If you subscribe to my free, mostly-monthly newsletter, you already know that I am a fan of the state of Vermont. So too are skiers, maple syrup lovers and craft beer worshipers. But no one retires to a place just for those benefits; yet more and more retirees are choosing Vermont as their go-to retirement spot, not just as a second home but as their one and only.

In-migration to Vermont is way up since the start of the pandemic, and prices of real estate have followed suit. Typical is a modest neighborhood in St. Albans, just off Interstate 89 and a mere 20 minutes from the Canadian border. My daughter and her family live there and, over the last three years, home prices have jumped 60%. That seems typical of many towns my wife and I have checked with an eye toward a second home in Vermont. Five years ago, we considered someday living in downtown Burlington, a university town and considered by some to have all the advantages of a San Francisco without the size or big city problems. Someday could be never for us, given the significant increase in prices in and around Burlington.

JayPealgolfandskislopeGolfers and skiers will have a full year of outdoor activities if they live near Jay Peak.

Vermont has been perceived by residents of big cities like Boston and New York as safe havens during the pandemic. Indeed, the state has registered probably the best overall performance dealing with Covid of any state. A Republican governor and Democrat state legislature have managed to govern in a peaceful co-existence style that should be the envy of deep blue and deep red states. Although no one would ever mistake Vermont for a pink or even purple state, the cultural divide in the Green Mountain state is more like a tinycreek than a raging river. Granola eaters and hunters live pretty much in harmony, or at least any schisms are not the stuff of headlines.

Golfers who live in Vermont full time have an admittedly short season. Five miles from the Canadian border at Jay Peak, the best golf course I played during a five-week visit in August and September, the end date for a season that started in late April was October 11. But for those almost six months of golf, the choices are varied and excellent.

BluffPoint4fromtee 2The Bluff Point Resort golf course in Plattsburgh, NY, runs along Lake Champlain and has a fascinating history. Once the site of President William McKinley's "summer" White House, the resort featured a large hotel beside the lake and a designer pedigree; it was redesigned in 1916 by A.W. Tillinghast, he of Winged Foot and Bethpage Black fame. Alas, the hotel is gone and the golf course does not reflect much of its former glory. But it is still a hoot to play where McKinley and the Roosevelt boys once teed it up.

I played nine layouts during my five weeks in Vermont, two of them across Lake Champlain in New York state, and none of them were clunkers. (I have posted reviews of most of them at my web site, OffTheBeatenCartPath.com.) They ranged from the “modern,” typified by the afore-mentioned Jay Peak, Fox Run (formerly Okemo) and Green Mountain, to the “classic,” including Bluff Point in Plattsburgh, NY (redesigned by the famous A.W. Tillinghast in 1916), Champlain Golf Club in Swanton, Alburg Golf Links in Alburgh, and Williston Golf Club in Williston, a few miles from Burlington. During my round at Kwiniaska Golf Club, near the University of Vermont, I played behind seven foursomes of couples from Florida; according to the club’s general manager, 50 Florida residents are members of the semi-private club. They winter in the Sunshine State and live in the Burlington area during the summer.

There are a few choice golf communities in Vermont, chief among them Queechee in the central part of the state, a few miles from the intersection of Interstates 91 and 89 (both wind up at the Canadian border). The community features two well-regarded golf courses – one of them the fourth best in the state, according to Golf Digest and Golfweek -- and skiing for those so disposed. Farther north, Vermont National is a Jack Nicklaus designed course in South Burlington that threads its way through a modern development of single-family homes and one-story townhouses. The restaurants, shopping and access to university activities is as good as it gets in any area of New England. Stowe Mountain is barely a half hour away for some of the best skiing in the Northeast.

Alburg par 3 8thAlburg Golf Links at the northern end of Lake Champlain sports a 60-year-old layout with a few modern flourishes. The owner is looking to sell the course and 200 adjacent acres that are ripe for development -- and views of Lake Champlain. Asking price is $2.5 million for everything.

