For many retirees who planned to move South to a retirement life of warm weather, lower cost of living and plenty of golf, the dream may seem as if it is dying, given the rapidly escalating prices of golf community homes and the radically shrinking inventories of homes for sale.
Dying, maybe, but not dead, and in the next issue of my free newsletter, Home On The Course, I describe a way for retirees to proceed full steam ahead, higher prices be damned. Yes, we Baby Boomers hate the thought of taking on debt, especially after many of us have spent 30 years paying off our homes. Why would we want another mortgage now?
That’s what I thought until I was persuaded otherwise. For the rest of the story, subscribe now to the newsletter to be sure it arrives in your inbox in the coming week. It’s free. Also, in the February issue, I scan some of the most popular markets for golf communities in order to describe how one Realtor justifiably defined his market as “on fire” and why it doesn’t look as if the flames will go out for some time to come.
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“An inventory shortage in many of the most popular locations has put pressure on pricing and will continue to do so, barring further economic upheaval beyond COVID- 19, until the last of the Baby Boomer generation heads south in 2035. Healthier older citizens are staying active and remaining in their golf community homes longer than did their cohorts years earlier, further exacerbating the inventory shortages. And many millennials who play golf will move South since they will be working from home, and a lower cost of living and warmer climate will provide opportunities to play the game they love year-round.”
Consider that paragraph as a concise “annual report” of golf community real estate in the Southeast for 2020. The words are mine, from the preface to my book Glorious Back Nine: How to Find Your Dream Golf Home. Nothing over the last few months has changed the inventory situation; if anything, the competition for the relatively few available properties in the most popular golf communities has intensified. It is the hottest market for golf community homes I have seen in the 15 years I have been following the market.
The current market recalls for me the wisdom of the Fram Oil Filter mechanic of TV fame some years ago: “You can pay me now,” he said, somewhat menacingly, “or you can pay me later.” Those who wait another couple of years to execute their plans to move South may be paying 20%, 30% or more than the cost of the golf home they are considering today. Here’s why.
Markets are out of balance in terms of inventory levels. A normal availability of homes tends to be somewhere between six and eight months. In a popular golf area like Myrtle Beach, inventories are as low as two months in some communities.
Obviously, the laws of supply and demand dictate that when supply is low and demand high, prices are bound to rise. Cathy Bergeron of the Litchfield Company says homes “in our area are selling faster and we are seeing multiple offers...”
The North Carolina community of Cypress Landing, located on the Pamlico River near Greenville, is not the most well-known golf community in the South, but customers found it in 2020. The community saw 65 homes sold in 2020 compared with 54 in 2019, but the real story was in the inventory situation. In the five years from 2015 through 2019, according to David Grahek, the average number of homes for sale each year was 28; at the end of this past December, just 10 homes were listed for sale in Cypress Landing.
Supply and demand are having a profound effect on the “buy in” price in some communities – that is, the lowest price for any home sold during the year. At Carolina Colours in New Bern, NC, the lowest price paid for any home in 2019 was $290,000, according to developer Ken Kirkman. Last year, it was $350,000 as the overall median sales price in the community jumped 18% year over year.
None of these numbers are isolated cases. It is very much the rule across the Southeast that golf community homes are in short supply, that interest is high among sales prospects and prices are rising by double-digits in most places. It is hard to imagine any change in high demand, low supply and the continuing migration south for the next few years at least. The drivers are obvious -- the pandemic’s lingering effects; the many millions of people who will be working at home for the foreseeable future; Baby Boomers who haven’t given up on their dreams of a warm-weather retirement; the comparatively low costs of living in most areas of the Southeast; and the historically low mortgage interest rates that show no sign of rising anytime soon.
It is a strong sellers’ market but many sellers don't seem to want to move. Buyers can wait it out and hope prices won’t continue to rise at the double-digit rate. But something dramatic in the economy may likely need to happen to reverse the current trend. And that may be worse than spending more on a golf home now than you would have last year.
I don’t recall ever having reviewed a movie in this space or in my monthly newsletter, Home On The Course, which will be mailed out to subscribers in the next two days. (It is free for the asking, by the way.)
