MULTIPLE COURSE MEMBERSHIPS
By Larry Gavrich, Founder & Editor,
Home On The Course, LLC
I suppose there is some golfer out there who prefers the comfort of playing his or her home course over and over, day after day. For the rest of us, we are made blissful when we can play a marshland course one day, a tree-lined parkland course the next, followed by perhaps a links-type layout. And if we find ourselves up in the mountains, perhaps one day of golf around a lake followed by another with dramatic changes in elevation will set our hearts aflutter. After all, this is what most of us associate with golf vacations: A different golf course every day for a week (or, if fortunate, longer). And if every day of retirement feels like a vacation day, how special is that?
Thanks to significant changes in the golf industry, many a result of the recession of 2008 that only recently has emerged from the shadows, retirees can access multi-course golf memberships across a range of prices and options.
Here is a rundown on the major types you will find in The Carolinas.
MULTIPLE COURSES INSIDE THE GATES
As in any other business, golf communities compete with each other for your real estate dollar –- or, we should say, your hundreds of thousands of dollars. Competition is intense, especially coming out of the recession when so many properties were on the market. Back in the roaring 1990s, when golf was arguably at its most popular, there was a lot of testosterone flowing among high profile developers, each one trying to upstage the others and demonstrate they had the best – and in some cases, most – golf.
The vaunted Pinehurst Resort stayed above the fray, quietly promoting and building a community that has been around for more than 100 years. Today, if you don’t mind sharing your fairways with the thousands of golfers who travel to the Sandhills of North Carolina each year, Pinehurst offers the largest array of golf courses you will find pretty much in one place. The Resort’s most comprehensive membership includes all nine courses in Pinehurst’s portfolio and costs just a $45,000 initiation fee and $465 per month in dues. Advance tee-time booking privileges for members is anywhere from seven days to 10 days, depending on the golf course, and the membership package includes all other amenities, including tennis, croquet and other lawn sports, and a swimming pool. One small catch, though: You must own a property inside the gates of the Pinehurst Resort in order to hold the golf membership but -– good news –- many Pinehurst homes listed for sale already have a membership attached; if you buy one of those, you get a 50% discount on your initiation fee.
We think 45 holes of golf inside the gates of a golf community qualify for “buffet” status. Landfall in Wilmington, NC, and Colleton River in Bluffton, SC, certainly meet that definition. The 2½ golf courses at each were designed (separately) by Jack Nicklaus and Pete Dye and, aside from the fact that the Nicklaus layouts play tougher than the respective Dye courses, the layouts are utterly in keeping with the esteemed work of these giants of golf architecture.
And just south of Hilton Head Island, SC, near Savannah, The Landings on Skidaway Island epitomizes the notion of buffet golf, with six layouts that play at different levels of challenge yet all sharing excellent conditions and the concern and care of its members, who not only own the golf clubs but also the real estate office near the community's gate. The net income generated by the agency contributes hundreds of thousands of dollars and more to the community's resources which, in turn, helps keep the golf courses in tip-top shape. And the community's location, just 20 minutes from the celebrated city of Savannah, means plenty of options aprés golf.
LUXURY GOLF INSIDE AND OUTSIDE THE GATES
When we were young, unattached and before kids soccer games and other family duties kept us homebound, we had no problem driving an hour or so to play a good golf course. Now we are older, married and, voila, finally again with enough free time on our hands that we don’t have to worry about driving an hour or so to play good golf courses (especially if our spouse plays).
The seven Cliffs Communities golf courses are strung across the upstate of South Carolina and near Asheville, NC. It is hard to argue with the high quality of design and conditioning at all The Cliffs Communities courses, especially with the top design efforts of Nicklaus, Player and Fazio in full display on some eye-popping pieces of real estate. Yes, $50,000 for a full-golf membership does seem a bit pricey, but when you divide by seven, the per-club breakdown comes out much lower than more inferior clubs’ offerings. Three of the Cliffs courses rank in the state’s top 30, according to the South Carolina Golf Rating Panel; they are Keowee Vineyards #18 (Fazio), Mountain Park #26 (Player) and Keowee Falls #28 (Nicklaus). That new Player course at Mountain Park has made a special impact; it not only debuted at that lofty spot in the state rankings, but it cracked the top 40 in Golfweek magazine’s Residential Golf Course rankings in its very first year. From one end of the chain of Cliffs golf courses to the other is a little over an hour’s drive. But serious golfing retirees with plenty of time on their hands and a comfortable car could very well find a $50,000 fee a bargain rate at The Cliffs.
HAVE GOLF BUG, WILL TRAVEL
You will gladly wear out your car tires if you take full advantage of the McConnell Golf Group membership. John McConnell, who cashed out of his medical software business 10 years ago and cashed into a strategy to build one of the best golf course portfolios anywhere, now owns 10 highly regarded clubs across the Carolinas. These include three layouts by arguably the most famous golf designer ever, Donald Ross, and others by famous “sculptors” named Fazio, Dye, Palmer and Norman. Initiation fees depend on which “home” club you choose to join, and they range from $10,000 to $25,000; but all members have access to all clubs, and if you are one of those vagabond type golfers who thinks nothing of driving three hours to play great golf at no extra charge, the McConnell membership may be for you. (Of course, if you choose to live in the Raleigh/Durham area, you have a few McConnell clubs within a half hour or so.)
GRAND BARGAIN: THE PUBLIC OPTION
We know of at least one annual membership that pays for itself literally after the first round of golf. The Myrtle Beach (SC) Passport costs just $42.50 per year and offers discounted rounds of golf at 80 of the Grand Strand area’s 110 courses. Sponsored by the Myrtle Beach Golf Course Owners Association, the Passport is designed to keep the area’s non-private links filled during off-peak, as well as peak, seasons. (Summer, by the way, is off-peak for golf, even though the area is flooded with beachgoers, but it is the time of the deepest discounts on golf –- and kids play free at most courses when accompanied by a paying adult.) The Passport also provides its holders with entry into local amateur tournaments and discounts on certain meals and other purchases, but the reason 75% of passport holders renew each year is for the discounts on golf. The golf courses on the discount list are by no means the undesirables; on the contrary, most of the best reviewed and most in-demand of the area’s layouts are available at discounts, including Caledonia, TPC Myrtle Beach, Pawleys Plantation, Grande Dunes Resort Club, Pine Lakes International, all the courses at the Barefoot Resort and Tidewater Plantation.