July 2021

I have owned a vacation home for more than 20 years.  Did I make a good choice?  The answer is a qualified yes.  Would I do some things over again.  Definitely.  I made mistakes.  I share some of the most common ones this month in Home On The Course. Also, I identify six communities, half of which will appeal to those who want to be close to the action of a city, the other half where pollution and traffic have no home.

vermont national burlington vtVermont National, Burlington, VT

Ten Brutal Truths about the Search for a Golf Home

In my book, Glorious Back Nine: How to Find Your Dream Golf Home, I elaborate on some of the most common mistakes couples make when they search for a golf home. The following are 10 common mistakes and how best to avoid them.

Fall in love with the area first, the golf community next, and the house last.

One of the biggest mistakes a couple makes is looking for a golf community that seems nice without understanding if the surrounding area is a good match for them.  This boils down essentially to remote location vs near a full-service small city.  There are wonderful golf communities in both types of areas, but a remote location may not provide the restaurants, entertainment options and, in some cases, medical care you want.  On the other hand, those remote communities won't provide you with traffic and pollution (noise and air) either.  Cautionary note about remote living: If you consider that your last 40 years of work and family responsibilities justify a quiet retirement life, understand that there are also hassles with driving a half-hour roundtrip to the supermarket and doing all your other shopping online.

If your spouse doesn’t play golf, follow his/her guidance on where to look.

My wife does not play golf but she does like the beach.  I prefer mountain golf to coastal golf, but not by a large margin.  I have played enough golf in the Carolinas to know that there are fantastic layouts east and west. When it came time to choose a vacation home in the Carolinas, I agreed with Mrs. G that a Pawleys Island, SC, golf community six minutes to the Atlantic Ocean and on a Jack Nicklaus golf course was right for both of us (and for our small children, at the time).  We have both been more than content with the choice.  Happy Spouse, Happy House.  Let the non-golfer make the final decision.

Play the golf course as if you are an old man or woman. Someday you will be.

In my 74th year, my distance off the tee has shrunk by more than 25% of its peak when I was younger.  In other words, a par 4 400-yard hole today plays the equivalent of 500 yards in my younger days.  That was a par 5 for me even back then and is more like a par 6 today. The point here is that the golf course you choose to join today, when you are still flexible and can drive a golf ball well over 200 yards, is not the course you will play in your 60s and 70s.  Make sure when you play it before you decide to join the club or the community that the more forward tee boxes are appropriate for when you can hit the ball no more than 200 yards, maybe less.  And pay attention to the green complexes; I have become a poor sand player and the Pawleys Plantation course I play features lots of sand. I once shot 74 there from the middle tees; from the forward tees I have only broken 80 once in three years.

If your budget is $1 million, don’t look at a community of $750,000 homes.

If you want to be the big cheese in a community, then by all means search for the most expensive home.  But your neighbors may have a hard time warming to the “rich people on the hill.”  Better to aim at a $1 million house among those valued at $750,000 to $2 million.  The homes in the comfortable middle range tend to hold their values better anyway — during good times and bad.

If your budget is $500,000, don’t look at communities where the lowest price is $500,000.

You don’t want to spend your retirement years trying to keep up with the Joneses.  As with more expensive homes (above), target the middle of the price range in a community you like. A $500,000 home in a community whose prices range from $350,000 to, say, $750,000 will provide you with a home of about 3,300 square feet, plenty of room for a fourth bedroom, a dining room (if you want) and a nice office/guest room.  Let the Joneses worry that you got a much better deal than they did.

If you want a perfect home, build it.

Yes, we know the cost of lumber is out of sight. Add to that a labor shortage, and building a new home appears to be cost prohibitive.  But is it?  In Pawleys Island, SC, where my wife and I own a vacation condo and a building lot, construction costs in the last year have risen from around $150 per square foot before the pandemic to $200 today.  Simple math: A 2,500 square foot home that would have cost $375,000 to build in 2019 will cost approximately $500,000 today.  By the same token, existing homes in the Pawleys Island area have increased an average $75,000 over that same period, according to the online real estate agency Redfin.  The extra expense to build a home today is around $50,000.  But home site prices have not risen as much as resales have, largely because of the lumber crisis. As the pandemic abates, look for tree cutters and sawmills to ramp up production and for the prices to come down. When that happens, if you were to already own a home site — there is a small patio lot for sale in Pawleys Plantation, for example, for just $99,000 — you would be well positioned a year or less from now to build the house you want at a price you can afford. 

Vacation Home? Consider Carefully Whether to Join the Club.

In 2000, after multiple happy summer weeks spent with our then-young kids in the Myrtle Beach area, my wife and I purchased a condo in Pawleys Plantation in Pawleys Island, about 35 minutes’ drive south of Myrtle Beach International Airport.  The Jack Nicklaus golf course on site appealed to my son and me, and the beautiful Atlantic beach just six minutes from the condo was a favorite spot for my wife and daughter (and these days our dog, Coco).  To encourage us to purchase the condo, the developer kicked in half the initiation fee (at that time, $7,500) which seemed like a good deal.  It wasn’t.  What I did not calculate was the equation that includes how often I would play the course every year.  As it turned out, I have averaged about a dozen rounds annually over the last 20 years and, not even considering the $7,500 initiation fee I paid, each round of golf has cost me $250 based on the average $250 per month dues I have paid through the years. (Note: Green fees for the semi-private Pawleys Plantation run an average $80 or so throughout the year.) Last year, I reverted to a social membership which retains pool access for my wife and green fees for me that are well below the average $250 I was paying (and even below the $80 public rate).  In other words, if a membership deal seems too good to be true, it may be.

