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    On a large buffet table, everything looks good if you are hungry.  But you just don’t have the time or stomach to taste everything.  You take a piece of this, a piece of that and move on.
    So it is with trade shows and, especially, with a real estate trade show where every booth sports large and wonderfully colorful displays and is hosted by well scrubbed salespeople eager to fill you up with sweet and savory dreams of a beautiful life.  Choose well, and you can make a nice meal of it.
    We made a swing through the Live South Real Estate Show in Greenwich, CT, yesterday evening and found much to recommend to those who want to do some preliminary one-stop shopping for a southern community.  The show runs through Sunday, with three more weekend shows scheduled for Boston, Detroit and Cleveland (see LiveSouth.com for the schedule).
    Be mindful that the 60 exhibitors represent a nice selection, but are far from a totally representative sample.  It appeared to us that the communities at the show were in the middle of the pack in terms of price points.  We spoke with some agents about lots that began as low as $35,000 and others where they started north of $200,000.   The big guys, the ones with huge marketing budgets like the Cliffs Communities and Ford Plantation, were absent.  
    A number of new communities were there.  We had good conversations with representatives from Queens Gap, east of Asheville, NC., which will include a Jack Nicklaus signature course, and Cutter Creek, another new community located near Greenville, NC.
    Exhibitors pay $5,000 and more to display their wares to hundreds, sometimes thousands of people over the course of a weekend.  It is money well spent, one exhibitor told us.
    “We do about 25% of our business from these shows,” he says, adding that he and his colleagues in their South Carolina golf community close deals with about 20% of those who visit the property.
    The Live South shows are a great way for people just beginning to look for a southern home to get a good sampling of what is available.  Yes, every place looks like paradise from this side of the booth and, as Live South founder Dave Robertson advises, you should the amenities and location you want and then go visit before you make any commitment.  And we would add one further piece of advice, almost as obvious as the aforementioned:  If you can afford it, live in your chosen place for a month or two before you buy.  There are nuances of living in a community that you won’t discover during the “Discovery Weekend” packages most communities offer.
    One final note:  Make sure your mailbox is large enough to handle the avalanche of material you will receive in the weeks after the show. 

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We have done a quick survey of a few homes for sale in some of the best golf communities nationwide.  For an apples-to-apples comparison, we looked at houses of about 2,500 to 3,000 square feet with a golf course view.  Here's what we found:

Community, Location                          Architect              List $

Ford Plantation, Richmond, GA         P. Dye                 1.5M

Cliiffs at Keowee, Keowee, SC          T. Fazio              800K

Mount Vintage, Aiken, SC                   T. Jackson         650K

Superstition Mountain, Phoenix         J. Nicklaus         899K

Governor's Club, Chapel Hill              J. Nicklaus         599K

Pawleys Plantation, SC                       J. Nicklaus         570K

Tennessee National, Loudon, TN      G. Norman         590K

    Most friendly golf matches among strangers are won and lost on the first tee, before a shot is struck.  It is all in the negotiation of terms and handicaps. Rule #1 in the negotiation process:  Don’t ever give an opponent a stroke on any par 3s, let alone all of them, no matter his age or physical condition.
    I violated Rule #1 at Porters Neck Country Club just outside Wilmington in January.  My young host (35 years old; everything’s relative) had arranged to round out our group with two friendly retirees, Rick and Gary.  No sooner had we shaken hands than Rick asked, “How about a game of Wolf?” Rick’s eagerness sent up all sorts of warning signals, but I was the guest, and it would have been impertinent to decline the invitation.  I figured my host had his own radar working, but maybe his ability to drive a ball 300 yards and straight gave him a strong sense of confidence (his 18 handicap didn’t hurt either, compared with my 10).  He accepted the challenge, and the game was on.  Only after handicaps were exchanged did I realize I might be doomed; Rick was a 27 and Gary a 30, meaning Rick would get a stroke from me on every hole but one par 3, and Gary would actually double up on three holes.  Worse, I learned just before we teed off that Rick was a financial planner in his working days and rarely finished out of the money in club tournaments.  This was going to be tough.
    For the uninitiated, the rules of Wolf offer an opportunity to the lowest handicap to make wise choices and overcome bad play.  Indeed, Wolf is a game of choice and chance, and if you choose wisely, it almost doesn’t matter how you play.  Almost.
    Here’s how the game works.  On the first tee, the group decides the tee-off order for the entire round.  Player A drives first on holes 1, 5, 9, 13, and 17; player B on holes 2, 6, 10, 14 and 18…and so on for the others.  The first one to drive, the Wolf, has a choice after he tees off:  He may either decide to go it alone – that is, take on all three other players on the hole – or wait.  If he goes it alone, he must win the hole from all; a tie is a loss.  As each successive player tees off, the Wolf can decide on his partner for the hole.  But he must choose his partner before the following player tees off, so there is much chin stroking on each tee box…
    …and much opportunity for miscalculation.  I guessed wrong virtually every time.  Gary, a “strong” 30 handicap who would make a great member/guest partner, sent his tee ball down the fairway a good 200 yards a few times when I was the Wolf, once on a par 4 where he was receiving two strokes.  “Gary, you’re my man,” I declared confidently, knowing he was in the middle of the fairway in minus one.  My man then grounded three fairway iron shots, sent a chip shot over the green and missed a five footer coming back that would have halved the hole.         
    And then there was Rick the financial planner.  He sank 20 foot putts to beat me and my partner a few times on the front nine.  He didn’t miss anything inside 12 feet all day, except once when he was my partner, and his chipping was unerring.  I chose him a few times on the back nine after he struck nice, middle of the fairway drives.  But you know how the mutual fund companies warn you that past performance is no predictor of future performance; his prior performance was no predictor when I was riding him. 
    At day’s end, I forked over my $5 to Gary and Rick.  As lessons go, it seemed a small price to pay.

