Golf Community Reviews

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Sunday, 08 November 2020 20:52

The Best Way to Play a Glorious Back Nine

        I am pleased to announce that my first book, Glorious Back Nine: How to Find Your Dream Golf Home, is available for purchase at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com as of today. The book is the culmination of 15 years of assisting couples in their search for a golf community home, as well as hundreds of conversations with developers, golf professionals, real estate agents, golf community board members and, most of all, the clients I have worked with who have taught me so much.
        Glorious Back Nine, which is how many retirees refer to what are often called “the Golden Years,” describes the step-by-step search for a golf community home, from that first all-important “kitchen table” discussion to the moment when you open the front door to your dream golf home. In between, I detail how climate and geography affect a couple’s ultimate choice; lifestyle options; how to select a qualified real estate buyer’s agent; the various types of country club memberships; cost-of-living variables; homeowner association costs; how to plan inspection visits and the most effective questions to ask; and much more. The book also provides notes on dozens of golf communities I have visited and reviewed over the years.
        Glorious Back Nine: How to Find Your Dream Golf Home is the only book written about golf communities in the last 10 years. It is available in a printed (paperback) version for $9.99 at the Amazon and Barnes & Noble online sites. An eBook version will follow in early December.
        If you have any questions about the book, please contact me.

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Monday, 02 November 2020 11:37

Golf Community Preaches What It Practices

        I spent most of my corporate communication career focused on employee communication, where the return on investment was often larger than for marketing or public relations. How so, you ask? The answer is that the most credible, knowledgeable and enthusiastic spokespersons for your company are your employees (of course, assuming you treat them right). 
        One golf community in South Carolina understands this. Keowee Key is a mature golf community beside a clean lake that has gone under the radar for years, much of that owing to a rather quiet approach to marketing. Even a few years into my work with couples searching for a golf community home, I had never heard of Keowee Key. It was only during a search in behalf of a couple looking for a Carolina lake home that a search with the keyword “Keowee” surfaced Keowee Key. I did some research, later paid a visit, and was impressed especially at the extremely reasonable prices for real estate. That was more than 10 years ago and, even today, you can purchase a waterfront lot at Keowee Key for as little as $60,000. You won’t find many of those in the Southeast.
KeoweeKeyoverhead 1Keowee Key's golf course, Lake Keowee beyond. [Photo by Bill Koepnick.]
        What Keowee Key lacks in advertising breadth it makes up for in smart, targeted messaging. Homeowners’ Associations are particularly conservative when it comes to spending, especially spending on marketing. Christine deVlaming has led the marketing effort at Keowee Key since 2015, and because she reports to the community’s Homeowners’ Association, she has to make some convincing arguments when it comes to budget. Indeed, when I consider the process of budgeting at any golf community, I am reminded of what a colleague once told me about fighting for money at the university where I worked after my corporate career: “The battles are so fierce because the stakes are so small.”
        deVlaming is too much of a professional to even hint that is the case at Keowee Key. But from the evidence, the community’s marketing has done a lot with a little. Take, for example, the email I received recently from Keowee Key, inviting me to take advantage of their “discovery package.” It accompanied a video titled “Indian Summer Golf at Keowee Key.” The discovery package, priced at $349 for 3 days and 2 nights of lodging on site, two rounds of golf and a complimentary dinner in the clubhouse, was enticing and, always trying to put myself in the shoes of my clients looking for a golf community, I thought, “Maybe I should look at the video.” Most of these videos from golf communities make me groan with their unremitting references to “paradise,” “championship golf” and “the best people anywhere.”
        The four-minute clip is hosted by Rion Groomes, director of golf, and while much of what comes out of his mouth – “no place like Keowee Key,” “people here are great” – is marketing hyperbole, he cites his experience elsewhere which makes the rest of what he says a little more credible than typical golf community website palaver. He also shares some key information (no pun intended) about course conditions, the effects of the pandemic and some of the changes they have made to accommodate Covid. (Note: Normal number of rounds in August is 3,000; this past August it was 4,500.)
        deVlaming told me that she has developed an internal communications plan for Keowee Key this fall, she has sent out one of these email blasts per week for the last four weeks and has already covered boating (after all the docks in the community were refreshed), golf and the clubhouse. She says the fitness center for the community is on deck for a video blast.
KeoweeKeygreenshot 1Photo by Russel Carlson
        Mindful that her audience is not just potential residents but also those who can influence them, deVlaming shares all the email blasts with local Realtors (and me). This is even more important now since Covid keeps local real estate agents and their clients in separate cars during drive throughs. Having explanations on video of the community’s amenities makes it easier for the agents to describe Keowee Key’s attractions.
        Customers are beating a path to Keowee Key lately, producing multiple bids on homes for sale, some selling for higher than asking price. The historical “normal” inventory level of homes for sale is 100; in recent weeks, the level has been just three to five.
        “September was absolutely on fire here,” deVlaming says of traffic to the community and the number of home sales, adding “maybe it was the [upcoming] election.” (There are rules at Keowee Key against signage of any kind on properties, and that includes political, as well as for-sale signs.)
        Quiet. Pollution free. No political controversies. Employees who take their jobs seriously. And marketing that spends homeowners’ money wisely. Not many better messages than that.

