Can Home-Free Golf Courses Last?

        Golf courses that thread their way through housing developments have always come under criticism from serious reviewers –- as well as many of the rest of us -- who see homes beside golf courses as polluting proper design and golf layout aesthetics. (Ignoring the fact, of course, that the Old Course Hotel and the beautiful but hulking clubhouse at the home of golf at St. Andrews are very much in sight, and not far at all from the field of play.) Suffice to say that many who join a club that does not suffer from home-site pollution do so because of the natural character of the golf course layout.
        More and more, such natural layouts may become relics as golf clubs continue to struggle in the post-recession economy. Some clubs that are blessed with a bit of extra land surrounding their golf courses are considering selling lots to developers in exchange for cash and, in some cases, the guarantee of additional members.
        I read recently about Greenacres Country Club in Lawrenceville, NJ, whose members decided to peel off 15 of the club’s total 140 acres and sell them to national builder Lennar. Lennar’s typical model for its golf communities in warm weather locations –- I have visited a few, including Heritage Bay outside Naples, FL -– is to “bundle” golf with the sale of the home, making it essentially free to join the attached golf club but making the paying of dues mandatory. In other words, you pay dues at least for a social membership until you sell your home at some future date to someone who will then pick up your obligation.
        The sale of the 15 acres at Greenacres will help fund a $5 million renovation of the golf course and the 78-year-old club’s clubhouse and pool (about 60% of the amount going toward the golf course redo). Noted designer Bobby Weed (five TPC courses, Hilton Head National, Ocean Links at Amelia Island) has been hired to totally renovate the golf course. Lennar will construct almost 100 town homes on what is currently the practice range area, which will be relocated, and should add more than 100 new dues-paying members to the 200 already on the Greenacres club rolls. The homes are being designated for people 55 and older.
        One of the nice features of my own golf course at Pawleys Plantation in South Carolina is that the finishing hole runs between marsh and pine forest before emerging onto an open fairway with a large pond to the left and woods continuing on the right. The only manmade structure in close proximity is the plantation style clubhouse directly behind the elongated green; the sweeping lawn and sloping back porch and stairs of the stark white structure add a dramatic backdrop to the approach shot and contrast to the green.
        But the relative purity of the hole will end in the coming year when construction begins on the first of a half dozen homes in the woods just over the cart path and within a lob wedge of the green. It will change the visual character of the hole; and although the real trouble on the hole -– the pond -- is tight on the left, I still will try not to look right.