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Thursday, 15 February 2007 18:00

CEO plays poorly on, off course

    Ford Motor Company CEO Alan Mulally took a beating yesterday in the Detroit Free Press and elsewhere for having putted while Ford burns.  Five days before Ford announced a mind-boggling loss of $12.7 billion for last year, Mulally was playing golf at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.  Two weeks after the announced loss, he played in the pro-am at Pebble Beach.
    As you might imagine, Ford workers, their friends and neighbors are miffed, to say the least.  But Mulally is not without his supporters, according to the Free Press.  Tour player Len Mattiace, Mulally's partner for three rounds at Pebble Beach, probably won't endear himself to the thousands of Ford workers afraid for their jobs.  Of Mulally's time at the tournament, Free Press columnist Carlos Monarrez wrote, Mattiace said:  "I can tell you there's no downside to him being there.  There is a lot of networking. All the CEOs of major companies are there. And I know when he's off the golf course, he's spending a lot of time with all these other CEOs, and I think it's smart of him and it's great for the company for him to be there."
    On the course was a different matter.  Said Mattiace of Mulally's play:  "...he certainly didn't play like knockout golf, you know?"  Must have had something on his mind.

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    "When we get the figures for the spring, I expect to see a discernible improvement in both sales and prices."  -- David Lereah, chief hypemaster (er, economist) for the National Association of Realtors, responding to his organization's report yesterday that home prices had dropped in nearly half the metro districts it surveys.

    If there was a way to short the real estate market every time Lereah says "the end (of the bottom) is near," we'd be rich.  His supporters at the NAR can take heart, however.  Someday, the market will reach its bottom, and the hypemaster will be right.

    Former minor league baseball player Bill Richardson may be the best golfer in the running for President in 2008, according to the few handicaps for Presidential wannabes that we could find published at GHIN, the Golf Handicap and Information Network.  At the Alto Lakes Country Club in New Mexico, someone named Bill Richardson maintains a 14.1 index , just 7/10 of a stroke better than U.S. Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT); we know the Senator does indeed play out of the respected Black Hall Golf Club in CT.  At 18.3, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani trails by four strokes.
    Giuliani lists two home courses, Trump National in Westchester, NY, and the 45-year old Noyac Club in Sag Harbor, Long Island.  We haven't visited either course, but if the way the popular former prosecutor signs his handicap card at the two courses, Trump National is a stuffy place.  There he is Rudolph W. Giuliani.  At Noyac he is just plain Rudy, no middle initial either.
    By no means does this mean the three gentlemen are the only golfers in the Presidential race, but we searched for all the others by their home states and, in the case of sitting U.S. legislators, by the District of Columbia.  No luck.  But we may have looked in all the wrong places.  We'll mail a copy of Zagat's 2006/07 Guide to American Golf Courses to the first five readers who can add to our list of candidates with verifiable handicaps (and, please, resist the temptation to submit Bill as Hillary's handicap!).  Just click on the 'Comments" section below and name the candidate, the handicap and the source of your information.

