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.