The latest edition of Home On The Course, our free newsletter, will be sent to all subscribers on Tuesday. The newsletter is free of charge and includes reviews of golf communities, advice on how to search for a golf community, and observations about real estate that should appeal to anyone looking for a vacation or permanent property near great golf.
Although we typically feature golf communities in the Southeast U.S., in this month’s special combined July/August issue we review the Cape Cod, Massachusetts golf community known as New Seabury. If not for the winters, you could mistake New Seabury for a community on Hilton Head, such is its location beside the sea, its 36 holes of stellar golf and its collection of both multi-family and single-family dwellings that fit seamlessly into the gently rolling landscape. As a vacation home owner in South Carolina, a condo, and a primary single-family home owner in Connecticut, I have, in theory, the ability to play golf year-round, although life sometimes intrudes on golf plans and much of our winters are spent up north. Still, a community like New Seabury can provide half of the formula for year-round golf. Learn how in the July/August issue of Home On The Course.
My favorite golf course in Connecticut played host to the Junior Girls National PGA Championship a few weeks ago, and I caught the last nine holes on the last day. I came away impressed by how well these teenagers play but, more importantly, I learned a few things about my own game from the way they approached theirs. Is it a coincidence that, a week later, I shot my best round of the year? Maybe, maybe not. You decide by reading about the five lessons I learned from a group of teenagers.
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I have previously spilled my dreams onto these pages about a partial retirement in Scotland. No self-respecting golfer could dream otherwise. I am mindful that dreams, for many reasons, often exceed our grasp. A few years ago, I plunked down a couple hundred dollars and became an overseas member of the Crail Golfing Society, thereby almost forcing myself to make the trip across the Atlantic on an annual basis to play the eight rounds of golf on Crail’s 36 holes beside the North Sea to which I am entitled on an annual basis. For now, that is about as close as I can get to living in Scotland, at least part time.
In an article the other day, the website Top Retirements.com pitched Scotland as a potential retirement location but added the appropriate caveats about moving to a foreign (non-American) land. I recommend the article to those fellow golfers who might be contemplating a Scottish relocation. The major obstacle to an American living in Scotland is that, except for a few of us –- those with Scottish ancestry or a couple million dollars to invest in a Scottish business –- residency is capped at six months per year.
No problem for those who might otherwise live seasonally in two homes, as friends of mine do in the States; six months and a day in Florida, to qualify for its non-existent state income tax, and the rest of the year in Connecticut, a high-tax state. Those with the means, inclination and love of golf could just substitute Scotland in summer for Connecticut or any other cold-winter state. I daresay that real estate in a small Scottish town near great golf will be more reasonably priced than comparable housing in most northern US states, and renting an apartment for five to six months annually is also a viable and cost-effective approach.
Tax rules for foreign residents in Scotland and the rest of the UK became a bit complicated with a new tax law enacted a few years ago; it is best to consult an expert or at least do your research online before getting serious about a part-year retirement in Scotland. But the effort will be worth it for those who can imagine a relaxing and healthy lifestyle – most Scottish layouts require walking -- and cool summers on some of the greatest golf courses in the world.
You can read the Top Retirements article here.
This is the time of year that any of us who write about golf and golf communities receive press releases from golf communities touting their placement on Where to Retire magazine’s list of the “50 Best Master-Planned Communities in the U.S.” That sounds pretty good when you consider that there are thousands of master-planned communities in the United States.
Simply Not The Best
The fact is that the universe for Where to Retire’s choices is probably a couple hundred communities at most, and a fairer title for the award would be “50 Best Master-Planned Communities that Advertise in Our Magazine.” For example, the only two ads on the Where to Retire website page that lists the Top 50 are from two of the winners.
If you want to know which communities made the Top 50, you can access the list by clicking here.
I am not going to disparage those communities in this space because I have visited some of them and they are of high quality, including Brunswick Forest, Carolina Colours and Compass Pointe; I have even helped clients purchase homes in a few. And according to some communities I spoke with – see below – they were assured advertising in the magazine did not necessarily mean they were going to make the list.
