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    We have played the majority of the courses in the Myrtle Beach area over the last 30 years, and are familiar with many of the rest.  The toughest three finishing holes on the Grand Strand of South Carolina’s coast could very well be 16 through 18 at Pawleys Plantation.  Even without the almost relentless breezes that blow in from the ocean just a half mile away, the three may be among the toughest in all of the golf happy state of South Carolina.
    The fun starts at the 16th, a long par 4 dogleg left with a huge live oak at the corner that is far enough out to prevent all but the biggest hitters from attempting to cut the corner.  Even the big boys have good reason to hold back, since beyond the tree is just about 20 yards worth of fairway before you reach the marsh, which runs from about 160 yards out all the way to the right side of the green.  Only a large greenside bunker separates the marsh from the putting surface.  The problem is that if you take the conservative route to the wide part of the fairway, you leave yourself anywhere between 165 to 210 yards to a green that has a very narrow opening, with the aforementioned trap on the right and a few mean ones on the left (especially nasty since the green slopes away from them).  The green also slopes back to front, with the marsh and the Pawleys Island beach framing the area beyond.  Should you rip your approach shot long and left, you could find yourself on the narrow neck of Tiff Eagle grass that connects the 16th green to the tiny 13th, the short par 3 that members love to hate (the hard, small green is surrounded by marsh).
    Should you conquer 16 – and by conquer, we mean escape with a one-putt par – the all-carry par 3 17th could dash your hopes for a good score.  Typically played downwind, the green is contained in front by a bulkhead that echoes designer Jack Nicklaus’ tutelage with Pete Dye in the early 1980s.  The green is no more than 20 paces or so deep, tough to hit on the occasional calm days, nearly impossible on windy ones.  The drop area to the right of the green is no picnic either, especially when the pin is way left.  The long pitch shot must negotiate a strong slope upward in the green, as well as the putting surface’s strong back to front orientation.  Hit too far over the green – we’ve done it a number of times – and out of bounds comes into play.  If #13 has a rival for frustration, #17 is it.
    The finishing hole is almost a relief, but don’t count on it until after you have hit your drive slightly to the right of the long bunker which appears to cut half the left side of the fairway.  Play too safe to the right, and you might find yourself in the trees; at best, you’ll be hitting your approach shot from a bed of pine straw.  Pull your approach ever so slightly (if you are a right-handed player) and the large pond that guards that side of the green will drive you straight to the 19th hole.  The best pin position – we mean the easiest – is at front, as the green narrows as it moves back and the contour is decidedly toward the water, with only a narrow trap to save you from the deep.  It is a good finishing hole, not a great one perhaps, but after the 16th and 17th, you don’t need great.

Pawleys Plantation is a gated community with its entrance on Highway 17 in Pawleys Island, SC.  The club is semi-private which means that anyone can play it in the summer months.  At other times of the year, first choice for tee times goes to those renting homes in the community and others staying at selected local hotels.  The men's tees play at 6,522 yards with a rating of 72.5 and slope of 137.  For the low single-digit players, the Golden Bear tees play at 7,026 yards with a rating of 75.3 and slope of 146.  All properties in Pawleys Plantation are resales, with 2 BR, 2 BA condos starting around $200,000, patio homes beginning in the mid $300s, and nice single family homes beginning north of $450,000.  Your editor owns a condo in the community.

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The entrance to the 16th green at Pawleys Plantation is narrow in the extreme, with marsh and traps right and traps and out of bounds left.

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#17 is all carry over marsh, typically downwind.  The green is not deep, with out of bounds just 15 yards over the back.

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The drop area to the right of #17 is no picnic either.  The pitch shot is uphill to mid-green, then downhill and left if the pin is on the far side.

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The drive on #18 is longer than it looks.  It will take about 200 yards to clear the large left bunker.  Play too cautiously out to the right, and the trees will block your approach shot.

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The last approach of the day cannot be taken for granted.  The edge of a large pond guards the front left, and if you fly it, a menacing bunker awaits beyond.  The green tilts toward the water, so landing on either side of the green is a dubious option.