        Traditionally, you needed to look just below Maryland to see votes for President start to turn pink and then, as you traveled farther south, reliably deep red. But if the current polls are to be believed, the arc from below Maryland to Florida is a rainbow of blue, purple and a spot of red for the 2020 election for President.
        According to polls updated a couple of days ago, Virginia is a solid blue, with likely voters for former Vice President Biden at 56% and for President Trump 42%. The spread is a bit larger – 58% to 42% -- among registered voters. Moving south into North Carolina, Biden maintains a lead comfortably outside the typical margin of error (3.5% or so) with totals of 52 to 46 among likely voters and 53 to 45 among registered voters. 
        Things change significantly in South Carolina where President Trump holds leads of 52 to 46 and 50 to 47, respectively. But the race in Georgia is uncharacteristically close; since 1972, only native son Jimmy Carter and Arkansan Bill Clinton won the state’s electoral votes. Currently Biden is ahead of Trump among likely voters by a slim 50% to 49% margin while his lead among registered voters is a more comfortable 52 to 46.
        Finally, Florida, always a pivotal state, could not be closer, with the two candidates tied at 49% among likely voters and with a 1% lead for Biden among registered voters. Polling from Sumter County, home to the enormous Villages community in north central Florida, is getting a lot of media attention and indicates a surge in support for the former Vice President.
        The pandemic has caused more intense migration from cities to the Southeast bringing with it, generally, more progressive voters from the Northern states. The Sunbelt’s attractive cost of living is not only attractive to retirees, but also to the millions of employees working from home during the pandemic. Their companies are learning these workers are even more productive working from home, and they just might let many of them stay there even after a vaccine. They will be able to work from anywhere, and that low cost of living and balmy winter climates will prove attractive to many of them. Many will target golf communities as safe and attractive havens.
        The bluing of the South might very well continue in future elections.

        John McConnell has an undeniably good eye for excellent golf courses, especially those in need of some financial help. The golf course management organization he leads recently scored another ace with its purchase of the Tom Fazio designed Porters Neck in Wilmington, NC. The club, which has bounced between private and semi-private status since it opened in the early 1990s, had recently re-tried a member’s only model. Apparently, it didn’t work and McConnell swooped in with a reported $4 million purchase price and made it a baker’s dozen courses in his portfolio, almost all in the Carolinas with one in Tennessee.
        I have played Porter’s Neck a couple of times over the years, the most recent on a September 11 a few years back with the club’s men’s group to honor first responders. The course is Fazio classic, threading its way between live oaks and other flora, the well-tended homes kept at a respectable distance from the field of play.
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        A McConnell golf membership, especially for those who like to drive a car a few hours to play iconic courses, is one of the best deals in the South. He has shrewdly purchased mostly golf community private courses, mindful that residents understand that a quality golf course props up real estate values – and one in financial trouble sends a troubling signal to the real estate market. Thus, his portfolio is replete with such excellent clubs as Treyburn in Durham, NC, and The Reserve in Litchfield Beach, SC. Musgrove Mill in Clinton, SC, stands out for having no surrounding real estate – and is possibly the toughest layout of all 13 courses. And for fans of classically designed layouts, McConnell has added four courses designed by the famous Donald Ross – Raleigh Country Club, Country Club of Asheville, Sedgfield Country Club in Greensboro, NC, and Holston Hills Country Club in Knoxville, TN, the only McConnell course outside the Carolinas (at least so far).
        As with most great multi-course memberships that span significant distances, members tend to stick to their home courses. (That is true, for example, at The Cliffs communities and its seven layouts spread across South Carolina, plus one near Asheville.). Members of Old North State Club at Uwharrie Point, one the best layouts in the state of North Carolina but a couple of hours or more from other McConnell courses, probably don’t wander too often from their golf community to play the other McConnell tracks. In recent years, though, McConnell has been filling in the geography in the Carolinas, bringing his courses ever closer together and making a club membership, which provides reciprocal play at all dozen courses, an obviously better deal than before. With the purchase of Porters Neck, members at the fairly isolated Reserve at Litchfield Beach are now inside two hours of the Wilmington course. (McConnell doesn’t own but manages the Grande Dunes Members Course in Myrtle Beach, also available to members of all his courses.)
        Golf has been undergoing something of a renaissance during the pandemic, but given the Porters Neck purchase, there will always be fine private clubs for the keen-eyed McConnell to snap up.