Many retirees rely on Where to Retire for guidance, thinking the magazine makes a purely editorial judgment about the best communities in the land. If you choose to consider and visit only the communities on the Where to Retire list, you will be missing dozens of others that will meet your requirements and that, possibly, exceed the qualities of the relatively few on the magazine’s list.
It is understandable that some communities choose to advertise in Where to Retire in order to get their names in front of the magazine’s 200,000 readers, many of whom are looking for a place to live. Such exposure is the purpose of good marketing. But Where to Retire, which bills itself as “The Authority on Retirement Relocation,” does its readers a disservice when it fails to make clear that its Top 50 are culled substantially from its advertisers.
No Quid Pro Quo Here
To avoid any quid pro quo – “advertise and we will name you to our Top 50” – Where to Retire’s sales reps are coy about the connection between ad spend and the list.
“My sales rep heavily encouraged my advertising,” one community’s marketing executive told me, “but made it clear that advertising would make no bearing on the decision to include [our community] in the list. [However] I [later] answered a very long questionnaire and did a telephone interview. I also had to give the names of three residents for an interview.” This marketing executive told me her community found out it was in the Top 50 the day the magazine published the list a couple of weeks ago.
A general manager from another community that I know well and admire was not sure why his community made the list.
“We do advertise in WTR but on a pretty limited basis, less than we did in the past,” he told me. “I suspect, but do not know, that the pool of the best is picked from among those communities that advertise, and perhaps those that have in the past advertised, and perhaps those they are hoping would advertise.”
When you see a press release from a community touting its status as a Top 50 Where to Retire community, understand that they paid for the honor whether they knew it at the time or not. Caveat emptor, dear reader.
The private Metacomet Country Club in East Providence, RI, was losing money and conditions had become iffy when former PGA Tour player Brad Faxon, a Rhode Island native, and other investors bought the club earlier this year for a couple million dollars and began the process of restoring it to its former glory. It is well worth the effort, especially the front nine.
Metacomet was incorporated in 1901. The golf course was re-designed by Donald Ross in 1926, the Golden Age of classic golf course architecture in the U.S. The greens are vintage Ross with lots of crests and bowls that demand thoughtful approaches, literally and figuratively. Approach shots played to a “bad” spot on the putting surface can easily result in three strokes with the flat stick.
Of course, when you play a course like Metacomet for the first time, you have no clue where to put the ball, especially if you are flying blind without a member in tow. Blind is the operative word on a number of holes at Metacomet, with blind tee shots up steeply sloped fairways and blind approach shots where the bottom half of the flag stick is covered by false fronts.
The front nine at Metacomet is a bit of a roller coaster, with dramatic changes in elevation and many of those aforementioned blind shots. The greens are exquisite, and will only get better as the weather -– and turf growth – improve. The second nine is a bit of a letdown, still classic in design but with only a few of the flourishes encountered on the way out. But it is still Ross, and only diminishes slightly the soaring shot values on the front and the overall experience.
East Providence is quite the mecca of renowned private golf clubs. Agawam Hunt Club (1897) and Wannamoisett (1914), another Ross course, are just a few miles up the road from Metacomet and, like it, adopted the names of native American tribes from the area. But “progress” has not been kind to the area’s natural vistas, or membership stability. From Metacomet’s higher elevations, the view of the Providence River must have been breathtaking before the Industrial Revolution, but today you get a heavy dose of smokestacks and industrial structures along with the water view. Many former residential neighborhoods are gone, and as in other once-thriving urban centers, suburban golfers just won’t make the drive into the city more than occasionally to play golf. (The famed Agawam Hunt Club lost a few hundred members in the wake of the 2008 recession and was saved from bankruptcy a couple of years ago by the combined investments of wealthy members and a nature conservancy.)
I look forward to a round at the still-private Wannamoisett in July, but the once extremely private Agawam Hunt now accepts outside play. (See tee times at GolfNow.com). And if you call Metacomet, as Brad Faxon and his partners seek to restore the golf course and its reputation, they will almost assuredly book a time for you. You could do a lot worse than a couple of days of golf and dining in the Providence area, and the famed Portuguese restaurants of Fall River, MA, are only a few miles away.