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    If you are considering joining a golf club in the coming years, you should ask about reciprocal privileges at other courses.  We were reminded of this during our swing through the Jacksonville area last week when we visited a couple of communities developed and managed by the LandMar Group.  We were impressed not only with the master plans in the communities of Osprey Cove in St. Mary’s, GA, and North Hampton, in Fernandina Beach, FL, but the golf courses were well conditioned and nice challenges (we were rained out of our round at Osprey Cove but have heard good things about the Mark McCumber design).  North Hampton, an Arnold Palmer course, was a big surprise, given that we are not used to praising designs by the King, but this one was a delight for the eyes, as well as shot selection, with traps well placed but not too large and greens that were sloped but not the customary monsters we’ve come to expect from Arnie.
    Golf-playing residents of each community are lucky and smart because their membership in one provides them with privileges at the other for the price of just a golf cart rental (about $25).  The courses are a mere 25 minutes apart.  What’s more, all courses in LandMar’s communities, as well as many clubs managed by the affiliated Crescent Communities, are available to members of any club in the LandMar group (and vice versa),.  These include some well-regarded courses such as Ballantyne in Charlotte, NC, Oldfield in Okatie, SC, The Rim Golf Club in Payson, AZ, and Sugarloaf in Duluth, GA.  In all, we count more than 20 clubs available to a Landmar (or Crescent Community) golf club member.
    This is not unique.  ClubCorp, another owner of not only golf clubs but also social clubs worldwide, provides similar perks for its members, including access to the courses at Pinehurst, which ClubCorp runs.  And I know from personal experience that the Private Club Network, a division of Creative Golf Marketing, provides reciprocal privileges for members of its client clubs. CGM is working with my home course of Hop Meadow in Simsbury, CT, to increase the number of members; the Hop has joined the Private Club Network, which gives me and my fellow members the ability to play any of 180 courses nationwide for the price of a golf cart rental.  I've tried it, and it works well.
    Troon Golf, which owns many excellent daily fee as well as private clubs, offers discounted greens fees to most of its courses for members at one.  You will pay more than the cost of a cart rental, but to many, access is most important.
    As you plan to join your next club (or your first), consider that you could wind up “belonging” to scores of them.

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North Hampton Golf Club is the best Arnold Palmer design we have played, and it is available for the price of a cart rental to any member of a LandMar Group golf club.
    The state of Georgia is blessed with good genes, geographically speaking.  Between 1950 and 2005, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, only one storm of consequence has struck the Georgia coast, hurricane David in 1979, which made landfall just about at the Georgia and South Carolina borders.  The Category 2 hurricane, with winds at their highest around 100 mph, caused power outages, flooding and two casualties.
    In those same five and a half decades, the Atlantic coast of Florida bore the brunt of 13 hurricanes, including the catastrophic Andrew in 1992, a Category 5 (winds above 155 mph), and Donna in 1960, a Category 4 (winds 131 to 155 mph).  South Carolina took eight direct hits in the same time, including the Category 4 Hazel (1954) and Hugo (1989), and North Carolina a dozen, but only Hazel as high as Category 4.
    As we know from recent memory with Katrina, the Gulf Coast, from Texas to the panhandle of Florida, is at high risk of damaging hurricanes.  Before Katrina, there was Camille in 1969, another Category 5 whopper.  As you look at the NOOA’s map of hurricane strikes, there is a consistent stream of circles (strikes) from the area of South Padre Island, TX to Panama City, FL, then sporadic activity down to the Naples/Fort Myers area.  From there it is a pretty constant line of strikes up and around the tip of Florida (and through the Keys) until you get to the Vero Beach area, where the aforementioned David first made landfall in 1979.  From there up the coast to the northernmost point in Georgia, we count only Hurricane Dora in 1964, which landed just south of Jacksonville.  It was the only hurricane recorded in St. Johns County since such things began to be noted in 1851. 
    By the numbers since 1955, you are more at risk of a hurricane if you live on Long Island, New York than if you live from Jacksonville to where the borders of Georgia and South Carolina meet.  For those who are hurricane obsessed, the areas of Jacksonville and Savannah are historically a safe bet.
    The hurricane map is available at the NOAA’s website [click here].
    “The rapid shift in January to frigid air in much of the country had a cooling affect on home shopping that went beyond normal seasonal factors...Weather disruptions have continued since.  We are seeing temporary near-term weather disruptions in much of the country, but there is an underlying pattern of stabilization in the housing market.  As a result of these weather disruptions, it may take a couple months for the picture to fully clarify, but a modest recovery is likely.  Housing remains a great long-term investment.”   -- David Lereah, chief economist, National Association of Realtors, in an NAR press release.

