The sign that greets golfers at the back edge of the 1st tee at Pawleys Plantation in Pawleys Island, SC, does not bear a skull and crossbones. Nevertheless, it quietly screams, “Ignore the distances and play the tee boxes appropriate to your true handicap.” But even that cautionary sign underplays the difficulty of the golf course, especially for those of us who no longer drive the ball much more ten 200 yards off the tee.
Up until I reached the age of about 60, I played the blue tees at Pawleys, at a total distance of 6,549 yards. I carried about a 10 handicap and, according to the course rating of 73.7 from the “Heron” tees, as they are called, I should have threatened a score of 80 or less nearly half the time.
I didn’t; indeed, I hardly shot below 80 10% of the rounds I played. When I became Medicare eligible, I gave up my false notions of masculinity and moved to the white tees, with a total yardage of 6,184. The length of my best drives had dropped to around 220 yards, making the approaches to many of the greens when I played the Heron tees a choice between 3 hybrid and 3 wood. That was not much fun. When you look at the scorecard, you understand that a 10-handicap golfer might also be biting off more than he can chew from the white tees; the rating is a solid 72.0 but the Slope is 139 which, in practical terms, means the golfer will pay dearly for any balls hit off line.
As I approach my 70th birthday in a couple of weeks, I’ve decided to move up to the “Senior” tees at 5,560 yards, a decision that was the toughest of all for me since some of these “yellow” tee boxes are set just behind the Ladies tees. (I hope that doesn’t sound chauvinist; I don’t mean it to.) The decision was hastened by the need to get in some practice rounds from the yellow tee boxes for the upcoming club senior championship, which I am playing for the first time. Still, the total distance from the yellows is longer than the card indicates because of the forced carries over water and bunkers on this particular Jack Nicklaus golf course. As you will note from the photo, Pawleys Plantation recommends a handicap from 19 to 28 for the yellow, or “Finch” tees. That is way off the mark for aging golfers who cannot hit the ball as far as they once did.
Those “Senior” tee boxes carry a rating of just 69.2 but a slope of 132, still significantly higher than many of the public and muni courses many of us play regularly. The layout from up closer also adds some idiosyncrasies like big trees in the line of your drives that don’t come into play from the tees farther back and have forced me to keep driver in my bag on some 350 to 360 yard holes. And the shorter distances still do not eliminate the need for forced carries over water and sand –- in some cases, both –- to reach the putting surfaces on many of the Nicklaus holes.
In effect, a few of the holes from the yellow tees carry more risk than do those from the white tees. I know that from the experience of just a few rounds; from the senior tees, I haven’t broken 85 yet, still carrying my 10-handicap. But I have improved each round, and I am salivating at the prospect of having a really good round on a tough course from just 5,500 yards.
And that will keep me coming back for more.
Note: Our friend Brad Chambers, at ShootingYourAge.com, started a similar discussion recently about when to move to the senior tees. Check it out by clicking here.
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Whether it starts out that way or not, a golf vacation can end up with the purchase of a home in a golf community -- maybe not right away, maybe not for a few years, but eventually the hook is set.
Think about it. When are you more relaxed than on a buddy golf trip, and when are you more aware of your surroundings, especially if you love golf? The golf vacation is a time to dream, not only of a perfectly struck approach shot or a long putt for birdie, but of what life could be like if every day were a golf vacation.
This was brought home to me – literally – a couple of weeks ago while playing my home course, Pawleys Plantation in Pawleys Island, SC. March is the month when the 70-mile-long Grand Strand of Myrtle Beach, of which Pawleys anchors the southern end, plays host to many vacationing Canadians. My two playing partners were teenagers, followed around the tough Jack Nicklaus layouts by their dads. Once the parents knew I lived in the community and knew something about its real estate, the questions came: “How much would a condo like that go for?” “What are Property Owner Association fees like?” “How far are you from the beach?” These are all good questions, the kind a serious prospect would ask, even if a potential purchase were a few years off.
I was on a buddy trip of my own a couple of days later, outside Orlando, FL, at the Reunion Resort. Ostensibly, I was there for our annual fantasy baseball league draft with four other participants, one of whom lives in Bonita Springs, FL. I hadn’t seen Stan since the day we were graduated from high school, nearly 52 years ago, and I was pleased to learn he has played lots of golf since. We were half of a foursome at the expansive Orange County National Golf complex north of Orlando, where the PGA Annual Show holds its Demo Day every year; among other highlights, the club has a huge round driving range, big enough to handle drives from one edge of the circle to the other. The rest of our foursome was made up of my son Tim, who writes for Golf Advisor, a division of Golf Channel; and my friend Bill, who is a resident of The Landings in Savannah, GA.