Don’t focus on club initiation fee; focus on dues.

I told you my tale of woe (above) about paying $250 per round as a member of the Pawleys Plantation golf club.  Now if I lived at Pawleys year-round, I would have played eight times a month, and the $250 in dues would have averaged just over $30 per round, still not an extreme bargain but better than what the other local public courses charge; and you can’t put a price on being treated specially as a member (bags stored, driving range privileges, “Good to see you, Mr. Gavrich” greetings from staff).  I encourage clients to merge any initiation fee into the amount they have budgeted for a house and focus instead on monthly club dues, which can sneak up on you when added to HOA fees and the other costs of living inside the gates of a private golf community.

Pay attention to proximities.

During my working years, I dreamed of a retirement in the quietest, most laid-back location possible. I had most of those daydreams while stuck in traffic on my way to work.  My wife, who stayed home with our children after a career in the banking industry, had a different dream that involved a beach.  I am glad I followed her lead because “remote” would have meant no access to minor league baseball, an inability to shop for meals on a daily basis — I am not a fan of freezing food — a lack of diversity of restaurant cuisines nearby or good golf courses a short drive away.  Pawleys Island is somewhere in between remote and near-urban, with five supermarkets within five miles of our front gate, and a “shrimp dock” with freshly caught seafood just 15 minutes away.  On the thankfully rare occasion we have needed emergency room medical treatment, two local hospitals are within 15 minutes and have provided terrific care.  My advice when you look for a vacation or permanent home in a golf community is to pay attention to the distances of the things most important to you.  You can do this easily online, before you make up your mind which golf communities to target and, certainly, before you invest the time and money to visit them.  If they aren’t near what you need, cross them off your list. (See sidebar with proximities to local activities from some of our favorite communities.)

Don’t buy a House for the kids and grandkids.

Whether it is a guilty conscience about moving away from family or a strategy to lure the children to visit for more than a couple of weeks a year, many couples buy an oversized 50-week a year home.  Let’s face it:  You love your kids and grandkids, and they love you.  But that is no guarantee they will visit you in your retirement home for more than a couple of weeks (at most) every year. (You know they have their own lives, right?) In essence, buying a house that is 1,000 square feet larger than YOU need is a waste of resources.  Better to find a townhouse or single-family home in your community that you can rent for your kids a couple of weeks a year or, maybe even better, a nice local hotel with a pool and other attractions for the grandkids. The visit will be even more relaxed for everyone and you can take the money you saved on the house and use it for a grand vacation every other year — for you, the children and grandchildren. They will thank you.

Glorious Back Nine: How to Find Your Dream Golf Home is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble in both digital and paperback versions.

Larry Gavrich
Founder & Editor
Home On The Course, LLC

Too Far and Not Far Enough

 

The following are some of my favorite golf communities with their proximities to important services and entertainment options.  Whether you want total peace and quiet in a remote location, or plenty of entertainment and other options nearby, one of these communities will fill the bill.  For more info on these communities or the many others that are near and far, contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

 

Near

 

thumb the landings savannah ga

The Landings, Savannah, GA

Six golf courses, 4,800 acres, 8,000 residents

City of Savannah – 15 minutes

St. Joseph’s Hospital – 16 minutes

Savannah Bananas baseball – 20 minutes

Tybee Island beach – 45 minutes

 

thumb daniel island ncharleston sc

Daniel Island Club, N. Charleston, SC

Two golf courses, 4,000 acres, 8,500 residents

City of Charleston – 27 minutes

MUSC Health Medical Center – 22 minutes

Charleston River Dogs baseball – 23 minutes

Folly Beach – 33 minutes

 

thumb landfall willington nc

Landfall, Wilmington, NC

Two golf courses (45 holes), 2,200 acres,

3,700 residents

City of Wilmington – 23 minutes

New Hanover Regional Medical Center

– 29 minutes

Wilmington Sharks baseball – 29 minutes

Wrightsville Beach – 12 minutes

 

Far

 

thumb reserve lake keowee sunset sc

The Reserve at Lake Keowee, Sunset, SC

18 holes by Jack Nicklaus, 3,900 acres,

800 residents

City of Greenville – 53 minutes

Cannon Memorial Hospital (Pickens)

– 22 minutes

Greenville Drive baseball – 53 minutes

Lake Keowee recreation – right there

 

thumb reynolds lake oconee greensboro ga

Reynolds Lake Oconee, Greensboro, GA

Six golf courses, 12,000 acres, 6,000 residents

City of Athens – 1 hour; Atlanta – 97 minutes

St. Mary’s Good Samaritan Hospital – 7 minutes

Macon Bacon baseball – 79 minutes

Lake Oconee recreation – right there

 

thumb bay creek cape charles va

Bay Creek Resort, Cape Charles, VA

27 holes of golf, 1,700 acres, 800 residents (est.)

City of Norfolk – 50 minutes

Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital – 43 minutes

Norfolk Tides baseball – 51 minutes

Chesapeake Bay beach – on site

Now on Sale

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or  BarnesandNoble.com.  

  • The only book about golf communities in the last 10 years.
  • 156-page step-by-step guide to finding your dream golf home.
  • Info on nearly 100 golf communities the author has visited.
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