some wonderful marsh view lots available when we visited a year ago.  See www.cooperspoint.com...
    DeBordieu Colony on the furthest south extremity of Myrtle Beach's Grand Strand, and the most upscale of all the South Strand communities, sent us updated master plan schematics with available lots and homes.  There are many choices at the high end, including one lot directly on the ocean for $2.5 million.  Interior lots are priced beginning in the low $300s and up.  Oceanfront and ocean view homes are priced about what you would expect, beginning around $3 million.  Interior homes, some on the excellent Pete Dye golf course, begin at around $800,000.  Contact Hollace Williams at hwilliams@debordieu.com.

Tuesday, 20 March 2007 19:00

I need help with hole-in-one ethics

    A few days ago, I wrote that my son, Tim, scored his first ace on St. Patrick's Day.  After a few cursory congratulations to him from the cart boys and the foursome that played in front of us at Pawleys Plantation, we left the course for our condo nearby.
    I have been feeling a little guilty ever since because I did not buy drinks for everyone in the clubhouse.  But Tim is under the drinking age, disdains alcohol and did not want to make any deal about his achievement.
    So, I ask, should I have left a couple of hundred on the bar, or does Tim’s age preclude my obligation?  I will provide a copy of Zagat’s 2006/07 Guide to America’s Top Golf Courses to the first five who respond, regardless of whether you coddle me or not.  (Note:  You need to register to leave a comment, but I promise not to bombard you with emails or share your information).
Monday, 19 March 2007 19:00

Quotes of the Day

    "We haven't had a stand-alone project in seven to eight years."   -- Damian Pascuzzo, past president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, indicating that all new golf course development has been connected to real estate development.   According to the National Golf Foundation, the U.S. lost a net of 26 golf courses last year.

    “If we go in and screw around with their design, they’re gone forever.”  -- Gil Hanse, golf course architect, on his respect for the original designs of golf courses and his restraint when working on them.

    Pascuzzo and Hanse took part in a panel discussion of architects at the recent Golf Industry Show in Anaheim, Calif.

Source:  www.golfcourseindustry.com
Sunday, 18 March 2007 23:00

Once lost, now Founders Club


    The venerable Sea Gull Golf Club was one of the original 19 courses in the Myrtle Beach area around 1970 when I played my first rounds of golf on the Grand Strand.  Over the next four decades, it was joined by 100 other courses, each vying for the hundreds of thousands of golfers that came every year to the Strand to feast on golf’s grandest buffet .  All that choice seemed too good to be true, and it was.
    In the last few years, nearly two-dozen courses have closed on the Strand, and one has gone totally private (the Surf Club).  Competition and September 11 sealed the fate of the more mundane layouts.  Even the “Grandaddy” of them all, Pine Lakes, has closed until 2008 to redo the course and add housing to its perimeter.
    Sea Gull never closed, never gave in to an offer it couldn’t refuse from developers looking to convert the fairways to condos and patio homes.  But the course did fall on hard times; its original layout by Gene Hamm came to be seen as a somewhat boring throwback to an era when the architect’s name didn’t matter and when large fairways and greens ruled.  But with dramatically festooned courses nearby by Mike Strantz and Jack Nicklaus, Sea Gull was ignored, despite bargain basement greens fees.  And as revenues decreased, so too did maintenance standards.  Add to that the club’s location at the farthest southern extremity of the Strand, 40 miles from the popular beach hotels, and Sea Gull didn’t have a chance.
    Enter the Classic Golf Group, which was willing to commit $7 million saving an enhancing their only course on the south end of the beach to complement their other four courses further north.  The Classic Group hired Palm City, FL, architect Thomas Walker, former lead designer in the Gary Player shop, who started moving earth around last July.  We stopped by yesterday and were impressed with the activity, although a promised fall opening still looks like a stretch…unless they mean the last day of fall.  The holes are laid out, and the greens have their mix of foundation soils in place, waiting for seed.  It looks to us as if it will be close.
    A peek at a few holes indicates Walker has brought water closer to play, especially on the 9th along Highway 17.  An innocent narrow lagoon that ran halfway down the left side of the fairway has been widened, and the landing area from the tee box appears extremely narrow.  It may either be a short par 5 or long 4, but whatever it is, the tee ball will be crucial.  Behind the green are the largest mounds we have seen on a golf course; they will offer a backstop to overly aggressive approach shots but we think they may be more an aesthetic than strategic consideration.  They block most of the view from the fairway of the two floors of the adjacent, rather tacky Best Western motel.
    The brand new clubhouse is nearing completion.  It is modest sized but Low-Country sleek and certainly fine for a daily fee course.  The motel will need to be upgraded to keep the entire ensemble from looking a little cheesy, but with all those other fine courses mentioned above less than three miles from the Founders Club, and with proper marketing, the hotel should have a good excuse to spruce itself up and generate solid income by offering competitive golf packages. 
    The Founders Club will be part of the recently formed Waccamaw Golf Trail on the South Strand, and we’re hoping the new club provides a little price competition to Caledonia and the other courses on the Trail.  When we called Caledonia three days ago for a walk-in golf rate, we were told the current fee is $192.  At least the cart is included.

Magazines like Golfweek bash some community courses for letting homes get too close.  One remedy is to hide them, as Thomas Walker will do at The Founders Club, set to open in the fall.  Walker's mounds behind the 9th green attempt to hide a two-floor hotel.

Saturday, 17 March 2007 19:00

Hot time summer in the cities...

