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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Name recognition: Small, exclusive Briar's Creek community big on personalized details

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Story and photos by Larry Gavrich

 

    In five years of visits to more than 100 golf communities, I rate only a handful near perfection, say a 9 or higher on a 10-point scale.  Ford Plantation, with its exquisite Pete Dye golf course, would be one of them.  The Cliffs Communities is another, although their hyper-marketing machine

It was a little spooky to have perfect strangers call me by name.  But soon I felt kind of special.

tries way too hard to push the notion of perfection.  And, recently, a visit to Spring Island, north of Savannah, made me wish I had invested more wisely -- make that a lot more wisely -- in order to afford the rustic Low Country homes on the nicely wooded properties near the best Arnold Palmer course I have played, Old Tabby Links.  All these communities have a few things in common that include, as you might imagine, some lofty prices for real estate (millions) and club memberships (as much as $150,000), and the kind of attention to detail that CEOs and other successful, high-wage earners expect.
    But Briar's Creek, a community that belongs in the company of the best golf course developments, does one thing much better than the rest -- it personalizes to the maximum the experience for all its visitors in a way that makes prospective buyers or even a golf community blogger feel as if they are Norm walking into the Cheers bar.  Briar's Creek management makes sure that everybody knows your name.
    It started for me at the gate, where I thought the guard might open my car door and give me a hug.  "Welcome to Briar's Creek, Mr. Gavrich," he said with overflowing enthusiasm.  "We have been waiting for you."  The name recognition (and enthusiasm) extended later to the general manager of the clubhouse, the gentleman who took our golf clubs at the bag drop and the waitress in the clubhouse.  No introductions necessary; they all knew my name.  At first it felt a little spooky but it didn't take long for me to start feeling, well, kind of special....and a little jealous of the handful of people living at Briar's Creek and the couple of hundred more who will join them, including some impressive names I spotted on the beautiful wooden lockers in the men's locker room.  (For privacy reasons, I won't mention them here but one is top dog at a mega-billion dollar global corporation.)

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The longest forced carry from the blue tees at Briar's Creek is at #11, which requires a poke of more than 180 yards.    

 

    Briar's Creek is the brainchild of successful Charleston-area custom homebuilder Steve Koenig.  Mr. Koenig has a decades-long reputation for building upscale, exquisite homes in the Low Country, and he has extended his vision to a beautiful 900-acre property on Johns Island, just northwest of Kiawah Island.  Kiawah is where Briar's Creek residents head when they need their beach fix; it is just 10 minutes away.  Charleston, a more ambitious drive on the local two-lane road, is only 30 minutes away, a small inconvenience for exposure to a city that offers plenty to do and arguably the best restaurants in the southeast.
    Every new construction start is greeted with intense interest and celebration by the Briar's Creek staff.  Although Briar's Creek began selling home sites in 2003, the community is still in an early stage of development, with just eight homes built (or under construction).  Of the mere 113 total home sites, 78 have been sold (although eight are back on the mbriarscreek9approach.jpgarket as re-sales). I am by nature leery about developments that have not built all the promised amenities, and Briar's Creek still has its pool, tennis courts, spa and boathouse to go.  But its critical amenities, the golf course and clubhouse, as well as a modest, temporary fitness center, nature trails and a community boat dock, are firmly in place.  The rest are likely to follow soon, especially when more homes are built and new residents arrive.    

     The year-old craftsman-style clubhouse is warm and comfortable without being ostentatious, although it is clear that expensive materials were used in its construction (especially the wood that festoons the walls, banisters, period furniture and lockers).  The building sits atop the highest point on the property, and its backside looks out across the marsh and toward Kiawah Island, providing commanding views for diners in the spacious restaurant downstairs and gentlemen answering the call of nature upstairs in the locker room.  Marshes are fascinating ecosystems, and it is not unusual to see a marsh deer prancing by at low tide, as I did when I drove up to the clubhouse.  Briar's Creek retains a naturalist on staff to explain such wonders and to take residents on guided walks and boat trips around the property and Johns Island.
    We sat down for a late lunch after our round of golf on a quiet Thursday afternoon.  We were the only ones eating at 3:00 p.m.  The waitress told us the chef had left 15 minutes earlier and that the menu would be limited.  She served us our drinks and returned a few minutes later to announce we could have the run of the menu, and that she had called the chef and he had insisted on returning to cook for us.  The food -- I ordered the shrimp burger sandwich, made in the fashion of a crab cake -- was excellent, and I am confident members don't mind the $1,000 annual food minimum.
    The golf course and expansive practice area -- practice range and green next to each other -- receive just as much attentionbriarscreekpinthroughliveoaks.jpg as the clubhouse, and then some.  My two playing partners and I warmed up for our round under the watchful eye of golf professional Chris Edwards; we were the only three people on the practice tee.  According to my host, Chuck Finney, director of sales at Briar's Creek, one of the golf pros is typically lurking near the range, available to dispense swing advice if requested.  It is certainly a comfort to receive a bit of "free" advice and a pep talk just before you go out to play.  Such service is included in the Briar's Creek refundable initiation fee of $100,000 -- dropped from $160,000 just this week -- and dues of $11,700 annually, $5,850 for those who do not reside on site.  The club maintains a group of member cottages for members visiting from out of town, as well as for prospective buyers.