But word of a new documentary called Some Kind of Heaven caught my eye and, on Sunday afternoon, I rented it to watch at home with my wife. The context for the film is the famous – some might say “infamous” -- The Villages in north central Florida, a community that spans two counties and is home to more than 125,000 seniors. Those assuming this is a film that has an obvious point of view about The Villages may be surprised. Yes, the film does poke a little fun at some excesses; for example, the community is home to more than 3,000 social clubs, and to reinforce the point, the directors introduce a dozen or so members of one club.
“Hi, I’m Elaine,” says the first, “I’m Elaine…I’m Elaine…” and so it goes for the rest of the couple of dozen members of The Villages' “Elaine Club.”
Some Kind of Heaven focuses more on two single people and a couple more than it does on The Villages, which serves as both background and context. You may find the film depressing, but you shouldn't be bored. My review is included in the next edition of my free Home On The Course newsletter. Subscribe here.
I also write about the amusing side of golf in this new edition of the newsletter. I feature an overview of a web site I stumbled upon recently that doesn’t take golf too seriously but, at the same time, provides a lot of information about the game. Stick and Hack is nothing to joke about, although if you subscribe for free you will receive a golf joke in your inbox every Friday. More on this unusual new website in the next Home On The Course. Subscribe for free here.
One of the reliable rituals for me of the first week of any new year is the publication by United Van Lines of its annual “Migration Study.” It provides a snapshot of where people are moving to and from in the United States, at least those that hire United Van Lines to relocate them and their household goods. The results for 2020 are loaded with implications about real estate and politics in the coming years.
United Van Lines’ Survey totals all shipments to and from the 50 states and then apportions the percentages of inbound and outbound moves. The results of this year’s study continue a pattern of the last decade. Northern states, especially in New England and the Middle Atlantic regions, continue to lose population and the Sunbelt continues to gain. (Note: There is an anomaly in the results that ranks Idaho as the most popular state for incoming residents, Oregon third and South Dakota fourth, but the total number of moves to each of those states is much lower than, say, to Florida. The mover’s shipments into Idaho last year totaled 758 and to South Dakota just 213; its shipments into Florida totaled 7,335.)
The rest of the top 10 states ranked, in order, by percent of incoming migration are: South Carolina (#2), Arizona (#5), then North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida and Arkansas. As I have written in recent articles, golf communities in the Southeast saw unprecedented numbers of inquiries, visits and sales of properties in 2020. This is largely a response by city dwellers to the pandemic, but a developer in South Carolina told me last week that, in the early summer months, traffic to his lakeside golf community also seemed to be a reaction to city-based protests in support of Black Lives Matter. That said, given the recent U.S. Senate results in the state of Georgia, migration from north to south could very well continue voting trends we have seen not only in Georgia, but also in North Carolina and Virginia in recent years as red turns purple.
Among cities listed in the migration study, Wilmington, NC, was the most popular, with 79% of its moves incoming. With January average high and low temperatures of 56 and 36, respectively, the Wilmington-area climate appeals to those who want to justify retaining a sweater or two from their northern wardrobes – and don’t want to give up a few nights per winter in front of a fireplace. The city is an eclectic yet harmonious mix of the modern and the classic Southern – lots of brick, moss draped trees and plenty of entertainment and dining options.
The golf communities in the immediate Wilmington area are a diverse lot, ranging from Landfall at the upper end to Magnolia Greens at the other end, with plenty of additional high-quality choices in between. If you can afford it – starting prices for a single-family home are $449,000, the only one for sale under $500,000 – Landfall checks all the boxes with 45 holes of Jack Nicklaus and Pete Dye golf as well as one of the most desirable locations in the entire Southeast – 10 minutes to a vibrant downtown and 10 minutes to the Atlantic Ocean and Wrightsville Beach.
Since my first visit in 2008, I have admired another Wilmington golf community, Porters Neck, which shares almost the same benefits of proximity to city and beach as does Landfall. But in the last year, Porters Neck, whose Tom Fazio layout uses the indigenous live oaks to great advantage, has affiliated with the McConnell Group, whose portfolio of courses in the Carolinas and Tennessee are second to none in terms of quality and bang for the buck. Belong to a McConnell club and you can play any of the others in the collection, as long as you are willing to drive up to a few hours. For Porters Neck members, they not only now have the stability of the well-funded and well-organized McConnell organization running their club, but also, within a couple of hours, are McConnell courses in Myrtle Beach and Pawleys Island (the former managed by the organization, the latter owned by it) and Raleigh, home to McConnell’s Raleigh Country Club, designed by Donald Ross. Greenville and Brook Valley Country Club, another McConnell property, is just a hair over two hours from Wilmington. Homes currently for sale inside Porters Neck start at $420,000.