It's Florida, after all, and so there must be sand (on the 15th, a reachable par 5).
As first rounds of the year go, the 18 at Orange National was a good warm-up for the following day’s round on the Nicklaus course at the Reunion Resort. While the Reunion’s course’s greens were a tad slower, the layout was vintage mid-career Nicklaus, with large bunkers, generous fairways and tough approaches to the greens -– the higher the approach the better, although the greens had been watered enough that they were generously receptive. (See a few attached photos for hole examples.)
The three of us stayed in a beautiful house that featured five bedrooms, with an en suite bathroom for each. The living space was overly generous and included a wonderful eat-in kitchen (with built-in espresso unit, cool), a wet bar area, large dining room, a great room with large screen TV and a view of the Tom Watson course at Reunion just past the pool behind the house. I was told the house rents for around $500 per night which, on the face of it, seems expensive, but if it is being split four ways, it comes out to less than a Holiday Inn Express for each member of the foursome. Trust me, it is much more comfortable –- and a lot closer to some outstanding golf -– than most Holiday Inns. And you can cook your own meals and store as much beer as you need for the week.
Here is a link to the house we stayed in: Click here. It is a beauty, but there are plenty of others you can tour during your buddy trip.
From restaurants to airline flights to certain breeds of purebred dogs, waiting lists are the pits. You want to spend your money but so do others. Therefore, you wait, and in the case of a standby waiting list at an airport, that wait could shove you to a following day’s flight. Yuck.
But some things are worth waiting for, and I count among them Ballyhack, the brilliant, eye-popping Lester George layout located just outside the city of Roanoke, VA. It has a waiting list for local residents looking to join a unique golf course. In contrast, those who live outside a 30-mile radius can join right away. Not only are Ballyhack’s fees comparably reasonable (see below) when you consider the stature of the golf course, but the club has also joined the Dormie Network, a tidy group of clubs anchored by the widely hailed Coore/Crenshaw design at the Dormie Club, outside Pinehurst. (Other clubs in the Dormie Network include Briggs Ranch in San Antonio and Arbor Links in Nebraska City, NE.)
The Dormie Club could not have debuted at a worse time. just before the 2009 recession which dried up all discretionary income, especially the kind used to join a golf club. Since then, Dormie has floundered around despite the quality of the golf, giving up its plans (temporarily) to be one of the relatively few private clubs in the Pinehurst area. But now under new management with big plans to upgrade conditions at the course and build some long-awaited infrastructure, including a clubhouse, Dormie seems back on track, and the expectation is that the club will go fully private in a year or two.
Ballyhack also had the bad fortune to open into the teeth of the recession, and it has struggled since, although it was able to build a nice clubhouse of about 12,000 square feet and 28 cottages to house its national members. (Roanoke is not exactly on many people’s destination lists, although the city features good restaurants and a well-regarded medical center.) But there is no denying that Ballyhack’s problem was not in the golf course itself. After I first laid eyes on the layout, a couple of months before it officially opened, I wrote that it was a “drama queen of a golf course” for its rolling landscape, swirling greens and bunkering that appeared inspired by a mad genius. When I finally played it a couple of years later, my opinion was unchanged. The immense fairways were the only relief of the round. You still needed to choose the proper location of your drive lest the bunkers at greenside block your approaches to the pins.
Ballyhack is a wild ride of a golf course, one you don’t forget easily. There are so many ways to play the course that a member would never become bored.
The reason for a waiting list for local residents and none for those living outside the 30 miles is that the club’s mission is to appeal to a “national” group of members. In effect, it discourages local members, but if you could see yourself living in an up and coming city like Roanoke, you would be well advised to ignore the discouragement and join the waiting list.
Of course, the best strategy might be to find a home 31 miles from Ballyhack and make the one-hour round trip a few times a week to play an outstanding and, in some ways, astounding golf course.
Local Resident Membership (inside 30 miles)
Waitlist deposit: $1,000
Initiation fee: $10,000
$2,000 due at membership activation. Balance billed 24 months after join date.
Annual dues: $5,400 (billed quarterly)
Primary residence outside 30-mile radius of the club
Initiation fee: $7,000
$1,000 due at membership activation. Balance reduced by expenditures over the dues line over two-year period after joining. Remaining initiation fee balance billed 24 months after join date.