    The surrounding marshland is a strong element of the beautifully manicured golf course.  Forced carries from the tee boxes are frequent, but only a few of them are daunting if you choose to play from the correct tees (and get your tee shots airborne).  Finney and Richard Seay, real estate executive for the community, were excellent guides for my round at Briar's Creek, and they pointed me to tee markers in the ground that showed both the distance to the hole and the distance to clear the marsh. The longest forced carry was 181 yards from the penultimate tee boxes we played (total yardage 6,740, rating 72.7 and slope 136). Nothing seems to force a golfer to keep his head down like the threat of a ball dribbling into the marsh ahead, and I drove the ball well most of the day.  Chuck told me that, a day earlier, he had played with two couples, all prospective purchasers.  The women "dribbled" the ball off most of the front tees, but when they came to the one forced carry from the ladies tees (about a 40-yard carry), they both cleared it.
    Developer Koenig and his wife were so impressed with the smart design Rees Jones provided that they commissioned a portrait of the architect; it hangs inside the clubhouse opposite the staircase that ascends up to the locker and meeting rooms.  In the painting, Mr. Jones is smiling confidently.  He has reason to, having mastered an impressive piece of marshland property and sculpted a challenging course of which no member is likely to tire.

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The craftsman style clubhouse at Briar's Creek.

 
    At just a couple of miles from the ocean, the Briar's Creek course has a little bit of a links land feel to it, the fairway grass thinner than more inland courses but dense enough for the ball to sit up perfectly.  The club head moves through the ball without much resistance, a good thing since approaches to the sloped, good-sized greens must be unerring to avoid the dreaded three putt.  The greens were fast and almost without any evidence of ball marks, since Briar's Creek averages just a few rounds a day.  During our round, I spotted only one other group on the course.  
     Golfers who pay such a high tariff to play should not have to bother calling for tee times, and Briar's Creek does not disappoint on that score.  Most of the club's current 200 members (membership will be capped at 360) are from off property, many of them Kiawah Island residents, and many of those contemplating a move to the much less crowded, totally un-resort like Briar's Creek.  Their only wait to play is for a playing partner to show up.
    Properties at Briar's Creek begin in the $300s and can go as high as $2 million for a site that has it all -- privacy, views of the marsh and a boat dock from which you can make your way to the Intra-Coastal Waterway and the Atlantic beyond.  Homeowners spend an average of $400 a square foot to outfit their new homes, putting the total cost of a home at Briar's Creek well into the millions.  At such prices, the $100,000 fully refundable equity membership is almost a rounding error, but those who can afford to call Briar's Creek home will find plenty of personal touches, and a place where everybody knows your name.

 

     Briar's Creek Private Golf Retreat, 4000 Briar's Creek Lane, Johns Island, SC.  Web:  BriarsCreek.com.  18 holes of Rees Jones designed golf.  Black tees:  7,130 yards, rating 74.0, slope 141.  Blue tees: 6,740, 72.7, 136.  White tees: 6,302, 70.0, 126.  Green tees: 5,944, 68.0, 120.  Women's yellow tees:  5,371, 72.8, 127.  Women's red:  4,773, 69.7, 118.

Home sites priced $300s to $2 million.  A few built homes available from $3 million.

     For more information or to have me arrange a conversation with any of the Briar's Creek sales staff, contact me by clicking here

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There are two ways to approach the green at the challenging par 5 18th at Briar's Creek.  Top, you can hit a long-iron lay-up short and left of a grove of trees on the right or, bottom, you can bust a fairway wood to the end of the fairway beyond the trees, the more conventional and easier approach.

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Larry Gavrich

This blog was conceived and is published by me, Larry Gavrich, a former corporate communications executive who founded HomeOnTheCourse, LLC, in 2005.  Our firm advises baby boomers and others seeking a lifestyle in which golf is a major component.  My wife Connie and I own a home in Connecticut (not on a golf course) and a condo at Pawleys Plantation in Pawleys Island, SC, on a Jack Nicklaus layout.  We began our search for our home on the course more than 15 years ago, and the challenges of the search inspired me to research golf communities and write objective reviews of them.

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