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        As the pandemic causes people to flee the cities for more rural locations, inquiries and visits are way up in many areas of the Southeast. “It has been an amazing market here for last several months; we are seeing lots of buyers,” said Tom Jackson, a South Carolina real estate professional who covers Bluffton, Hilton Head and Daufuskie Islands. An unprecedented 28 homes are under contract at Haig Point on Daufuskie Island.
        Bargains are drying up, but there are still a few (including lots listed for $1 each in a couple of the top Bluffton golf communities). The home above is located in a popular, multi-golf-course community in South Carolina. Want to know where?
        Click here, and I will reveal the location.

Wednesday, 26 August 2020 12:19

Make your own golf community

        A round of golf this past Monday in rural Vermont was a good reminder that a golfing lifestyle does not always mean life in a planned golf community. While visiting our daughter in St. Albans, VT, just 20 minutes from the Canadian border, my son in law and I played the circa 1920 classic layout at Champlain Country Club in nearby Swanton. The course is short – just under 6,300 yards from the tips – but sporty and fun, with a few extremely challenging holes (two par 3s stand out). I have played the golf course at least a half dozen times over the last five years, but Monday was the first time I focused on the view from behind the 8th green. Out there in the distance, just off the edge of the country club property, were a couple of homes. A little bit of online research after the round indicated they are part of Country Club Estates, with homes built in the 1980s and ‘90s.
        This is a reminder for those who don’t require the built-in amenities of a golf community – and who are reluctant to pay the homeowner association dues that come with those amenities – that you can find some very good deals close to counbtry clubs you can join in a more organically developed neighborhood. In Champlain Country Club’s case, it is one of those deals, with membership fees that will seem a bargain to anyone living in a planned community with a private or semi-private club.
Champlain from 8th green with housesFrom behind the 8th green at Champlain Country Club in Swanton, VT, homes in Country Club Estates dot the horizon.
        Currently, for those of us in the “Pre-Golden Years” category (70 to 74), annual membership is set at $881; with a weekday rack rate of $40, the membership pays for itself beginning with round 23. If you have made it to 75 and play golf twice a week, the annual fee of just $671 is a special bargain. (Other adults up to the age of 70 pay $1,128 per year, still quite a deal if you play a few times a week in the April to November season.) What I was impressed with especially, from a cost perspective, was that you can rent a golf cart for the year for just $448 (for a single seat) or $757 for a full cart. That single seat cart pays for itself by the 22nd round.
        The adjacent community of Country Club Estates is home to a couple dozen houses, none of which appear to be on the market currently. Last May, a 3-bedroom, 2-bath “executive ranch” home with 2,240 square feet sold for $365,000.  Assuming future homes that come on the market are priced similarly, a summer home in Vermont -- which, by the way, has one of the lowest per capita rates of Covid infections in the U.S. -- could pair nicely with a winter home in the South, providing comfortable year-round golf.
        I'll have a little more to say about the Champlain Country Club golf course soon at OffTheBeatenCartPath.com, our companion site which features some out of the way gems.