Another golf community in the Wilmington area worth noting includes Brunswick Forest in Leland, whose deep-pocketed owners have engineered one of the most successful sales stories in the South since before the 2009 recession. The Cape Fear National layout by local boy Tim Cate is about as links-like in style as you will find between Wilmington and Kiawah Island and its famed Ocean Course. Homes in Brunswick Forest, many on ¼ acre “patio” lots, start at just under $300,000.
If you like the idea of a more recently developed golf community, Compass Pointe is worth a look. The community opened in 2011, toward the back end of the recession, and was a bit slow to take hold. I played its Rick Robbins-designed golf course a few years ago and actually met the architect, who was surveying his handiwork that day. We chatted for a few minutes during my front nine, and he told me his goal was to produce a golf course that was equal parts challenge and equal parts fun. Judging by that one and only round I played there, he succeeded. Homes at Compass Pointe, which is located a good 20 minutes from Wilmington, start under $300,000.
Magnolia Greens sits across Highway 17 from Brunswick Forest; the thoroughfare is the major north/south route along the coast. Its 27 holes by noted Carolina designer Tom Jackson, which are open to the public, play second fiddle to some of the area golf courses noted above. But the course earns positive reviews for layout and value, and the latter plaudit applies to real estate in the community as well. Single-family homes in Magnolia Greens start in the mid $200s.
The rest of the top 10 cities in the United Van Lines survey are Sarasota-Bradenton, FL (#2); Boise, ID; Huntsville, AL; Fort Myers, FL; Knoxville, TN; Melbourne/Titusville, FL; Austin, TX; Nashville, TN; and Fort Collins/Loveland, CO. Other Southeast Region cities included in the next 10 are Charleston, SC (#11); Charlotte (#13); West Palm Beach (#15); and Daytona Beach (#16).
You can find the United Van Lines Migration Study here.
Savannah Lakes Village, McCormick, SC
Cypress Landing, Chocowinity, NC
Keowee Key, Salem, SC
I have written often about these three communities as examples of extreme values in terms of real estate prices and cost of living. Their “bargain” nature has eroded significantly during the pandemic as thousands of retirees beat a hasty retreat to locations they perceive as safer and where they can safely engage in outdoor recreation like golf – namely rural golf communities. But still, these three are relative bargains since virtually all other quality golf communities in the Southeast are also showing 10% price increases and more this year.
All three communities feature an adjacent significant body of water; in the case of Savannah Lakes and Keowee Key, the large manmade lakes, Thurmond and Keowee, respectively, offer a wide range of aquatic activities, and some impressive views from their golf courses. Cypress Landing sits beside the western extension of the Pamlico River, which eventually flows to the Atlantic Ocean just below Ocracoke, NC. Keowee Key and Cypress Landing feature nicely designed 18-hole golf courses with extremely reasonable member fees. Savannah Lakes offers 36 holes of excellent golf and charges just $110 per month in homeowner association fees, which provide access to all amenities, including golf and, unusually, a bowling alley.
For its ultra-reasonable fees, Savannah Lakes would rule this category alone but, to paraphrase a line from the Book of Job, “one thing is given, and one is taken away.” The community and its nearest town, McCormick, are located a good 30 minutes from the small town of Greenwood and more than an hour from the more cosmopolitan Greenville. Shopping and entertainment options in McCormick are limited, with just one supermarket, a Food Lion, eight miles from the community. Greenwood does have a small college, Lander, with 3,000 undergraduates, and a couple of surprising restaurants. (Years ago, I dined at Pascal’s, owned by an experienced and French-restaurant trained chef, and the food was as good as I have found in larger cities.) The town is also host to a pair of restaurants you might expect only in a large city -- an Indian/Pakistani restaurant and one called The Venezuelan, which describes its menu. If you are looking for the total absence of noise and air pollution and don’t mind planning shopping trips, Savannah Lakes is a great choice.