    After enjoying a few warm days this last week in South Carolina, we found ourselves thinking about summer and how some days are so hot that you arrange for the earliest possible tee time.  You don’t want to be on the golf course much past 11 a.m. when the turf heats up and you feel assaulted from below, as well as above.
    There is a price to be paid for a home in a climate that makes year round golf possible.  That price is called July.  We checked out both average temperatures and average high temperatures (in degrees Fahrenheit) for some of the most popular areas for second-homes and retirement homes on golf courses.  We rank them below from highest average high temperature to lowest.  For a converter from Fahrenheit to Centigrade, click here.

                               Avg. hi/Avg. temp

Scottsdale, AZ             104/76 
Aiken, SC                       94/70
Boca Raton, FL             93/75
Orlando                           92/73
Savannah                       92/72
Jacksonville, FL            91/72
Myrtle Beach                  91/71
Mobile, AL                      91/72
Wilmington, NC             90/72
Fairhope, AL                  90/73
Charleston                      89/77
Pinehurst                        89/69
Chapel Hill                     89/66
Greenville, SC               89/69
Panama City, FL           89/71
Richmond , VA              88/68
Charlottesville, VA        88/66
Miami                              87/78
Boulder, CO                   87/56
Nags Head, NC             86/72
Santa Fe, NM                 85/53
Taos, NM                        85/52
Asheville, NC                 68/52
The short par 3 7th at Pawleys Plantation is short, at 140 yards from the men's tees.  The pin was in the front third of the deep green on Saturday when Tim made his ace.

    I had my one and only ace when I was 16.  From a slightly elevated tee I watched my shot land 10 feet short of the pin and roll into the left side of the cup on the downhill 141-yard 7th hole at the now long gone Valley View Golf Club in East Hanover, NJ.  On Saturday, my 17-year old son Tim cozied one into the hole on the 135-yard 7th at Pawleys Plantation in Pawleys Island, SC.  Tim (Timothy), despite his Celtic name, has no Irish blood in him (that we know of), but Irish eyes were indeed smiling on him on St. Patrick’s Day. 
    Struck 42 years apart, our aces were remarkably similar, both coming on the lucky 7th hole.  Tim’s shot was 135 yards but it too landed about 10 feet short, pitched a little right and rolled into the left side of the cup.  Tim’s reaction was matter of fact in the extreme.  “It went in,” he said, without emotion.  I remember being stunned as well, as if a hole in one was not supposed to happen to me.  As with the lottery, you keep buying the tickets, but you never expect to win.  He didn’t know how to react, utterly unprepared for the moment.
    After the round near the clubhouse, he was still nonplussed, reluctant to share his moment of golfing immortality.  I felt the same way 42 years ago.  There are more than 50 million golfers in the world, and only a relative few will ever put a ‘1’ on their scorecards.  You may think you will fist pump and scream if that day ever comes, but the moment is incredibly sanctifying…and humbling.  Odds are about 33,000 to 1, according to the USGA.  Put another way, you can count on a hole in one about every 8,250 rounds of golf (figuring there are typically four par 3s on a typical 18-hole course).
    Word spread on the course about the shot, and when we finished our round, one of the women in the foursome in front of us congratulated Tim and then went on to say how she had taken up the game a few years ago at her husband’s urging and had her handicap down to a 29.  “Last year I had a hole in one,” she said, “and my husband was not happy.”  He has been playing for over 30 years and is still waiting for the moment.  No wonder he muttered a quick, almost reluctant “Congratulations” to Tim and didn’t break stride as he walked by.  (He has time, though.  The oldest person on record to ever score a hole in one was 101 when he did it.  Harold Stilson nailed a 4-iron on the 108 yard 16th at Deerfield CC in Boca Raton, FL, on May 16, 2001.)
    So across more than four decades, Tim's and my two aces and our reactions to them were remarkably similar.  But there was one thing decidedly different about them, and it has a little something to do with technology.  My ace was struck with a seven iron, hit full.  Tim used a pitching wedge, struck about three-quarters.  The more things remain the same, the more they change.

    The founders of Old Chatham in Chapel Hill, NC, were looking to establish a private club purely dedicated to golf, and they chose wisely in giving the design job to Rees Jones.  Out of the club’s 400 acres, two-thirds of which abut Federally owned land, Jones fashioned a course that fits comfortably into the wooded, rolling terrain.  The layout plays 7,200 yards from the tips, with the 630-yard 11th the longest hole.  The fairways are Jones generous, and the deep fairway bunkers and two-inch Bermuda rough come into play only after the worst of tee shots.  The bent grass greens are fast, averaging 10.5 to 11 on the stimpmeter.  Once used to them, the everyday player should feel quite comfortable with the near perfect rolls.  Old Chatham deserves its accolades, but accomplished every day players might tire a little of a course that provides little challenge from its tee boxes.  Last July, the club hosted a two-round qualifier for the U.S. Amateur, and the low score was 132.Old Chatham 1.11.JPG
    Old Chatham opened just two days before September 11, 2001, but the tragic events did not affect the club’s success; many of its memberships were pre-sold. Golf Digest declared it the best course in the area and the 10th best private course in the nation shortly after it opened.   More recently, the magazine named it the 8th best course in North Carolina, not bad given the competition in a golf rich state that includes so many excellent courses in the Pinehurst area. 
    Old Chatham aims to be private in the manner of classic clubs, and you will need a nominator and two sponsors to be considered.  At full membership, the club will have a roster of 280 members, a number of them non-resident, or “national,” members.  If you long for a pure golf club on a fair golf course, without the encroachment of houses or tennis courts or swimming pools, you might want to start making friends now in the Chapel Hill area.
    Old Chatham telephone:  (919) 361 - 1400
    Note:  I did not personally visit Old Chatham, but my former colleague at HomeOnTheCourse and friend, Tom Hunter, did, and this review represents his observations, which are always astute. Tom is a resident of Chapel Hill.

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