        As if the pandemic was not enough challenge for Connecticut golf courses, the remnants of a hurricane with a confusing name slammed into the heart of the state taking down trees and power lines and making life even more miserable for a week.  Your correspondent and his wife were without power for five days.
        Taking a cue from the besieged U.S. Postal Service, neither downed trees nor power lines nor 90-degree weather was going to keep me from playing golf even before the power was turned back on.  My friend Peter and I booked an afternoon tee time at Wintonbury Hills, a Pete Dye course in Bloomfield, CT, that plays through gently sloped fairways of a former farm.  Dye "donated" his design services to Bloomfield in the early 2000s, and the course still ranks as one of the best of the public options in northern Connecticut.  Power was out at Wintonbury, and I was warned that my electric cart could run out of juice by the end of the round. (Thankfully, it didn't.)
        Having driven around my home town shortly after the storm passed, I noted that many of the larger downed trees were cleaved almost in half, from top to bottom. The worst damage seemed to be in small, separated areas, implying to this armchair meteorologist that mini-tornadoes may have been spawed by the storm.  At Wintonbury, I noted that a few medium-sized trees had been toppled but mostly small trees and limbs were down on the course -- until we came to number 14, where a huge tree covered half the fairway. I hit my best drive of the day almost to the tree but was able to play over the newly formed hazard.
Wintonbury14downedtreeAn extra hazard in the 14th fairway at Wintonbury Hills in Bloomfield, CT.
        My favorite public course in Connecticut, Keney Park in Hartford, had no such luck.  Closed for five days because of a lack of power and many downed trees, I played there on Thursday this week and was stunned at how many large trees had been felled by the storm.  The crews had done a great job of removing those that had blocked play and pushing aside many of the others for later cleanup.
Keneytreeblockingshotto7Only twice was a downed tree or branch in play for me at Keney Park this week; here, for my approach shot on #7 (I played it), and on #10, where my tee shot on the par 5 wound up in a pile of brush at the edge of the fairway. (I took a drop.)
       We think that hurricanes and the ensuing damage is an issue only for coastal locations in the Carolinas and Florida, but those of us in New England have lived through some challenging post-hurricane effects in recent years.  (Irene inundated a large swath of Vermont and New Hampshire in late August 2011.)  If you are looking forward to life near a beach in the Carolinas, then go for it.  No place is perfect in terms of climate -- well, some people say San Diego is but, oh, the cost of living! To quote the worldly philosopher of Saturday Night Live fame, Roseann Roseannadanna (Gilda Radner), "It's always something."

Keney downed treesTop, tree damage behind the first green at Keney Park. Bottom, a sample of the scene on much of the front nine. Oddly, the back nine was largely unaffected.

Friday, 24 July 2020 15:08

One Way to Better Golf Scores

        My friend and fellow golf blogger Brad Chambers is celebrating an anniversary today. One year ago, he published Think Better, Play Smarter and Manage Your Way to Better Golf Scores, an every-player’s guide to preparing yourself for mental obstacles that face us on our chosen field of battle, the golf course. Brad, who maintains the web site Shooting Your Age, takes the game seriously enough to think deeply about the details that can spell the difference between a good round and a disappointing one.
        I especially like Brad’s common sense approaches to pre-golf routines and on-course thinking and all the other vagaries that combine to make golf rewarding and maddening, often in equal measures. His advice will help you subtract the maddening and enjoy the rewards.
        Think Better, Play Smarter is available at Amazon.com.
        As Brad likes to say, it will cost you about half of a bucket of range balls. As I like to say, it is likely to be twice as helpful.

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        The July edition of our newsletter, Home On The Course, will mail tomorrow morning to subscribers. The main feature is about how the definition of a “bargain” golf home is changing. We also share examples of current bargains for sale in a few of the best golf communities in the Southeast.
        But the part of the newsletter I am most excited about is an invitation to a Zoom presentation that I will give next Wednesday. It is sponsored by the Simsbury, CT, Public Library near my hometown and titled, “Finding Your Dream Golf Home in the Sunbelt.” Because there is a limit to the number of participants via Zoom, I am opening the invitation to Home On The Course subscribers only. 
        Please subscribe today to be able to sign up for this one-hour presentation scheduled for 4 pm EDT on July 15.
        I look forward to seeing you then.

