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Monday, May 21, 2007

Favored architects command a price

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Fazio's fairways at Champion Hills keep homes and OB stakes at bay.

 

    For the last week, we ran a poll to ascertain our readers' favorite golf course architects.  Albeit with only a few votes cast, the results are not surprising, with one exception.  Arthur Hills, whose work we respect, garnered as many votes as Jack Nicklaus and Tom Fazio.  Pete Dye was the other vote getter.     

    The results prompted an informal investigation of a few communities with courses designed by our top four vote getters.  We looked at Fazio's Champion Hills in Hendersonville, NC; Nicklaus' Cliffs at Walnut Cove in Asheville; Dye's Ford Plantation in Richmond Hill, GA; and Hills' The Ridges in Jonesborough, TN.  To get a feel for the relationship between designer cachet and prices, we looked at the most expensive home that is currently on the market in each community, as well as an example of a more moderately priced home.  And we computed the cost per square foot of the homes.  Of course, prices are the consequence of lots of factors, and our little investigation is neither scientific nor conclusive.  If nothing else, it is a good excuse to talk about four fine communities, three of which we have visited.     

    With hundreds of his golf courses built or in construction around the world, Nicklaus is arguably the most financially successful of the group, benefiting by the name recognition he built during his legendary career.  He builds sometimes brawny, sometimes quirky but almost always interesting layouts.  His design for the Cliffs at Walnut Cove is a little more brawn than quirk, in a beautiful setting ringed by the Blue Ridge Mountains.  One of the three Cliffs courses used for the Nationwide Tour's BMW Charities tournament this past weekend, Walnut Cove was the toughest course on the tour in 2005 and the 10th toughest last year.  The most expensive home on the market in Walnut Cove is listed at $5.495M for 7,000 square feet of living space ($785 a square foot).  A more reasonably priced home is offered at $1.295M for 3,000 square feet ($432 per foot).
    Champion Hills in Hendersonville, NC, is a refined community with a typical Tom Fazio course, which is to say you could play it every day and never tire of it.  Fazio grew up in the area and still owns real estate in the community.  He figures prominently in Champion Hills' marketing, which plays up his local-boy status.  You can tell when you play Champion Hills that he lavished particular attention on it.  Funneled fairways are generally set well below the well-spaced houses, which has the double benefit of keeping out of bounds stakes to a minimum while providing dramatic views of the golf course from rear decks of the homes.  A couple of years ago, Champion Hills' dedicated membership developed a long-term strategic plan that would be the envy of some corporations, and they set about improving an already well-conditioned golf course.  You will find a few home sites available at Champion Hills in the ½ to two-acre range for $100,000 to $365,000; the ones toward the top of the range will have mountain views.  The most expensive home currently for sale in the community is available at $3.575 for 7,527 square feet ($475 per square foot).  More representative is a listing for $985,000 for 4,454 square feet ($221 per foot).     

    One of the best golf courses we have played in the last few years is Pete Dye's track at Ford Plantation, just south of Savannah.  Set along the Ogeechee River, the links style course does not seem manufactured in a Pete Dye way; the customary moguls and railroad ties are at a minimum and do not interrupt the natural flow of the routing, although the customary breezes provide all the challenge you need.  The course is the centerpiece for a community loaded with history and class.  General Sherman spared the plantation during his burning spree at the end of the Civil War, and we wouldn't be surprised if the beauty of the landscape softened his pyromaniac tendencies a little.  Less than a century later, Henry Ford made the place his southern home, and those who take the official real estate tour at Ford Plantation have the chance to sleep in the room where Clara Ford slept while her husband was tinkering with who knows what (or whom) in his workshop a hundred yards across the lawn.  Ford Plantation home sites are available in the $395,000 to $750,000 range and at two to six acres.  Most expensive on the market now is a 5,600 square foot house priced at $3.45M ($616 square foot).  Less extravagant is a $1.25M home that comprises 3,200 square feet ($391 a foot).     

    Arthur Hills was a surprise vote getter in our poll, and we are glad he was.  We think he is the most underrated of designers working today (he's been at it for four decades, so he must have learned a few things along the way).  His work at the Palmetto Course at The Landings at Skidaway Island in Savannah and at the little known and rural River Islands Course in Tennessee show a masterly balance between challenge and playability, with tough medicine for those who don't think their way around the course (Don't short-side yourself next to an Arthur Hills green without being prepared to pay).  We haven't played his course at The Ridges in Jonesborough, TN, but we note it is long and well regarded.  The most expensive home we found available in The Ridges might be a misprint at $1.85M for 13,000 square feet (a puny $142 per foot), so we will rely, for the sake of our comparisons, on the more reasonably listed home for $1.2M for 3,500 square feet ($343 per foot).
    In most cases, there seems to be a direct relationship between the quality of golf course designers and the quality of the communities in which their courses are located.  You likely won't go wrong following any of these winners.  If you would like us to contact real estate agents at any of these communities, or an agent who can show you homes in these and other golf course communities in the area, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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Sometimes the most direct approach is not a straight line, as is the case at this short par 4 dogleg right at Pete Dye's Ogeechee Golf Club at Ford Plantation.

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Larry Gavrich

This blog was conceived and is published by me, Larry Gavrich, a former corporate communications executive who founded HomeOnTheCourse, LLC, in 2005.  Our firm advises baby boomers and others seeking a lifestyle in which golf is a major component.  My wife Connie and I own a home in Connecticut (not on a golf course) and a condo at Pawleys Plantation in Pawleys Island, SC, on a Jack Nicklaus layout.  We began our search for our home on the course more than 15 years ago, and the challenges of the search inspired me to research golf communities and write objective reviews of them.

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