Footnote:  Porters Neck in Wilmington, NC, is a terrific Tom Fazio layout that was totally refurbished a year ago in preparation for the club going private.  Every hole is a nice test, with typical Fazio bunkering in the fairways (which is to say they are large and in play for the longer hitters and just out of reach for those who play the shorter tees).  Bunkers at greenside have been brought closer to the putting surfaces, as Fazio originally designed them a couple of decades ago.   Condition of the course in January was excellent, indicating that in spring and summer it will be exquisite.  By summer, Porters Neck should be able to fill out its membership rolls and eliminate daily fee play.  They have raised the current rates for public play to north of $100 a round.  Initiation fees are $30,000.  For membership information, contact Leslie Hurley, membership director, at lhurley@portersneckcountryclub.com, or (910) 686-8164.

Porter's Neck
Porters Neck could go private by this coming summer.  The course is a fine example of Tom Fazio's work.

    In one colorful and interesting sitting, you can see why so many golfers choose to spend their vacations and retirement years in the Carolinas.  A small panel of experienced golf writers and players have posted their consensus choices of their favorite 18 holes at the CarolinaLiving web site.  Although favorite anything can be a matter of great subjectivity, we think the panel generally got it right.  We've played many of the courses whose holes they salute, and there isn't a clunker among them. 
    If anything, there may be a sin of omission or two.  The panel selected no representative holes from Harbour Town, Governor's Club or Old Chatham (in the Chapel Hill area), Wade Hampton (Cashiers), Caledonia or Pawleys Plantation (Pawleys Island) or myriad other viable candidates.  It was a tough task, and we don't envy the challenge.  Wait a minute; we do envy the challenge; they must have played all those great golf courses they did select. 
    Take a look for yourself by clicking here or by visiting CarolinaLiving.com.

    “If hordes of inexperienced [real estate] agents are scrapping for business…that can only lead to a ‘race to the bottom in fees.’”
    -- Christopher Galler, SVP of Minnesota Assn. of Realtors, Wall Street Journal, Page B6, 2/7/07.
    No surprise:  Mr. Galler adds that competitive commissions are not good for consumers and that they will result in poor service.  More productive agents, he argues, are better at “solving problems.” 
    The article indicates the total number of agents nationwide reached a peak last year at 1.4 million but their ranks will drop between 6% and 8% this year.  A former golf pro who gave up the links to sell houses is featured.  He recently left the real estate business to take up a new profession, training dogs.

    Business 2.0, one of the few magazines dedicated to the internet that stuck after the dot com bust, has published a list of cities where they think bargains can be had in real estate.  As longtime fans of baseball's Los Angeles Dodgers all the way back to the team's Brooklyn days, we found our interest piqued by the magazine's second choice.  It's Vero Beach, FL, where for more than half a century the Boys of Summer have honed their skills in the pre-season.
    Alas, sadly, soon no more.  The Dodgers are pulling up stakes after 2008 and moving their spring training facilities west to join every other west coast team in the springtime.  Dodgertown, long known as one of the best, if not the best, training facilities in baseball, is for sale.  The complex includes a modest nine-hole course, but across the street is an 18-holer, Dodger Pines, that includes a major league 600+ yard par 5.  Former Dodger great Maury Wills learned to play golf at Dodgertown; it was the only course in the area that permitted access to African-Americans.
    It will be a sad day in 2008 when spring training ends in Vero Beach.
    For a list of Business 2.0's top cities for real estate now, see http://money.cnn.com/magazines/business2/