    Economists and meteorologists share a common trait:  They predict, then they explain why their predictions were wrong, then they predict again...and on and on.  Lereah has been predicting the imminent return of the housing market month after month after month.   To him, there is never anything inherently wrong with the housing market; not over-speculation, not too many realtors chasing too few buyers, not some agents' pandering to homeowners' lust to get the highest possible price for their homes.   No, it is the weather's fault, as if people who are looking for a home don't own warm coats. 
    Lereah is at his blindingly obvious best when he says, "Housing remains a great long-term investment"; to extend the weather metaphor, that is almost like saying the sun will come up tomorrow.  However, if a shill like Lereah, who always predicts happy days just around the corner, is now saying it may take "a couple of months" before we know about the market's status, then we should be afraid.  Very afraid.

     Long Point is the best course on Amelia Island, the locals say.  And we would agree after playing it yesterday, the third we played during our short visit.  Tom Fazio's layout threads its way through the marshes at the south end of the island, emerging for two par three holes onto the ocean, just for variety's (and drama's) sake.  Fazio works best when the land comes to him, and so at Long Point the fairways are as nature intended -- rolling, not funneled.  We forgive the designer for a few uncharacteristically large mounds in mid fairway.  But that's a minor nit on an otherwise brilliant track.
    We had the great good fortune to be matched with three fine gentlemen from the Jacksonville area:  Bill Swerbenski, who arranged the golf; Steve Roberts, a native of Wales; and Jack Hofstetter, a local real estate agent.  All are members at th Sawgrass Country Club.  Bill is a former accountant and, not surprisingly, he wound up on the positive end of the day's wagers.  I paid for a few bad shots, but otherwise had my best round of the week, an 83 (not that you asked).  We played the blue tees at a mere 6,121 yards and a rating of 69.6.  The slope is a modest 125.  The wind blew at about a steady 10 mph, with gusts to 20, and I thought ithe course played harder than the rating.
    Long Point, which is a private club but playable if you are a guest at the Amelia Island Plantation resort, is a must play if you are ever in the area.  The Jacksonville golf community market has heated up in the last few years, and there are many great options.  The area is up and coming area for those who want to live the golf lifestyle; there is much relocation from south Florida to the area, as well as the customary snow bird migration from the north.

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Left to right, Jack Hofstetter, Bill Swerbenski and Steve Roberts at one of the two ocean holes at Long Point, both short par 3s and both dead into the wind.

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    Old Trail, which sold its first piece of property in early 2005, is somewhat avant garde among its peer Charlottesville, VA, area communities.  The niche for the Crozet, VA, community is more populist than the upscale Keswick or the buttoned up and more dramatically scaled Glenmore, other fine communities in the area which we will review in future posts.  Old Trail will have no gate, manned or otherwise.  The community includes sidewalks and a park area to promote a sense of neighborhood.   When built out, natural spaces will include six miles of walking trails and 75 acres of parkland.  A “town center” will be the central point in Old Trail; the furthest extremity from the 250,000 square foot center will be a mere 10-minute walk.  Plans call for a restaurant, shops and offices; the first shops should be open by early 2008.  The goal is that people from the nearby town of Crozet will also use the town center for shopping and dining.
    The golf course is links style, different in that regard from most other courses in the area.  Condition of the turf was quite good; we liked especially the Zoysia grass fairways in which the ball sat up nicely.  The design by Jerry Kamis, a PGA pro and one of the developers of Old Trail itself, is fairly straightforward, although the layout seemed to require more than typical placement shots from one piece of land to another; we felt as if we had played a dozen par 3s by the end of the round.  The course strikes another odd note in that it includes only eight par 4 holes, two fewer than typical layouts.  The 18th hole is a little strange.  At the midpoint on the dogleg left 406-yard par four (from the men’s tees), the fairway stops abruptly, dropping a good two stories to the level below, the hill padded with thick rough.  We opted for long irons rather than metal, believing a layup would leave us a modest approach to the green way below, and that driver would put us on the hill in the rough.  We wound up on the hill anyway and were left with a lie that put our right foot almost at waist level in the thick rough.  There are better ways to make a finishing hole challenging.  That said, nothing else seemed unusual, with the exception of the llamas that stared at us from the backyard next to one tee box.  
    The Old Trail Golf Club is fashioned after early Scottish clubs in which the public had access and a few “founding” members had extra privileges.  Memberships are available at $4,000 for non-residents and $2,000 for anyone who purchases a lot or house in the community.  Monthly dues are a reasonable $250; property owner association dues add another $47 to $116 per month, depending on whether you own a single-family home or town home.  This week, the modest-sized clubhouse opens; the developers are counting on the town center, not the clubhouse, to be the community’s gathering place.  Even the community pool will be located at the town center.
    More than 100 homes are occupied in Old Trail.  Most of those who have purchased property plan to live there year round.  At full build out, which the developers expect to be in nine years, Old Trail will include 2,000 homes of varying styles and sizes, and more than 5,000 people.  Single-family houses on the larger lots (up to ¾ acre) range up to $1.4 million for the largest home, at 6,000 square feet.  Houses on patio lots are in the $450,000 to $600,000 range.  Town homes in the first phase are sold out, but a new phase is planned for June.  Architectural standards in the community are strict; we were impressed that no garages are permitted to face the street, and that no vinyl will ever line the exterior of an Old Trail home.
    Old Trail is a new concept in golf communities in the Charlottesville area.  It is wide open, embracing of the nearby community, and without pretension.  It will appeal to those who don’t believe good fences necessarily make good neighbors.  The course has a nice links style to it, and a couple of clunky holes do not ruin the fun.  Contact Old Trail Village Sales Executive Jonathan Kauffman at 866-567-8100, or JK@oldtrailliving.com.  Web site:  www.oldtrailliving.com

