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Country Club Living - Woodside Plantation

The Reserve Club
At Woodside Plantation near Aiken, life is better than good. The Reserve Club features a piano bar, grill room and al fresco dining.
Photo Credit: Woodside Plantation, Aiken, SC

Today’s country club communities are islands of privilege, but they’re not insulated entirely from the real world. For sure, the notion that what the man wants, the man gets, is long gone.

“If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy,” observes Arthur Raymond, Senior Vice President for Crescent Resources LLC in Charlotte. He echoes what other experts in the field are saying: Golf is important, but not as much anymore.

“Ladies’ tennis is big,” he reports, predicting a trend toward more tennis courts.

And that’s not all: The successful country club community must offer a constantly changing array of activities and diverse amenities to attract residents and keep them happy.

Nature trails, fitness centers, swimming pool complexes and summer camp programs for children reflect the baby boomer’s thirst for lifelong education and a return to the simple life."

And more... “The way society is today, with both parents working, the most precious thing they have is time, and they want to spend it with their children,” Mr. Raymond theorizes.

Community planners have responded by eliminating formal, fine dining restaurants and building more casual eateries instead. The grand, male-dominated clubhouse has been transferred to a “village” with separate buildings for different activities. This Nantucket-style concept doesn’t intimidate children; it also promotes the small-town atmosphere many high-powered professionals crave.

Not that these professionals are relinquishing their careers to live in the wilderness.

On Daniel Island in Charleston, homes have been wired for instant Internet access – necessary for the at-home entrepreneur. “ ‘Mayberry with fiber optics,’ that’s what my sales manager says,” notes Matt Sloan, COO of the mixed-use community.

Because of Daniel Island’s location on a new expressway, it’s developing as a full-fledged municipality – with churches, schools, white-collar companies, small businesses and two professional sports stadiums.

When the master plan was created, they didn’t expect the Family Circle Tennis Tournament and the Charleston Battery soccer team to make their homes here. But the sports component adds diversity to the community, which also includes a village of restaurants and retail, active and passive parks, and a riverwalk along the Wando. The clubhouse and two golf courses almost seem an afterthought.

“People realize the place they live is more than bricks and mortar,” Mr. Sloan upholds.

“People realize the place they live is more than bricks and mortar,” Mr. Sloan upholds. “They need activities and they’re embracing what ‘community’ means.” For the leaders at Daniel Island, “community” means looking out for your neighbor, and presenting residents with philanthropic opportunities. Nearby Cainhoy Peninsula has become Daniel Island’s mission.

Residents have adopted Cainhoy’s elementary school, underwritten a Boys and Girls Club and started an after-school mentoring program there. The Daniel Island Community Fund is endowed by transfer fees and contributions, with employees donating funds straight from their paychecks. Social gatherings at the clubhouse result in two benefits – residents make friends at oyster roasts and black-tie fundraisers, and Cainhoy residents receive the reward.

“The island breeds social activity,” Mr. Sloan says, ticking off the variety of clubs that have formed here, from fishing and kayaking to prayer groups and book clubs. “Knock on any door and residents will say they know more people after living on Daniel Island for a year or two than in their previous community for much longer than that.”

Bringing People Together... what the new age community planners are up to – through social directors, fitness experts, naturalists and other professionals they employ. Taking it way beyond a golf pro, at Mountain Air in Burnsville, North Carolina, Jeani Banks heads up “The Mountain Air Experience,” a team of employees who brainstorm activities and put them in action.

At a world-class community like this one, residents can go anywhere and do anything, explains her husband Randy Banks, President and CEO. Mountain Air’s goal is to give residents something they can’t get anywhere else.

“We believe everything is experience-based, not product-based,” Mr. Banks explains. “We’re constantly looking for ways to create unique experiences, a memory point – something residents remember as specific to Mountain Air.”

Mr. Banks and his team don’t look at other communities for inspiration – they study five-star resorts around the world – considering what they would like to do as families. And they create a “derivative” of what’s commonly offered elsewhere. Massages, for instance.

Those are easy to come by at most country club communities, Mr. Banks says. But what about a Valentine’s Day class in which a masseuse teaches couples how to massage each other? The idea went over big at Mountain Air. Likewise with cooking classes. Mountain Air didn’t go with classic French cuisine; chefs here coached residents how to cook with ramps – wild onions that grow every spring in the North Carolina mountains.

“The goal is not to stagnate,” Mr. Banks says, and that has a lot to do with today’s country club customer. “The baby boom generation is very active and they have a lot of diverse interests. They’re eternally curious and they can get quickly bored if you don’t keep introducing new fun events. There are a lot of things that compete for their attention in the world.” To that end, Mountain Air encourages regional exploration, taking residents on field trips to nearby industries, attractions and artist workshops. Fly-fishing clinics and ski trips also are popular.

The changing dynamics...

...of Carolina country club communities reflect what today’s families want, and how the consumer’s life has evolved, experts agree. “ ‘Reconstituting the family’ is frequently the consumer’s goal,” says Pete Halter in Atlanta, who is President of V.R. Halter & Associates. They advise residential community planners. Here’s how Art Raymond, with Crescent Resources, puts it: “You’ve got a couple in Pittsburgh, and they’ve got a daughter in Charlotte and a son in Atlanta and another son in Richmond,” he hypothesizes.

This couple wants a large home in a central location between their children – preferably near a lake, the ocean or in the mountains – to draw the offspring for holidays and family vacations. This way, grandparents can enjoy their grandchildren without having to take care of them all day, thanks to having so many children’s activities available at the club.

Mr. Halter notices these couples don’t want to spend a lot of time choosing an architect or a builder..

They want to keep things simple by choosing a house plan from ten that are offered, and then instill their personal tastes with the interior. These couples also don’t see their new home as their second home, but rather their “other” home. The high technology in their infrastructures allows these “Flex Execs” to work there. Mr. Halter remembers one executive whose home office in Hawaii looked just like his office in Los Angeles. That way he could conduct videoconferences – a camera was installed in the ceiling – and no one would know he was working from his other, more vacation-like, home/office.

As Flex Execs continue to work from home, clubhouses will become satellite offices – with boardrooms available for teleconferences and videoconferences. “We’re already seeing the club concierge take on a new meaning,” Mr. Halter says. Many women own second homes now, and frequently homes are designed with his-and-her offices. “Putting the proverbial desk under the wine rack in the kitchen doesn’t work anymore.”

Country Club communities, gated or not, exude a sense of safety.

While it seems many new Carolina country club communities are for the older and well established, it’s the children who matter most. “The sign of a great neighborhood is this: When the kids wander off, the neighbors are watching,” Mr. Sloan observes. He relays a common sight on Daniel Island: “Little kids ride their bikes downtown and spend their allowance on comic books and candy. They can do that, versus Mom loading up a minivan and hauling them to a mall.”