There are two ways that a vacation golf home can pay you back –- and then some. One, of course, is if you choose the right market at the right time and your property increases in value until it comes time to sell. The other way is if you choose a vacation home in a location favored by other vacationers who are willing to pay a nice percentage of your carrying costs to rent it from you. You really hit the jackpot if you can accomplish both.
Count me as a skeptic on the issue of whether a vacation home can ever really pay for itself on an annual basis. That is because you pay taxes, homeowner fees, insurance and maintenance costs on your property in order to make it rent-worthy, and those expenses bite into your net income. And if you are an absentee landlord, you will need to hire a local or on-site agency to clean up your home after each renter departs. Those agencies will typically charge anywhere from 25% to 40% of your rental fee, turning $1,000 per week in revenue into as little as $600.
Myrtle Beach tops list for return on investment from rental income
Still, if you want to own a vacation for your own use a couple of weeks a year and defray the costs of a mortgage, then your best bet is to choose a market consistently favored by other vacationers, preferably during most months of the year. And for coastal-located golf homes, no market fits that description better than does Myrtle Beach, SC, according to a recent study by vacation rental property managers Vacasa that was published in last Sunday’s New York Times’ Real Estate section.
The Times used capitalization rate, or cap rate, to determine which of the Vacasa markets was home to the most profitable rental properties. The higher the cap rate the more profitable the property. Ocean Shores, WA, more beach than golfing destination, and Myrtle Beach, a supermarket of golf courses with excellent beaches, tied for the top spot with cap rates of 7.4% each. The average rental property in Myrtle Beach sells for $249,000, which means that such a property –- I rounded off to $250,000 -- returns on average $18,500 per year in net rental income (what is left after expenses).
The cap rate does not factor in the cost of a mortgage; purchasers who can pay all cash for a property will make out better. Those who require financing will have to work the calculator a little harder, but can still count on at least paying for much of their carrying costs with rental income. Keep in mind, though, that some Myrtle Beach properties are located in designated flood zones, and Federal flood insurance –- which coincidentally covers up to $250,000 in structural damage -- can cost into the thousands of dollars each year. And you never know when the hot water heater might go and require an expensive replacement. On the other hand, if you maintain your vacation home as a business (see below), you can deduct certain expenses from your income taxes.
Understand that if you intend to “profit” through the rental of your vacation property, you will be limited in terms of how often you and your family members and friends can use the home for “personal” (vacation) purposes. The business web site Kiplinger has a tight explanation that is worth reviewing: “If you limit your personal use to 14 days or 10% of the time the vacation home is rented, it is considered a business. You can deduct expenses and, depending on your income, you may be able to deduct up to $25,000 in losses each year. That's why many vacation homeowners hold down leisure use and spend lots of time "maintaining" the property; fix-up days don't count as personal use.”
The almost $6,000 delta between what a $250,000 Myrtle Beach property can generate each year and the carrying costs on a mortgage is persuasive. (In theory, more expensive homes could return even more.) So too is the ability to deduct necessary expenses. Other golf-friendly coastal areas worthy of consideration on a cap rate basis are Panama City, FL ($419,900, 6.1%), Gulf Shores, AL ($409,900, 5.8) Ocean City, MD ($285,000, 5.4) and Cocoa Beach, FL ($339,000, 4.7).
The back nine at Bethpage Black on Sunday confirmed something about top golfers and rank amateurs as well: Half-glass full golfers win, and half-empty types come close, when the pressure is on. Brooks Koepka looks as if he is always going to win, even when he wobbles, as he did late on Sunday afternoon. Dustin Johnson never looks as if he is going to win, even when fate – and an opponent -- hand him an opportunity on a silver platter. Call it killer instinct or positive thinking or just plain confidence; Koepka has it, Johnson does not, in spite of his awesome golfing talent.