 Golf Course Review

     Our post yesterday regarding the narrow par 3 at Sewanee Golf Club reminded us of another rather bizarre hole we played last year in Tennessee.  Red Tail Mountain, a fledgling golf community in the mountains about a half-hour north of Boone, NC, and the same distance from I-81, includes a fun course with significant elevation changes and nicely contoured fairways.  The developers of the community had done a nice job of sprucing up the public-access Dan Maples-designed course in preparation for selling their first home sites late last year.
    The front nine is a pleasant routing, with a fair amount of water and contoured greens to keep things interesting.  But nothing prepares you for the roller coaster ride and mind-boggling approach shot on the par 5 12th hole.  From the highest elevation on the course, which is to say about 100 feet above the fairway, the tee box sits in a chute of trees.  A well struck tee ball is framed by the mountains beyond; that is the last you see of your ball off the tee, because the front of the tee box obscures the fairway below.  I hit my best drive of the day straight through the chute and looked forward to maybe having a go at the green, since the hole was just under 500 yards.
    But Moby Dick was buried in the middle of the fairway, and my "perfectly" centered drive must have bounced off the hump.  It had rolled into the rough on the right edge of the fairway.  But given the elevation, it was way out there, about 300 yards, leaving a short distance to the green.  But where was the green?  I drove up 160 yards to find that the fairway ended abruptly and took a more than 90-degree turn to the right.  Since the tallest trees in Tennessee lined the right side of the fairway, I had no option but to place my approach shot to the elbow of the fairway, which I did successfully.
   Then the fun really began.  I had stopped my ball just short of a fairway bunker at the elbow, mere yards from the end of the fairway.  Facing me for an approach shot was a most unusual tableau, as you will see in the photos below.  A sheer rock cliff formed the entire area behind the green, and guarding the front right side was a significant rock outcropping.  I was lucky I had hit the ball far enough because the pin was on the right side, behind the outcropping, and a shot to the middle of the fairway or shorter would have meant an approach over the granite.  I went for the heart of the green, took my two putts and par, and walked off the green feeling lucky indeed.
    After the round, I asked Red Mountain Assistant Golf Pro Josh McWhorter if those who play the course regularly use the cliff face as a safe way to play the ball onto the green.
   “I’ve taken a bunch of balls out there and played them off the wall,” he said.  “They never bounce straight back.”
    If you find yourself anywhere near Mountain City, TN, stop at Red Mountain even if you have time to play only one hole.  You won't forget it.  Greens fees run between just $29 and $44.  The golf course can be reached at 423-727-7931.  If you would like real estate information about Red Mountain, contact Sales Executive Stephen Trent at 877-488-4646, or strent@redtailmountain.com.

Red Mountain #12 - 1
A placement shot short of the elbow at the par 5 12th at Red Mountain leaves little or no chance of getting near the pin behind the outcropping that guards the front of the right side of the green...

...but even a ball in the trap at the end of the fairway leaves a more reasonable approach.

Have you played an unusual hole recently?  Or do you have a favorite course you want to brag about?  Please share it with other readers of GolfCommunityReviews.com by posting a comment at the end of this article.

    Despite a reduction in the number of rounds played in Myrtle Beach, SC, last year, the southeast U.S. led the nation in play compared with 2005, according to the National Golf Foundation"s "Regional Rounds Report."  Rounds in the southeast, not including Florida, increased a total of 4.5%.  Rounds in the Central and South Florida area, which is combined for the report, increased 3.4%.  No other region increased by more than 3%; the southwestern region suffered the greatest drop in rounds at -1.1%, with Arizona alone losing 3.5%.
    South Carolina was the strongest southern state in terms of play, increasing rounds by 6.7%, despite the golf supermarket of Myrtle Beach dropping 3.1% in number of rounds played.  The Myrtle Beach area continues to suffer golf course closures after years of overbuilding.  Georgia, at 4.5%, followed South Carolina in gains in play.
    The report can be found at www.ngf.org in the "free reports" area.
Monday, 12 February 2007 23:00

Most narrow green in America?

   Yesterday, we reported on our round at the quirky Sewanee Golf Club, a nine holer in the town of the same name in Tennessee.  The par 3 4th hole might have the slimmest green in America.  We were fortunate the pin was up front.  University of the South at Sewanee golf coach Carter Cardwell told us that when the pin is back and you miss the green, "Count on a four at the best."  We can't argue.