Sunday, 04 February 2007 18:00

Love grows: Most romantic towns for retirees

    According to Dr. Warren Bland, one of the most-quoted authorities on retirement destinations, some cities have more “romantic” qualities than others.  In an article in the Feb. 2 issue of “Retirement Weekly,” an online publication from MarketWatch.com, Bland includes two of our favorite areas on hist list, Savannah and Charleston, numbers 8 and 9, respectively.  The only other southeastern city to make the top 10 is Naples, FL, giving rise to the notion that couples in that vastly overheated real estate market are not arguing about whether they should have cashed in a year ago.  Las Vegas, with much the same real estate problem as Naples, rates a #4 ranking on the romantic cities list.  It must be all those Wayne Newton concerts.
    Bland rates Ashland, OR, as the most romantic city in the nation for retirees.  Home to Oregon’s respected Shakespeare Festival, the remote Ashland certainly provides a nice setting for Romeo and Juliet, although we recall that story didn't end so well.  Ashland's climate is terrific, and perhaps Midsummer's Night Dream is more appropriate.
Saturday, 03 February 2007 18:00

Golf weather or not

Here's where they are playing golf today, and where they are not:

You are playing today if you live in…

Panama City, FL       Partly sunny, Hi 64 degrees

Savannah, GA           Partly cloudy, 60

Aiken, SC                   Mostly sunny, 58

Jacksonville, FL        Partly cloudy, 62

Myrtle Beach, SC      Partly cloudy, 55

Rocky Mount, NC      Partly cloudy, 53

Wilmington, NC         Partly cloudy, 55

Scottsdale, AZ           Sunny, 75

Austin, TX                  Sunny, 64

Las Vegas, NV          Sunny, 67

Where you should not be playing today…

Wintergreen, VA       Partly cloudy, 38, winds to 20 mph

Rehoboth, DE           Partly cloudy, 33, winds to 25 mph

Nashville, TN            Possible snow, 33

Charlottesville, VA   Partly cloudy, 38, winds to 25 mph

If you really must…

Santa Fe, NM            Mostly sunny, 40

Jonesboro, GA          Mostly sunny, 49, winds to 20 mph
    "We're seeing people who have worked their whole lives in Connecticut and earned a lot of money taking their pension plans and their savings [to the South]."
    -- Ron van Winkle, Economist for the City of West Hartford, CT commenting on the latest U.S. Census Bureau estimates for population migration (Source:  Hartford Courant, 2/4/07, page B1)
    Of those who left the state between 2005 and 2006, most left for the southern states.  Connecticut lost a net 17,000 people in that period.

Traps at Tennessee National

    As a competitor, Greg Norman went for broke on every shot, the advice of his caddie or cooler heads be damned.  The results were sometimes glorious, and sometimes painful to watch.  But there was never a doubt that he was trying his hardest every time he swung.  At the recently opened $500 million Tennessee National community near Knoxville, golf course designer Norman is firmly in control of his game. 
    The golf course will be noticed for its bold design as well as its bold designer.  A shark can’t live without water, and on the Tennessee National club’s 240-acre canvas, this Shark has painted in a lot of blue.  Manmade and natural lakes come into play on 11 holes, and the Tennessee River is a factor on five of them.  Yet the course’s sand traps may generate the most conversation.  They reflect an obvious soft spot Norman has for the only major golf championship he ever won, The Open (what jingo Americans refer to as The British Open).  At Tennessee National, he has designed more than 75 stacked sod bunkers (of the total 105 bunkers) echoing those at Turnberry, where he first secured the claret jug. (His other Open victory was at Royal St. Georges.)  The bunkers give the design an extra jolt of eye candy and ensure that the steep faces of the mostly deep traps neither cave in nor embed Titleists (they are held together with a special epoxy compound).  At 7,400 yards from the tips, the course provides a stiff challenge for the accomplished golfer, its four other tees providing less exhausting routings.
    Visually, the course puts most emphasis around the greens, which are framed by some fierce looking deep traps with those sod walls. The par 3 12th (below) is a signature hole in the making, combining both the traps and river into a beautifully intimidating tableau.  At 209 yards from the back tees, you face a downhill shot with six deep sod bunkers built into a hill in front, another one left and another at left rear, and the river immediately on the right.  There is little room for a bail out, and if you come up short and land between the traps, the slope will take you down to wetlands.  It is the kind of hole that makes you sigh deeply on the tee box for its beauty and difficulty.  12th at Tennessee National
    The initial few “spec” houses at Tennessee National are of the “mountain craftsman” style that we’ve seen elsewhere in the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains, which is to say lots of stacked stone and indigenous timber, very rustic.  Prices begin around $375,000 for amply sized “cottages,” and villas will range from $500,000 and up. Tennessee National includes all the customary amenities expected of a high-end community, plus a planned marina and adjacent village that will accommodate residents bearing boats, as well as golf clubs.  Golf memberships are $30,000 with dues pegged at $385 per month.  Tennessee National’s web site is www.tennesseenational.com.

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