Six strokes...and then there was one
Within just a few holes, Koepka’s seemingly invincible six-stroke lead over his only competitor, Johnson, nearly evaporated, leaving them separated by a mere stroke with a few holes to go for Johnson (and one more than that for Koepka). Make no mistake about it, Johnson played great golf, perhaps the best round of the day given the afternoon winds that seemed especially to bedevil Koepka off the tees. But almost from the moment Johnson learned he was a miraculous single-stroke away, the momentum shifted for him; he missed a makeable putt for par on 16, and one could not avoid the feeling that we had seen this movie before.
Choke holds in the majors
Indeed we had, most notably in 2010, 2011 and 2015. In 2010, Johnson entered the final round of the U.S. Open at Whistling Straights with a three-stroke lead. During that round, he grounded his club in a bunker that was not clearly marked, incurred a two-shot penalty and shot 82. 82! – going into the final round of a major championship with a sizable lead. At the 2011 Open Championship at Royal St. George’s, Johnson was in contention on the back nine, just two shots behind Darren Clarke, as the American stood on the par-5 14th hole. After a nice drive, Johnson pulled out a 2 iron in the fairway and pushed it so far right it sailed out of bounds to end his chances for the British title. (He double-bogeyed the holed, something big hitters should never come close to doing on a par 5.)
But the most notorious collapse was that Sunday in 2015 at Chambers Bay in Oregon when a 12-foot putt to win the U.S. Open turned into a three-putt loss. Folks, this isn’t you or me on the 18th hole for the club championship at East Jabip Golf and Country Club. This is one of the best golfers in the world –- actually #1 in the world until Koepka jumped past him on Sunday afternoon -- three putting from 12 feet. “Choke” is neither an unkind nor unfair label for that and Johnson’s other mishaps under pressure. Golf is undeniably a mental game; Johnson has immense golfing ability, and a well-earned US Open victory at Oakmont, but something almost always seems to be going on north of that neck of his at the moments of greatest pressure, and it is not pretty.
“Baseball,” as former Major League Baseball Commissioner Bart Giamatti once wrote, “will break your heart.” Golf will break your spirit if you let it. Brooks Koepka has demonstrated he does not let it. Dustin Johnson is another story.
Consider, if you will, the toughest holes of golf you have ever played –- the severely elevated greens, the forced carries over yawning ravines, the swirling greens with pins perched at the edges of plateaus. Now smash all those toughest holes together into one golf course, and what you get is…Royal New Kent in Providence Forge, VA.
I played Royal New Kent last Monday during its grand re-opening celebration. It had been on my golf bucket list for years, since it opened in the ‘90s and I learned it was laid out by the late Mike Strantz, whose designs are never boring and include Tobacco Road in the Sand Hills of North Carolina, Caledonia and True Blue in Pawleys Island, SC, all publicly accessible -- as is Royal New Kent -- and Bulls Bay just north of Charleston, SC, Strantz’s former home. There are echoes of all those golf courses at Royal New Kent but, inarguably, RNK is the most challenging.
Saving a Modern Classic Golf Course
The golf course closed 18 months ago, and its future was severely in doubt until Barton Tuck and a few partners stepped in with $2 million and a lot of resolve to save and restore a work of art. The Wingfield Group owns golf courses across the South, and Mr. Tuck, now in his 80s, has lots of experience pairing golf courses and housing, most notably Forest Creek in Pinehurst, with 36 holes of Tom Fazio golf and a reputation for overall quality. (Royal New Kent first opened with some homes beside the back nine, but few would confuse it for a golf community, such is the separation of the two. Still, one of our foursome lives in Kentland and is a member of Royal New Kent.) A few years before the purchase of Royal New Kent, Mr. Tuck bought the floundering Viniterra golf community 15 minutes away; Viniterra is one of those communities that had the bad fortune of opening a nanosecond before the 2008 recession, but now most lots have been sold and a couple dozen homes (and some villa/condos) are built.