#4 at Sewanee

    FindYourSpot.com and BestPlaces.net purport to help you find the retirement or second-home location that best suits your preferences.  These are good resources as far as they go, which is to say they go about as far as they can without any human involvement.
    Both sites take you through a step-by-step questionnaire that covers all the important categories you will consider when looking for a city or town.  Most of the usual suspects are there:  cost of living, crime, climate, housing values, transportation, religion and schools.  FindYourSpot includes more specific additional questions about recreational and cultural issues.
    Flaws are abundant.  For example, when you plug in the name of the city you are considering  (or its zip code) and then search BestPlaces’ transportation category, you get data for the city compared against the U.S. average, which strikes us as pretty much irrelevant.  And do we care as much about average commute time (included) as we do, say, the distance to the nearest commercial airport?  There is no mention of the latter at BestPlaces.  In the education category, should we care as much about the number of students for each librarian as we do about the number of continuing education courses that are offered in the area?
    Although BestPlaces asks you to indicate your preferences, we prefer FindYourSpot 's more peronal approach (a little humor here and there).  It asks a longer list of questions than does BestPlaces and produces a longer list of towns that FindYourSpot thinks are right for you.
    It makes for some fairly bizarre results, and shows that these services lack a whole lot of nuance.  My wife and I separately filled out the FindYourSpot questionnaire.  We both enjoy our second home on the South Carolina coast, and our responses reflected that (we thought), although my responses indicated I would enjoy living in the mountains as well.  I emphasized golf, continuing education, access to an airport and the desire for culture and entertainment activities nearby.  My wife, besides stressing a coastal location with an emphasis on access to beaches, highlighted an interest in museums and orchestras, as well as access to an airport, continuing ed and many of the things I stressed.  She is not a golfer and ranked it way lower than I did.
    Her top results:  New York City, Boston and San Francisco.  Mine:  Two towns in the Texas Hill Country and one in rural Louisiana.  We’ve had a good chuckle over what might be a compromise location, and who might get the kids.
    You won’t make any decisions on where to live based on these sites, but a few minutes on either one might give you something to talk about.

Golf Course Review 

    Until recently, I had never heard of the University of the South at Sewanee in Tennessee, let alone that it had a well-regarded nine hole golf course.  But the prodigal son was granted admission to the school after the recommendation to apply by his college counselor, and so we thought we should take a look,  He insisted on bringing his clubs, albeit for one day.  He had read that the university owned Sewanee Golf Club was a quirky classic.
    The course is about 50 years old, a nine hole track featured in the new book "To the Nines" by Anthony Prioppi that features the best half courses in the land.  Sewanee Golf Club is proof positive that a course does not need an abundance of hazards -- water or sand -- to make it challenging and fun.  We counted a half dozen or so traps and a lake that was more window dressing than hazard.  The land is the thing at Sewanee, whose terrain swoops and swerves; and although the uncut greens were reading somewhere around 20 on the stimpmeter, we still needed to be careful when we were above the hole, such was the severe sloping.  Short yardage holes were more than compensated by quirky green complexes.  Our favorite, in a perverse way, was the 159 yard par 3 4th (which also played to 164 as the 13th; Sewanee moves the tees around on the second nine); it had easily the smallest width to length ratio of any green we have played.  At its widest, the green measured about 25 feet, with a sand bunker guarding the first half of the left side.  The green ran front to back at least 100 feet, and behind it was a neat view of the Cumberland Valley below. (I'll post a photo of the green when I return home).
    Sewanee Golf Club is minimalist in more than its number of holes.  The pro shop is spare and multi-purpose; the same person who sells you a hat or sleeve of golf balls will also fetch you a hot dog.  I had decided to leave my clubs at home in a not-so-coy attempt to duck a round of golf in 40-degree weather.  I asked benignly about rental clubs, and the young lady behind the counter told me,"Sir, we don't rent clubs, we loan them" at no charge.  She sent me around the corner to take my pick of the dozen available sets, a collection so motley that it made my few hairs hurt.  I chose a bag quickly -- too quickly -- and learned later that I had two pitching wedges, two nine irons -- one left handed -- and a five wood with a head smaller than the hybrid I left at home.  I had no sand wedge, no six or eight irons.  This was also the first time I hit a wooden club, the driver, in more than 20 years.  I guess this is known as golf the way it is meant to be played, old clubs on an old style course.  I was pleased I broke 90, with an 88.  Tim mixed a few double bogies with a few birdies and scored a nice 75.  His length off the tee helped a lot on the 6,100 layout.  A modern, matched set of clubs didn't hurt either.
    You won't find any houses on Sewanee Golf Club, but prices in the area bespeak the town's distance from any city of consequence (90 minutes from Nashville, 60 from Chattanooga).  We smiled to see an almost 1,000 square foot house near the college listed at under $100,000.  We didn't think any of those were left anywhere in the land.  The town is all university; that is, the university owns all 10,000 acres in the town, the second largest "campus" in the nation.  Professors attend classes in robes (the academic kind, not terry cloth) and most students still adhere to the tradition of natty attire in class (coat and tie for men, dresses for the young ladies).  Some might say college the way it was meant to be played.