Annual dues: $3,150 (billed 50% in March and 50% in September)
Complimentary golf cart usage included
Includes one cottage stay at any course in Dormie Network annually
Professional golf tour events come and go. Couples looking for a golf home rarely put “must host a professional tour event” on their list of must haves for a golf community. But as the residents of a number of golf communities have found, to their great surprise, a tour event literally in their backyards can enliven the experience of owning a home there.
The sprawling Landings golf community just outside Savannah will host its first such event beginning March 29 on its Tom Fazio designed Deer Creek layout. The inaugural Savannah Golf Championship will be played with the assistance of more than 500 volunteers from The Landings itself, as well as other people from the surrounding Savannah community, including a group of teenagers who will carry the signs that announce scores for each group.
“The response to the call for volunteers has been overwhelming from our members,” says Christina Danos, communications manager at The Landings Club. She added that a call went out for 400 volunteers from the community and, within two months, a total of 500 signed up to populate the 31 committees needed to run the event and to perform all the duties on the course to make this premiere event a success.
This enthusiasm for a pro event is not uncharacteristic in golf communities. The Landings residents will join other golf community denizens with not only the chance to volunteer but also watch some darn good golf. As the television ads proclaim during PGA Tour events, many of its players came up through the ranks of the Web.com. Also, the chance to host professional players on a course that members play at least a few times a week is undeniably attractive. And what golfer doesn’t appreciate the swing tips from watching people who compete at golf for a living.
Typically, the Web.com finds an enthusiastic bunch of homeowners willing to open their golf community homes to host players, their families and caddies. Many of the competitors on the tour do not make a lot of money – their caddies make much less -- and they are grateful for free lodging and a few meals over a long weekend of play. Residents of golf communities such as The Reserve at Lake Keowee, which has hosted a Web.com event, look forward to providing room and board for the players; competitors appreciate that the homes are so close to the golf course and practice range. For the inaugural event at The Landings, 75 homeowners have signed up to host players, their families and their caddies.
The Savannah Golf Championship runs from March 29 through April 1.
An article in Monday’s Wall Street Journal special section on “Wealth Management” provides a list of cost of living calculators that can help those searching for a home to figure out how much they will save by moving from one town to the next.
Well, sort of.
Some calculators include only the costs of living in a metro area compared with another metro area. Considering a move from suburban Livingston, NJ to, say, Pawleys Island, SC? The best Money/CNN’s web site will give you is a comparison between the Newark, NJ, metro area and the Charleston metro area, 65 miles from Pawleys Island and, therefore, a totally irrelevant comparison.
The Bankrate.com site comes a little closer, showing a comparison of the Newark metro area and the Myrtle Beach area (Pawleys Island is 30 minutes from Myrtle Beach). The only town to town comparison we could find is at Sperling’s BestPlaces.net, a site we find the most comprehensive and the one we use when helping clients understand just how much they will save when moving from a high-cost northern town to a lower cost southern one.
In the case of a move from Livingston, NJ, where my wife and I were raised, to Pawleys Island, where we have owned a vacation home for the last 18 years, the cost of living savings would be on the order of 33%; Bankrate’s calculation for a move from the Newark metro area to Myrtle Beach would produce annual cost of living savings of 27%.
Another web site the Wall Street Journal article touts is that run by The Millken Institute, specifically its “Successful Aging” section where the site ranks the best towns in which to age (breaking it down for those 65 to 79 and those over 80). A quick scan of the list implies Millken does not factor warm weather into its rankings. Gainesville, FL, is the only town in the Southeast that makes the top 20 list, weighing in at number 16 for those aged 65 to 79, although holding down 7th place for those 80 and over. Iowa City, IA, is ranked #1 across both older age categories.
Kiplinger.com features lots of helpful articles in its retirement section, but its list of the “Cheapest Places Where You Will Want to Retire” is annoying. It forces you to scroll from page to page and past a dozen northern towns to find a relevant location in the Southeast. Myrtle Beach, for example, requires going through 17 other slides to find that its cost of living for retirees is 3.5% lower than the national average. (BestPlaces.net indicates Myrtle Beach is 8 percentage points lower than the national average.)
For demographic information about a place you might choose to live, American FactFinder is hard to beat because its data is straight from the U.S. Census. It is a good site to determine such items as population growth, general education levels in the area, and rate of poverty in the local town or county.