Keowee Key is only marginally more connected to services than is Savannah Lakes. At 25 minutes, the major-university town of Clemson offers the kinds of services you would expect of a community that swells by more than 23,000 during the school year – which is to say a few decent restaurants, boutique-type shopping and an ample supply of convenience stores. And for those who cannot be satisfied by just one golf course, the Walker Course at Clemson is open to the public and is a sporting layout, and reasonably priced between $50 and $65, depending on time of year.
Keowee Key is reporting some intense action on its few properties for sale, including bidding wars, understandable in one of the few golf communities on a lake in the Southeast in which homes can still be found in the $300,000s – but perhaps not for long. Compared with its typical inventory of homes for sale of 100, the 20 currently on the market is generating plenty of competition, especially at the under $400,000 price point.
Cypress Landing is a half-hour drive to Greenville, NC -- not to be confused with the larger city of the same name in South Carolina -- that is not only home to a major University, East Carolina, but also to a medical center that seems sized to be more appropriate for a much larger local population. (Vidant Medical Center is the primary teaching hospital for East Carolina University's Brody School of Medicine and the only Level 1 trauma center east of Raleigh and the hub of medical care for a rural region of over two million people. The medical center is also the largest employer in eastern North Carolina.). For those who think a remote style of living is inconsistent with access to a large professional medical center, Cypress Landing may bear consideration.
So too will its real estate pricing, with single-family homes for sale starting at $280,000 (for a 3- bedroom, 3-bath home) and at $44,500 for a lot with a view of a small lake and the golf course.
It appears that the word got out about Cypress Landing in 2020 when local real estate agents sold more homes – a total of 69 – than they had in the last six years; the 19 homesites sold in 2020 were the second most over that same six year period. Sales are just as robust at Savannah Lakes and Keowee Key where the only complaints I hear from real estate professionals is enough homes available to sell.
Savannah Lakes Village, McCormick, SC
Single-family homes from $175,000 to $850,000
Golf: 36 holes by Tom Clark.
Note: Hickory State Park and 18 holes of golf are located across from the community. It is an inexpensive, rustic place to stay while visiting the remote Savannah Lakes. (I enjoyed it.)
Cypress Landing, Chocowinity, NC
Single-family homes from $280,000 to $900,000
Golf: 18 holes by Bill Love
Note: Its proximity to Greenville, NC, and its large medical center and university make Cypress Landing feel less remote than it is.
Keowee Key, Salem, SC
Single-family homes from $375,000 to $2 million
Golf: 18 holes by George Cobb, re-designed by Richard Mandell.
Note: Home sales have definitely benefited from the pandemic. In the last week, only three homes in the $300s were listed for sale against a typical inventory of dozens.
I mention all of these fine golf communities, and many others, in my latest book, Glorious Back Nine: How to Find Your Dream Golf Home, available in both paperback and ePub versions at Amazon.com and other online booksellers.
Reynolds Lake Oconee, Greensboro, GA
By sheer numbers, the winner here should be The Pinehurst Resort, with its nine outstanding layouts. But only the first five – Pinehurst courses are numbered 1 through 9 – are clustered together. Initiation fee for membership in so many courses was reasonable the last time I looked, about $40,000, and monthly dues were not bad either. But Pinehurst is a resort, and a popular one at that, and a daily-golfing member will have to organize tee times or rely on the single “member-only” course each day, lest some traveling group of buddies take a preferred slot. One other consideration: Pinehurst’s course may be nominally public, but membership is only for those who live beside one of the resort’s nine golf courses.
Reynolds initiation fees may be a bit higher than Pinehurst on a per-golf-course basis, but it is almost exclusively private, except for some traffic from the on-site Ritz Carlton Hotel and a handful of nicely appointed cottages the Club offers to prospective members. Reynolds offers a number of tiered membership plans, starting with two courses for a $25,000 initiation fee. Membership in the full complement of six courses, including the Jim Engh masterpiece at The Creek Club, is priced at $50,000. If you love the innovative designs of Mike Strantz, you will go gaga over Engh’s layout. Creek Club is the sole member-only course on the property, which means that Ritz Carlton guests probably cannot even beg their way on. Dues for each membership plan rise relative to the initiation fees, but the plans are flexible enough to accommodate a second, lower-tier dues level for those who are part-timers.