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The Blue Ridge Mountains provide framing for the picturesque Old Trail, designed by PGA pro Jerry Kamis.


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    "Jeez," was my first impression when I looked at the scorecard for the Ocean Links course and saw it played just 6,100 yards from the tips (and had six par 3s).  "Where are the windmills and the clown's mouth?"
    Then I played this fine par 70 Bobby Weed layout at Amelia Island Plantation in Florida and learned there is nothing mini about it.
    Weed was given a piece of land not unlike what Pete Dye enjoyed at the famed Ocean Course at Kiawah Island.  Dye, however, had nothing but ocean and sky framing his layout; a few of the ocean holes on Weed's course are draped with hulking condominium buildings, some seven stories high.  The off-ocean holes are lined with houses, set back in most cases at a safe reserve, but a few are definitely in the danger zone.
    Keep your blinders on and focus on the shots before you, and you will enjoy a terrific round.  Most memorable is the 15th, a lovely terror that emerges from the beautiful live oaks and runs downhill 187 yards to a green surrounded by sand dunes and backed by the blue Atlantic ocean.  It is perhaps the only hole on the course where even your peripheral vision does not capture any manmade structures.  My playing partner, also a first timer at the Ocean Links, emitted a "Whoa" when we came up to the tee.  This was one of the rare moments of crosswinds during the round, and we both wound up short right, much preferable to left where recovering from the dunes would have been next to impossible.
    At the 6,100 yards, the course rating is 69.3 and the slope a modest 128.  We found it tougher than that.  We will have more to say about Ocean Links and its companion course, the Pete Dye designed Oak Marsh, as well as Amelia's members-only club, Long Point, in coming weeks.

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After the tough and beautiful par 3 15th, the tee ball on 16 must thread the needle between the dunes.  Hundreds of people could potentially bear witness to your approach shot, a tricky downhiller to a green partially obscured and backed by nasty thick grasses and sand.

 

Golf Course Review: Oak Marsh, Amelia Island 

    There are days when every muscle locks up, every putt reads wrong, all the breaks uniformly go against you, every fairway lie seems to be a bad one, and lip-in is not part of the equation (but lip-out is very much so).  Okay, that was me yesterday at the tough but fair Oak Marsh course at Amelia Island Plantation, from the double bogey on the first to the same fortune on the last.  The only thing that kept me from verbally embarrassing myself -- beyond the embarrassment of my golf game -- was Jerry and Shirleen, the nice folks from St. Louis we were matched with (Bill Miller, friend and faithful subscriber to HomeOnTheCourse, our advistory newsletter, also was witness to my self destruction).  I didn't want to act up in front of them.
    Jerry and Shirleen return to Amelia every year for the month of March, and occasionally add the month of February as well.  Clearly they like the island's golf courses and are enthusiastic advocates for resort golfing; when I asked if they had considered a retirement home in a golf course community, they replied "Never" in unison.  They much prefer to have one home and various vacation spots.  Their credentials as golf course afficionados are impeccable; their home course in St. Louis, Bellerive, has hosted the U.S. Open and PGA Tour Championships and is one of the most heralded clubs in America.  They know of what they speak.
    Thanks to them and Bill for putting up with me.  We'll follow up soon with some comments about the Amelia Plantation courses; today we play Bobby Weed's Ocean Links course, and tomorrow it's the highly rated Long Point.