Wednesday, 08 July 2020 14:40

Bias in Best Places to Live Ratings

        Those who read my free monthly newsletter, Home On The Course, and Golf Community Reviews know I am not a big fan of those web sites and magazines that rank the best places to live or retire. Such rankings range from those that are biased toward their advertisers to those that are coy about the criteria that help produce their lists. One site I recently discovered, Niche.com, is forthcoming about the criteria it uses and, in so doing, does a service to retirees who may be inclined to take too seriously the “best of” ratings, even Niche’s own.
        Niche is a site worth exploring. It is comprehensive and fun to dabble with and, taken with a grain of salt, is a decent source of information about places to live. I took it for a test drive by clicking on its “Best Counties to Retire” list and was surprised to note that the top 14 on the list were all Florida counties. (Beaufort County, SC, broke the schneid at #15.)
        That tilt toward the Sunshine State led me to explore the criteria Niche used to develop its rankings. I was pleased that the site was direct not only in detailing its 16 criteria but also in sharing the weightings they used.
        But therein lies a problem. You would think that a site advising retirees on the best place to live might assign weighting to the criteria most important to retirees. But the highest weighted criteria, at 15%, is a something called “Retiree Newcomers,” described as, “The percent of residents 65 years old and over, who moved into the area within the last year.” That is not something relocating retirees care about. I can say honestly in the 15 years I have worked with retirees and others to find their “best” places to live, no one has ever said to me, “We want to move where most retirees are moving.” If you are like me, the last thing you want to hear from a salesperson, for example, is, “That is one of our most popular items.” Popularity does not confer wisdom of choice. Niche stacks the deck in favor of Florida right off the bat.
        The second most heavily weighted category, at 12.5%, is “cost of living,” a criterion that most retirees looking to relocate indicate in their top three. Niche’s sources for COL data is “consumer price index and access to affordable housing.” Niche is quite forthcoming with additional details about how the site determines cost of living, but I won’t burden this discussion with the particulars. Suffice to say that many sources available to all of us on the Internet proclaim South Carolina and Georgia, for example, as overall less expensive places to live than Florida. (Yes, I know, Florida does not have a state income tax, but the other taxes – property, sales, tolls on highways that aren’t bumper to bumper – more than compensate.) 
        Niche weights equally, at 10%. the three categories of average sunny days per year, crime and safety, and the number of residents over 65. To the extent that sunny days equal nice climate, Niche is calculating a criterion that relocating retirees put at or near the tops of their lists of requirements; after all, what refugee from the cold winters of the north would want to relocate someplace other than the “Sun” belt? But sunny days in Florida do not tell the entire story of climate, especially in July and August when temperatures are relentlessly high and sun gives way to almost daily thunderstorms. And need we mention the threat of hurricanes, a factor utterly ignored by using sunny days as the criterion for “climate?”
        And what is with weighting relatively heavily the category “residents over 65”? That certainly seems like gilding the lily after giving the highest weighting to “Retiree Newcomers.” Combine the two and the effect of old people in Florida – I can say that, I am 72 – accounts for 25% of Niche’s scoring. 
        That is like an ad proclaiming, "Come to Florida. We really are God’s Waiting Room."

Page 3 of 133

Now on Sale

Back Nine BookCover  Playing Through Book Cover

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Now on Sale

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  • 156-page step-by-step guide to finding your dream golf home.
  • Info on nearly 100 golf communities the author has visited.
  • Paperback version costs less than a sleeve of Pro VIs.

Here is what the experts are saying:

“The book is chocked full of information…applicable to anyone looking for a move to the Southeast regardless of whether they are looking for a golf community or not.” — John LaFoy, golf architect (Linville Ridge CC, CC of Charleston, The Neuse GC)

“Larry has done a tremendous amount of work and anyone — like me — who is looking to search for a golf home now or in a few years needs this book.” — Brad Chambers, golf blogger, ShootingYourAge.com

“Wow!  What a thorough piece of work…a must for anyone moving South. This book will help many people.” — Brett Miller, owner and founder of MMA, Inc, a golf industry consultancy

Buy It Now at Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com.