    We reported in yesterday's post about the vibe at the Live South show in Greenwich, CT (the show ends at 5 p.m. today, Sunday).  Here are a few additional notes we took during our tour of the show:

  • Live South founder Dave Robertson shared some of his organization's research that indicates golf is hot again, ranking second -- behind walking -- as the most desired activity for those contemplating a move south (55% of respondents attending Live South show included golf on their list).  Tennis and swimming also showed impressive gains in interest.  31% indicated a preference for a gated community, a significant increase from pre-9/11 levels.
  • During his seminar called "How to Choose the Right Place," Robertson indicated there is an average of 7.3 months of housing inventory in the south, below the historic lows of 10% back in the 1990s.  We have no reason to dispute the number but, like politics, all real estate is local, and averages mislead.  In Wilmington, Robertson's hometown, real estate brokers tell us the inventory is at 15%.  A range of inventories is a more helpful figure than an average.
  • Robertson indicated that most new homes in the south are in the 1,800 to 2,500 square foot category but that two master suites has become the rage, the better to accommodate kids and grandkids.  On the other hand, he told the amusing tale of the couple who decided to move into an age-restricted community largely so they could unburden themselves of a 35-year-old son who lived at home.
  • Soft housing market be damned.  The marketing folks we talked with at the show booths said they haven't seen any price erosion in their communities, although they acknowledged that inventories of unsold homes were up.  The representative from a construction company confirmed the same from the builder's side (slower sales but no price erosion).  We were especially impressed with the number of brand new communities touting their wares at the show.  Since they opened last fall, three of them said they had sold more than 120 home sites each.
    On a large buffet table, everything looks good if you are hungry.  But you just don’t have the time or stomach to taste everything.  You take a piece of this, a piece of that and move on.
    So it is with trade shows and, especially, with a real estate trade show where every booth sports large and wonderfully colorful displays and is hosted by well scrubbed salespeople eager to fill you up with sweet and savory dreams of a beautiful life.  Choose well, and you can make a nice meal of it.
    We made a swing through the Live South Real Estate Show in Greenwich, CT, yesterday evening and found much to recommend to those who want to do some preliminary one-stop shopping for a southern community.  The show runs through Sunday, with three more weekend shows scheduled for Boston, Detroit and Cleveland (see LiveSouth.com for the schedule).
    Be mindful that the 60 exhibitors represent a nice selection, but are far from a totally representative sample.  It appeared to us that the communities at the show were in the middle of the pack in terms of price points.  We spoke with some agents about lots that began as low as $35,000 and others where they started north of $200,000.   The big guys, the ones with huge marketing budgets like the Cliffs Communities and Ford Plantation, were absent.  
    A number of new communities were there.  We had good conversations with representatives from Queens Gap, east of Asheville, NC., which will include a Jack Nicklaus signature course, and Cutter Creek, another new community located near Greenville, NC.
    Exhibitors pay $5,000 and more to display their wares to hundreds, sometimes thousands of people over the course of a weekend.  It is money well spent, one exhibitor told us.
    “We do about 25% of our business from these shows,” he says, adding that he and his colleagues in their South Carolina golf community close deals with about 20% of those who visit the property.
    The Live South shows are a great way for people just beginning to look for a southern home to get a good sampling of what is available.  Yes, every place looks like paradise from this side of the booth and, as Live South founder Dave Robertson advises, you should the amenities and location you want and then go visit before you make any commitment.  And we would add one further piece of advice, almost as obvious as the aforementioned:  If you can afford it, live in your chosen place for a month or two before you buy.  There are nuances of living in a community that you won’t discover during the “Discovery Weekend” packages most communities offer.
    One final note:  Make sure your mailbox is large enough to handle the avalanche of material you will receive in the weeks after the show. 
Page 131 of 133

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