Strantz Gets His Irish Up
Restored to its original glory after a few years in the wilderness, literally and figuratively, Royal New Kent is relentlessly challenging. You can’t sleep on a single shot. Strantz purposefully based the layout on Irish golf courses he admired, specifically Royal County Down and Ballybunion. The scorecard for RNK tells you all you need to know about its degree of difficulty, the back tees playing to a course rating of 76.8 and a slope rating of 154. That puts Royal New Kent in territory occupied by Pine Valley (75.6, 155), Bethpage Black (77.5, 155) and the Ocean Course on Kiawah Island (79.7, 153), and it blows away Shinnecock Hills (75.0, 140).
Our group of four, beginning at the fifth hole in a shotgun start, played from the white tees at just 6,194 yards with a rating of 71.1, modest enough, but with a daunting slope of 134 for such a short overall distance. (The slope rating calibrates a golf course in terms of how well a bogey golfer should be expected to play it.) Playing in a scramble (Captain’s Choice) format, we experienced as a group what individual golfers surely go through on their first play at RNK -– early intimidation, then awe, and then a bit of settling in. During our first nine holes, even with hitting four shots from each position, we had difficulty making par; but over the last 10 holes, we birdied six of them, albeit with a few lucky long putts.
Horse of a Different Color Could Help Royal New Kent
The relatively short overall distance from the white tees is more than neutralized by the number of blind shots, the elevated greens with barely visible flags and the large and swirling putting surfaces –- most first putts broke at least a foot. Most of all, the greens were fast and firm, and many putts from above the hole could not be stopped within five feet unless the flagstick got in the way. The member we played with warned us on the first tee to “Keep the ball below the hole,” advice that is pretty much irrelevant for double-digit handicappers.
The New Kent County area seems to be in a period of renaissance, not only with the reopenings of the two epic Strantz golf courses, but also with the planned reopening of the historic Colonial Downs racetrack, which abuts the Royal New Kent layout. The first races are slated for later this summer, and RNK officials are hoping that their sports venue and the racetrack will feed off each other.
Mike Strantz was an artist, both on and off the course. Some of his sketches that hang in the RNK clubhouse demonstrate his talent and creativity. Any golfer who pays attention to the design of the layout will find it both intimidating and beautiful in equal measure. Although single-digit players will find many of the course’s challenges surmountable, the low double-digit handicapper should approach it with measured expectations. Pars will make them feel that the trip to RNK was definitely worth it. A birdie will make them feel as if they homered to win the World Series.
Royal New Kent Golf Club is located at 10100 Kent Field Road in Providence Forge, VA. (804) 966-7023. Architect: Mike Strantz. Royal New Kent plays to 7,440 yards from the back (Invicta) tees with a course rating of 76.4 and a slope of 154. The men’s White Tees play to 6,194 yards and a 71.1 rating and 142 slope. Ladies Green Tees are at 4,937 yards with a rating of 70.6 and 134 slope. Single-player memberships range from $205 to $250 per month, depending on whether it is a Monday through Thursday or 7-day per week membership. Family memberships range from $250 to $300 on the same basis. There is currently no initiation fee to join the semi-private club. https://royalnewkent.com/
Another Mike Strantz design, Stonehouse, is located a few miles from Royal New Kent and is slated to reopen within the next six weeks. Between the two Strantz layouts and the sleek Rees Jones design at Viniterra, plus the well-regarded Williamsburg golf courses less than a half hour away, this area of Virginia has the makings of a nice golf buddies destination, half the drive between New England/New York City and the Carolinas.
The first quarter of 2019 has been a good one for at least a few couples seeking a golf community home. In January, I learned that clients had purchased a piece of property at Reynolds Lake Oconee, with the idea of building a home there if their young daughter is selected in the next year or two to attend the highly regarded Lake Oconee Academy nearby. The selection process is strictly by lottery for the popular school.
In February, a couple I had been working with for more than three years found the home of their dreams at The Landings on Skidaway Island, a mere 20 minutes from downtown Savannah. The Landings is large, almost a small city in itself, with a total of 8,000 residents, many of them full-timers, six excellent golf courses and dozens of social and activity clubs. Real estate there runs the gamut from 40 year old homes in need of some updating and, therefore, selling at bargain prices, to a few remaining lots on which to build a beautiful home.