It is relatively expensive to live in Vermont, but if you play a lot of golf, you could save a lot of money compared with memberships and green fees in, say, Florida. At Jay Peak, for example, green fees during the high season of late summer were just $60, cart included. The cost of a full membership for next year is expected to be around $1,600 (no initiation fee, just that annual payment). Assuming you play three times a week during a, conservatively speaking, 22-week season, your cost per round will be barely $25. At twice a week, the cost will be under $40. Most of the other semi-private clubs I played charge even less.

Golfweek in 2020 named Jay Peak the best “public access” golf course in the state and named TPC Sawgrass’ Stadium Course the best in Florida. There is no comparison in terms of quality but, at $600 per round in peak season, 10 times more than at Jay Peak, there is no comparison in cost either.

I made a quick trip to Pawleys Island last week for a golf outing in Charleston, an hour away. I stayed at my wife’s and my condo in Pawleys Plantation. After playing the late, great Mike Strantz’s opus at Bulls Bay and the recently renovated Charleston Municipal Golf Course on James Island, I played my own course, Jack Nicklaus’ circa 1989 layout at Pawleys Plantation. I was both elevated and saddened by what I saw.

First the good. If there has been one glaring flaw over the years in any of the green complexes on the course, it was the 7th, an hourglass-shaped green which would not have been so bad if the hourglass didn’t run front to back, wasn’t barely 25 feet across at its middle, and didn’t feature huge bunkers on both sides. Over time, the bunkers had pulled away from the green – or, perhaps more accurately, the green had pulled back from the bunkers – making the green look, from the tee box, about the size of one of those hourglasses that come in game boxes, like Boggle. The shot, even though it is only 130 yards from the middle tees, boggled the mind and could throw any round into chaos. A miss on either side meant landing in the sand hazard with a blast across a narrow green with the other bunker waiting opposite.

But after Nicklaus visited the course to help celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2019, the club’s owners have finally attended to one of the designer’s suggestions. The back end of the hourglass has now been tripled in size from side to side, and the neck and front of the green have been roughly doubled in size. Now looking more like a butternut squash than an hourglass, this probably approximates the size of the green back when the course opened in 1989.
Pawleys7thredone 1Until it was redone recently, the 7th green at Pawleys Plantation was shaped like an hourglass, and a narrow one at that. It is now more like a butternut squash, tripled in width across the back of the green.

The bad thing Pawleys Plantation is a common complaint about some golf community courses: The houses are too damn close to the fairways. This has virtually never been the case at Pawleys, except for the condos that line the right side of the 15th fairway. But the layout of that par four tilts to the left, away from the homes, and only big hitting slicers will reach them. Now, however, after the final large parcel of land in the community was sold, about 30 homes have been built, with a few still in construction, along the right side of the 18th fairway. Unlike other homes in the community, they are packed closely together and, more to the point, close to the sparse grouping of trees that separate them from the fairway. I noted a few out of bounds posts behind the completed homes. The homes themselves are not quite an eyesore, but the finishing hole now is a rather anti-climatic way to end a round after so many beautiful views of the marsh on the back nine, and their encroachment on the field of play is disappointing.
Pawleys17fromteeWhere once there was a wall of trees, providing a nice green background for the 17th hole, now there will be a house, the foundation already in, with newly placed out of bounds stakes closer to the back of the difficult to hit green.

The truly ugly part of the round at Pawleys today is that the home on that parcel of land that is farthest east is being built directly behind the 17th green. That par 3 has always been a beauty, the tee box on the old rice plantation dike, the carry entirely over marshland, the green almost a redan running front right to rear left, and directly behind the green, a wooded area forming an appropriate green wall background. But now, those woods have given way to the foundation of a home that will become a full-fledged house in two months or so. The background of trees is gone and the new out of bounds has come closer to the back of the green, meaning any shot that carries the marsh a little too aggressively will now find a worse fate awaiting it behind the green. When the USGA returns to re-handicap the course, I am betting #17 is on the scorecard as a tougher hole than it is today (currently the 16th toughest).

With the 7th green becoming easier to hit and the 17th becoming scarier, one hole at Pawleys Plantation giveth and the other hath taken away.