For those just beginning a search for a retirement location and having no preconceived ideas about where to live, RetirementLiving.com offers helpful information about specific towns state by state, covering virtually all lifestyle topics in a comprehensive way. The site doesn’t offer a cost of living calculator, but after a read-through of its complete narratives on specific towns, hop over to BestPlaces.net to compare your current town to one of those you might choose in the South, and you will have a fuller picture of the cost differences.
Once you narrow your search down to a few target areas, contact me and I will be happy to recommend some local golf communities that will complete the entire picture.
Once again in 2017, sales volumes are up in the quality golf communities we follow and so too are selling prices, an average of 8% in most of the best communities in the Southeast. What this means for a couple contemplating a home in one of the better golf communities is that a $300,000 house today could cost nearly $400,000 in three or four years.
There is a hedge against this real estate inflation, and it involves dirt. In the latest Home On The Course newsletter, our free monthly insight into all things golf real estate in the Southeast region, we explain how an investment in a home site now could provide a way to protect a couple’s buying power three or four years from now. Home On The Course subscriptions are free. Sign up today by simply clicking the “Subscribe” button above and we will send you this month’s issue and all others into the future. Thanks.
By its relatively Lilliputian size of 1,000 acres, Harbor Club in Greensboro, GA, is overshadowed by a giant-sized community a few miles up Lake Oconee. Reynolds Lake Oconee, formerly known as Reynolds Plantation, has six more golf courses than does Harbor Club and about 11,000 more acres. It is also owned by the behemoth Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. Harbor Club, which would not be considered small in any other context, is family owned.
Harbor Club is no shrinking violet, though, as last year’s sales performance testifies. The community and its real estate operatives produced a 45% increase in sales compared with 2016’s performance, according to the local board of Realtors. That amounted to a total of $26.5 million in combined sales of homes, lots, cottages and townhomes, $8.2 million more than the year before.
The mix of home options inside Harbor Club appeals to a broad base of potential residents, retirees and younger families alike.
“Over 80% of Harbor Club’s homeowners live here full time,” says General Manager and Partner Brandon Matney, adding that other communities on the lake, including Reynolds and Cuscowilla, sell to a larger number of second-home owners.
Greensboro, population barely 3,400, qualifies as a rural Georgia town, but the growing array of services in the town belies its size. A well-regarded charter school has been attracting younger families to the area, although the school has many more interested students than spaces (a lottery approach is used, although the elementary school grades will start accepting more students next year). And a new hospital opened a couple of years ago, significantly expanding the healthcare options for baby boomers moving to Reynolds and Harbor Club. On a visit to Harbor Club and Reynolds a few years ago, I was impressed at the size of the supermarket outside Reynolds and a couple of miles from Harbor Club, as well as the multiplex cinema in the same shopping center.
Building lots for sale inside Harbor Club start around $33,000, with resale homes starting at $329,000 and new houses in the $300s.
If you would like more information about Harbor Club, Reynolds Lake Oconee or any of the other golf communities in northern Georgia, please contact me.
Irony is not something typically associated with golf communities, but River Landing in Wallace, NC, may take the title. A community conceived and developed by one of the largest hog farming businesses in America will benefit by a state legislature earmark that will help control an under-capacity sewage system in River Landing. The lack of a large and more efficient system has prevented the Murphy family, founders and owners of the community, from enlarging its on-site Holiday Inn Express Hotel and developing the remaining 1,000-plus lots inside the gates. Depending on what side of the issue local North Carolinians find themselves, the $860,000 River Landing will receive from the state is either a boon to the local economy or a special favor from one legislator to a former powerbroker in the North Carolina state legislature, River Landing principal Wendell Murphy. Whatever, River Landing’s 400 property owners have started the new year in a happy place.
After a few visits to River Landing over the last decade, a few rounds on its two Clyde Johnston golf courses and a fine dinner in its beautiful and large clubhouse, I can recommend the community as a great buy and a convivial place to retire. (For the record, I smelled nothing amiss during those visits and, according to reports, River Landing and Wallace town workers have been mostly successful in keeping the sewage problem under control.) During that dinner in the clubhouse years ago, my waiter excused the slow service -– I hadn’t noticed it -– as a result of the Murphy family patriarch holding a meeting in an adjacent room where he was enlisting local doctors to fly on the Murphy family airplane to Haiti to help with earthquake relief. Maybe I am an idealist, but developers who care about people thousands of miles away probably take pretty good care of their residents at home.