During March, clients I know well from Connecticut conducted one of the most efficient and successful searches I have seen in my 12 years of assisting couples in identifying a golf community home. They made two separate trips –- one to both coasts of Florida, and the other to the Low Country of Georgia and the Carolinas. At the end of their journeys, they wasted no time in choosing from the dozen communities they visited. Their choice, and how they conducted their “perfect” search, will be the subject of the May edition of our Home On The Course newsletter, coming soon.
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According to a report by The National Golf Foundation, the golf industry had a very good year in 2018, with participation up for the first time in 14 years despite a small drop in the number of rounds played (weather was the main culprit). Perhaps most impressive for the game’s future health is that 2.6 million people joined the ranks of golfers; it was the fifth straight year of more than two million new golfers.
The summary of the report emphasizes Tiger Woods’ impact on the sport. His comeback from back surgery in 2018, according to NGF, contributed to “a surge of interest and a ratings jump of almost 30 percent for televised tournaments in which he played.” One can only imagine the kind of effect his stunning victory on Sunday at The Masters will ultimately have on the 14 million people who say they would like to play on a golf course.
Some of those are, for now, engaging in “off-course” golf participation, including at Top Golf locations that have been sprouting up around the nation. Top Golf and a few competitors have attracted nearly 7 million non-golfers to take a whack at the game while eating and drinking with friends. So far, the industry has not seen a strong movement of people from the golf entertainment palaces to real golf courses, but the interest in swinging a club could translate into more members for country clubs. (Expect some country clubs to start building their own off-course golf facilities to enhance the experience for new millennial members.)
This is all good news, but in golf, as in life, one hand giveth and the other hand taketh away. For example, a new report from the golf industry observers at Pellucid, a well-respected consultant group, indicates that, “as great a story as [Tiger] is, it doesn't materially impact the golf industry operations world…and likely also doesn't meaningfully impact either player development or increasing involvement.” Talk about raining on the parade.
Of greater potential impact, according to an article in today’s Wall Street Journal’s Greater New York section, is that proposed legislation in New York State could whack New York golf courses with a tenfold increase in property taxes. The legislation would permit a golf course to be taxed at a market value as if it had been developed with housing or some other commercial venture. One of the venues challenging the state legislature’s move is President Trump’s Westchester club, whose market value is $14 million (never mind that Trump himself has testified publicly that it is worth $50 million).
Hardest hit by the new taxation would be public golf courses owned by private parties. These courses, many of them owned by families over two and three generations, survive (barely) on tight margins and are always at risk of weather problems and other factors that affect the conditions of their layouts. Many of them teeter on the edge of extinction, and developers are salivating over the prospect of cheap acquisitions of 100+ acre plots upon which to plop houses.
Tiger Woods may help bring more people into the game, but the industry needs to have healthy, well-funded and well-maintained golf courses to welcome them. The betting here is that reason will prevail in most state legislatures where many senators and representatives are members of their local country clubs and will surely make the case that property taxes on golf courses are already high enough.
Richmond, VA, doesn’t get much love as a destination for retirees who play golf. But having stopped there to play a few rounds with my University of Richmond professor friend, Andy, and eaten ribs at Buz and Neds –- they beat celebrity chef Bobby Flay in a rib cooking contest – I can say with confidence that Richmond offers all a baby boomer golfer needs on a day of play. And then some.
Richmond is a modern city rooted in the past, just 108 miles down I-95 from The White House in Washington, D.C. Those who have not studied closely the Civil War may not realize that the capitals of the Confederacy and Union were that close to each other. In fact, President Lincoln arrived in Richmond the day after it fell in April 1865 and left to return to Washington just six days before he was shot at Ford’s Theater.
With a little help from my friend Andy, who has played most of the golf courses worth playing in and around Richmond, I will dedicate much of my next Home On The Course newsletter to the city and its wide range of golfing options. For those looking to relocate to an area with excellent golf and the perquisites of a modern and full-service city with a rich culture and history, put Richmond on your list. But first subscribe to Home On The Course – it’s free! – and read all about it.