I have played some of the courses at Reynolds, and all were in impeccable shape and operated by friendly and well-trained staff. That is not surprising for a community owned and guided by Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, the white knight who rode into the small town after the original developers, Mercer and Jamie Reynolds, were whipsawed by the recession and aggressive spending.
Reynolds Lake Oconee, Greensboro, GA
Single-family homes from $725,000 to $5.5 million
Lots from $90,000, golf lots from $200,000 and lake lots from $700,000
Golf: Six courses by Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio, Jim Engh, Rees Jones, Bob Cupp
Notes: Home prices at Reynolds have spiked in the last six months; the lowest priced house in April was around $420,000. Today, it is $629,000 (a couple lower priced are “under contract.”) Greensboro is about a 75-minute drive from Atlanta international airport, from where you can get to virtually anywhere in the U.S. on a nonstop flight.
Other golf communities nearby: Harbor Club and Cuscowilla (Eatonton).
Reynolds Lake Oconee is included in my new book, Glorious Back Nine: How to Find Your Dream Golf Home, available in paperback and ePub at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.
Haig Point, Daufuskie Island
Island golf communities are a misnomer in all but a few cases. Hilton Head Island is reached by a bridge and Kiawah Island by a causeway, both built to promote growth; of course, traffic and pollution ensue. True golfing islands – those fully separated from the mainland by water -- are few and far between; the two I know best are Bald Head Island, off the coast of North Carolina, and Daufuskie Island, separated from Hilton Head by the Calibogue Sound (pronounced Cala-bogey).
Bald Head is essentially a luxury beach resort with a fine, and recently updated, George Cobb links course at its heart. It gets pretty cold on Bald Head during the winter and, for that reason, and Haig Point’s 29 holes of golf (not a misprint), the Daufuskie Island community gets my nod for “true island golf.”
Some may know Daufuskie as the setting for Pat Conroy’s memoir, The Water is Wide, about teaching the Gullah children of the island in a two-room schoolhouse. Conroy’s stories opened the children up to a world they did not know existed, changing his life and theirs. Many of the remnants of early island life remain, such as the tabby slave quarters beside the water and close to the Strachan Mansion (see below); and the schoolhouse is still standing as well.
The only transportation in Haig Point is via golf cart, and the only way to get to the island is by ferry – unless you are fortunate enough to have access to a helicopter or private boat to the community’s dock. The ferry runs hourly to and from the Haig Point Embarkation Center on Hilton Head, where all residents park their cars. Although there is a general store in Haig Point, many residents take the ferry back and forth – it is about a 40-minute trip each way – to pick up provisions at the supermarket and to run other errands. Employees of Haig Point unload the groceries from the residents’ cars at the Haig Embarkation point on Hilton Head and load them onto their golf carts at the other end, or deliver directly to their homes. The Water Taxi, a 10-minute ride, runs hourly between Haig Point and Harbour Town harbor on Hilton Head, upon request.
The Rees Jones golf course has been ranked among the best in South Carolina by a number of golf magazines and, in its early days, Top 100 in the U.S. It features some breathtaking views across the Calibogue Sound to Hilton Head, and on a clear day, you can see the famous Harbour Town Lighthouse clearly from the Haig golf course. Jones built an extra two par threes – the 8th and 17th – to challenge better players and to put more marshland in play and the Sound even more in view.
Haig Point, Daufuskie Island, SC
Homes from $289,000 to $2.2 million
Golf: 29 holes by Rees Jones
Golf communities nearby: A bunch on Hilton Head Island, a ferry ride away.
Notes: Haig Point was developed in the mid-1980s by International Paper Company (IP) at a time some paper companies thought such developments would help their balance sheets. (In many cases, they didn’t.) In 1986, IP was offered the Strachan Mansion, which was located on St. Simons Island, GA; the Sea Island Company was clearing the land on which the mansion sat. IP paid to have the mansion shipped down the Intracoastal Waterway to Haig Point, where it is used today as a post office, tavern, convenience shop, reception and guest rooms. IP turned over Haig Point’s land and amenities to its residents in 2001.
Special thanks to Wallace (Doc) Watson, a resident of Haig Point, for his assistance with this article.
If you would like to read more about Haig Point and dozens of other golf communities in the Southeast U.S., consider my new book, Glorious Back Nine: How to Find Your Dream Golf Home, available in paperback and a Kindle version at Amazon.com.