I have always wondered why River Landing, handsome as it is and located beside Interstate 40 and not far from the intersection with Interstate 95, had not taken off the way similar golf communities in the Carolinas had. True, River Landing is located in a rural area, but the Atlantic beaches and vibrant town of Wilmington are barely 45 minutes away, and the huge international airport in Raleigh just a bit over an hour. Inside the gates lie a river that is central to the topography of one of the two fine 18-hole golf courses, the beautiful arts and crafts style clubhouse, and some of the most reasonably priced homes you will find in a full-amenity southern golf community. (One brick home with 3 bedrooms and 2 baths is currently listed at just under $250,000.)
A couple looking for a golf community with River Landing’s combination of assets might want to make a visit soon. The odor of negativity about the sewage issue, which so far has been kept under control, has tamped down selling prices. But once an upgraded motor at the local plant and additional sewer lines are installed, things should start smelling like roses for home and lot sales at River Landing.
To read more about the sewage issue, please see the article at The News & Observer.
Rounds of golf played last year on Myrtle Beach’s nearly 100 courses were up year to year for the first time in more than a decade. Even before the Great Recession, rounds began to drop in 2005, the result of irrational exuberance about the golf market on the South Carolina coast and the resultant overbuilding. In recent years, the number of courses on the Grand Strand, as the strip between Wilmington, NC, and Georgetown, SC, is commonly known, has dropped by about 20%. According to the Myrtle Beach Sun Times, a study conducted by Golf Tourism Solutions, a technology and marketing group hired by the local golf industry, determined that total rounds increased 4.1% year over year. The firm used about 80 of the area’s courses to compare rounds year to year. The positive golf numbers were reflected in incoming passengers through Myrtle Beach’s International Airport (a couple of flights from Canada make it “international”) and hotel and condo occupancy rates.
The uptick in golf tourism appears to be propping up real estate sales. The Coastal Carolinas Association of Realtors has not produced end of 2017 results yet, but as of the end of November, sales volume was up 9.2% for the year, and condo sales were up 16.3%. For those seeking to build a home, or to invest in lots for appreciation, unimproved property sales were up 8.3% through November. Of greater importance to those considering Myrtle Beach for a vacation or permanent home, median sales prices in the area were up 3.9% year to date at the end of November, although November prices slid 2.4% when compared with November of 2016.
Those of us, including your author, who own property next to the 30 or so golf courses owned and managed by Chinese companies, are especially buoyed by the latest results. Ongoing reports about financial troubles back home in China have created ongoing rumors that these owners might walk away from their investments and put the future of the golf courses as golf courses in jeopardy. In golf markets that are not doing as well as Myrtle Beach, golf course owners, residents of adjacent properties and local zoning boards are battling over whether it is permissible to build homes on failing – sometimes abandoned -- golf courses. Regardless of the outcomes of these fights, real estate values suffer, certainly in the short term. Those considering a move to a golf community should look carefully at the course’s stability and ask for all relevant documents and data.
The migration of baby boomers from North to South continues apace. And the recent Federal tax changes only serve to hasten the flight. South Carolina’s overall tax burden on individuals, for example, is under $3,000 annually. Connecticut’s, for example, is just under $8,000. Overall cost of living comparisons tilt even more strongly in favor of most southern towns.
During the first two weeks of January, my wife, our dog and I were set to head to our condo in Pawleys Island, SC, for two blessed weeks of relief from unrelenting cold in Connecticut. Personally, I was tired of putting on two jackets just to go out and pick up the newspapers in the driveway or to take Coco out for her every two-hour constitutional. (Coco is our 18-month old Lagotto Romagnolo who, of course, loves the snow and is not bothered by the cold.)
I purposely left my golf clubs in South Carolina after an early November visit there, mindful that I couldn’t use them up North for another four or five months. A few days before the new year, I checked the Weather Channel for an update on Pawleys Island and thought the predictions of snow and temperatures in the 20s were a typographical mistake. They weren’t, and we postponed our trip. A good thing because, as I write this, the Pawleys Plantation golf course is still closed, recovering from a week of snow and ice cover.
It is a sad thing whenever a golfer cannot find a place to play within a two-hour plane ride. And some might look at the current spate of weather down South and wonder whether they should stop considering a winter or permanent home in the Carolinas, Georgia or Florida. Be that way if you want; but by the end of this week, temperatures in Pawleys Island will be in the mid-60s, and my neighbors there will be back on the golf course. And me, I’ll be practicing my sand shots in a foot of remaining snow.