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Not only was my golf game atrocious yesterday, but my picture-taking skills took the day off as well.  Apologies to, left to right, Bill, Shirleen and Jerry.

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Par 3s at Queen's Harbour aren't long, but don't be short.

    Golf is not first in the club's name, but the course at Queen's Harbour Yacht and Golf Club is very good.  The Mark McCumber layout has its peculiarities -- for example it sets up much better for the player who draws the ball than the one who fades -- but it is a fair test, not easy by any means, but if your mid irons are working, you will score well.  And Monday through Thursday, the course is available to outside play for the ultra-bargain price of $49.
    We will have more to say about Queen's Harbour in coming weeks here and in HomeOnTheCourse, our advisory newsletter, but for the moment I want to thank the three Florida guys who put up with my erratic play and frenetic picture taking.  Ed and Chris are from Orlando and Kyle is a superintendent at the Hale Plantation in Gainesville and a graduate of the University of Florida's turf management program.  He wore his Gators hat proudly, and his golf bag bore the university's name and logo.  Must be nice to be an alum of a school with a national basketball championship.  (Nice to have his good golf swing as well.)
    Thanks to the guys and to Jon Kitchen, director of golf and general manager at the club for making my arrangements (and for his understanding why I needed to pay for my greens fees, as I do everywhere I play; objectivity has its price).

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Left to right:  Chris, Ed and Kyle rounded out my foursome.

    Bill Straub and Bob Genovese were my hosts yesterday at North Hampton Golf Club, just outside of Jacksonville, FL.  They treated me royally, even conceding me a three-foot putt at one point.  They had been such good friends in Woodstock, GA, that after Bob and his wife moved to North Hampton five years ago, Bill rang their doorbell a few years later asking for an overview of the community.  He and his wife bought a home in North Hampton a few days after.  Bob and Bill have something of an Abbott and Costello thing going, with Bob playing the straight part and Bill cracking wise at every opportunity (at one point during the round, he cracked up the cart girl with a little ditty that was a little bawdy).
    Both say their number one priority in seeking a retirement home was a good golf course they could play a few times a week.  The Arnold Palmer Signature design at North Hampton filled the bill for both of them.
    "It is a tough course," said Bob, whose handicap is in the high teens, "but it offers a different challenge every day."
    I thought the course was both a delight to play and very tough at a relatively short 6,373 yard from the men's tees, especially for those who can't bring the ball in high over the large signature bunkers that, in the case of North Hampton, have high lips and bump right up against most of the enormous greens.  North Hampton has more than five acres of them, double that of more classicly designed courses, and I didn't have a flat putt all day.  The greens were quite tough to read, and looking on both sides of the hole was mandatory.  We could only imagine how tough the course plays from the tips at 7,171 yards and a rating of 75.4.  There are very few opportunities to run the ball up onto the enormous greens, making this a course tough on many women competitors.   
    Although I am not a big fan of  Arnie's designs, this one was  wonderful.  Besides the large, often-banked greens, the most memorable observation of the round was how narrow the fairways appeared from the tee boxes.  They were pinched in by enormous bunkers, many of which did double duty as cart paths.  Yet when I drove to the fairway and looked back toward the tee, I realized just how much room was out there.  This is the King at his best, and you can almost imagine that patented twinkle in his eye when he thought of his little deceptions.
    The pleasant community that surrounds the club does not encroach.  A few lots remain to be sold but, for the most part, the area is built out.  Although North Hampton is "semi-private," which means anyone can play it for a daily fee, members have access privileges at other area courses.  If you are in the Fernandina Beach, FL, area, northeast of Jacksonville, don't pass it by.  The pro shop staff, under the guidance of Jim Houston, is friendly and accommodating.  And the course will provide you with a tough but fulfilling four hours, especially if you are as lucky as I was to be paired with Bill and Bob.  Thanks guys!
    North Hampton Golf Club.  Blue tees:  6,363 yards.  Rating: 71.5.  Slope:  137.  Phone:  904-548-0000.  Web:  www.hamptongolfclubs.com

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That's Bob Genovese on the left with Wild Bill Straub.

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