Connecticut resident Mark Twain once said, "If you don't like the weather in New England now, wait a few minutes." As I write this, the temperature has risen in my town of Avon to 55 degrees. It has begun to rain and will do so pretty much for the next 24 hours, with high winds that have compelled the local energy company to warn us of impending power outages. Tomorrow morning, temperatures will reach 61 degrees and then steadily drop to 25 overnight. The only good news is that the snow, after turning to slush, will disappear -- until Twain's prophecy about the weather in these parts comes true again, and the cycle repeats itself.
Yet, there will be golf in March, even earlier for a few hardy souls; and there will be a 2021 for all of us much better than the year just passed. To you and yours, have a wonderful holiday season and, above all, stay safe now and in the new year.
The end of the year is typically when magazines and web sites unload their lists of the "bests" of the year. The categories are way too broad -- best cities, best states, best golf commiunities -- and the criteria often subjective, if not deceptive. (Too many such lists include mostly advertisers in the magazine, and one is left wondering if the "editors" even visited any of the communities they chose.) My choices are subjective as well, but based on visits; and no community has ever paid me a dime for promoting it.
In the coming days, I will continue to summarize those communities that are best at one particular criterion.
Carolina Colours, New Bern, NC
In my new book, Glorious Back Nine: How to Find Your Dream Golf Home, I reference the occasional question from my clients: “How will we know if people will like us in the community we choose?” My impertinent response is typically, “Well, how likable are you?” I then go on to explain that I have never encountered an unfriendly atmosphere in any of the more than 150 communities I have visited. Residents encourage new blood in their communities because it stabilizes the real estate market and pumps up the values of their own homes. They also recall how their fellow residents made them feel, literally, at home in their early days in the community.
In short, you should have no worries about your neighbors being unfriendly in the golf community you choose. (Note: You might occasionally find an unfriendly next-door neighbor; if worried about that, ring their doorbell before you make an offer on the house next door.)
The friendliest community I have found in my 15-years of visits was Carolina Colours in New Bern, NC, after developer Ken Kirkman invited me to dinner with about 60 of his fellow residents. In pre-pandemic days, on most Fridays, the chef in the clubhouse at Carolina Colours prepared a buffet dinner at which residents could share a meal, talk about whatever was on their minds, and arrange for whatever social activities were of interest. I sat at a table with four couples and instantly felt comfortable as the conversation shuttled between volunteer activities in the community, the different geographies they hailed from and their excitement at the prospect of the new pool at the clubhouse being finished that week.
My experience is a good lesson for any couple contemplating a move to a golf community. Make sure your real estate agent arranges either for a discovery package – stay on site, be treated like a member, meet with other couples – or for you to at least play golf and/or share a meal with a couple who was in your position years earlier. If you are likable, they’ll definitely like you.
Carolina Colours, New Bern, NC
Single-family homes for sale from $325,000 to $630,000; lots from $55,000
Golf: 18 holes by Bill Love (semi-private)
Golf communities nearby: Greenbrier (Emerald Golf Course), Fairfield Harbour, Riverbend, Taberna and New Bern CC (Trent Woods)
Notes: Carolina Colours developer Ken Kirkman tells me that the clubhouse is providing Friday night takeaway dinners, but the traditional buffet sit-down will re-commence once it is safe to do so.
I am pleased to announced that the electronic (ePub) version of Glorious Back Nine: How to Find Your Dream Golf Home is now available at the Amazon, Barnes&Noble and Apple Books online stores. The paperback version has been available since early November.
The "Back Nine" is a tongue-in-cheek expression those of us of a certain age who play golf use to describe the last halves of our lives. For dedicated golfers, it is a more meaningful expression than the traditional "Golden Years." Glorious Back Nine is a step-by-step guide to finding a golf community that matches your requirements and helps you avoid those those "traps" that can slow your progress just as, on a golf course, it can impede your score. The book is the only one on the market written specifically about golf communities.
Glorious Back Nine is available for Amazon's Kindle reader, whose app is free for download to your electronic device, and for the Barnes&Noble Nook reader and Apple eBooks. The electronic version is priced at $5.99 and the paperback version at $9.99. Both versions include a list of more than 125 golf communities, most of which I have visited and can recommend.