By Larry Gavrich, Founder & Editor,
Home On The Course, LLC
The scariest night of my life was spent in a golf cart one chilly November on Bald Head Island, a 20-minute ferry ride from Southport, NC. After checking into a cottage (late in the afternoon), I set out for dinner as the sun went down … and wound up driving to the wrong clubhouse -– it was closed -– lost my way in the dark trying to find the correct location, tried mostly in vain to find spots where I could make a cell phone call for help, was startled a few times by animals jumping out of the brush and was utterly disoriented by a lack of street lights. I finally found my way back to the cottage 3½ hours later, chilled to the bone and having traversed most of the island, the battery in the golf cart almost drained. Worst of all, I missed dinner for the only time of my adult life.
Living at a modest distance from the rest of the world is rarely that scary, but there are a few challenges to life in the nether regions of paradise, most of them involving the need to schedule grocery runs and drive more than an hour round trip for a “night out.” Netflix becomes your movie theater of choice; and if you choose to dine out at the nearest decent restaurant, typically a half hour or farther away, you will learn to order a glass rather than a bottle of wine for the return trip home on unlit roadways. Those who require the convenience of nearby shopping malls, movie theaters, a decent Thai restaurant and many of the other embellishments of near-city living need not apply. The tradeoff is simply convenience for a laid-back lifestyle of uncrowded golf courses, perfectly starlit nights, no pollution of the air or noise variety, and the lulling sound of crickets rather than road noises.
For golfing couples exhausted from decades of city and suburban hustle and bustle, it is a fair trade. The Carolinas offer all manner of golf communities well off the beaten path -– on lakes, in mountains and along the coast. Developers of these communities are well aware that many couples are skittish about living in a community a half-hour or farther from the nearest town, and they have responded by offering conveniences in their clubhouses that go beyond those of the typical golf club.
The Clubhouse at Haig Point on (ferry accessible) Daufuskie Island, SC, for example, opens for breakfast and lunch six days a week, and the community's Calibogue Club, named for its views across the Calibogue Sound to Hilton Head Island, opens for dinner all evenings but Monday.
At The Reserve at Lake Keowee, the Orchard House Clubhouse serves a continental breakfast Wednesday through Sunday and lunch and dinner all days except Tuesday.
Master Planned Communities like The Reserve have installed “town centers,” small shopping areas where residents can pick up staples, prepared foods and a bottle of wine to bring home; the market at The Reserve even provides a few tables inside and out for those who prefer to grab and eat al fresco style. Either choice beats driving almost an hour round trip to Pickens or Clemson. At Wolf Laurel, a resort-style community in Mars Hill, NC, where you can ski in winter as well as golf in spring, summer and fall, fine and casual dining is offered Tuesdays through Saturdays, with brunch on Sundays.
The popular resort area of Kiawah Island went a step further some years ago and built Freshfields Village mall just beyond where the roadway from the mainland forks between Kiawah and Seabrook Islands. Here, you shop dozens of stores offering everything from men’s, women’s and children’s apparel shops to a full-service liquor store to antiques and pottery galleries to a Harris Teeter supermarket. A branch of the Charleston County Sheriff’s office is even located among the dozens of shops. Before the mall opened in 2005, residents drove 35 minutes each way on a two-lane, unlit roadway to Charleston just for some modest grocery shopping.
Today, the Freshfields Village provides the full range of necessities and a few new restaurants as well, although it is still tempting to make the drive to Charleston, a city many foodies tout as the best Chef town on the east coast.
Golf in locations at distances from well-populated areas is characterized by how easy the courses are to access -– golf courses off the beaten path are generally not nearly as heavily played as near-urban courses. Savannah Lakes Village in McCormick features two excellent layouts, the Monticello and the Tara. To generate extra income to help sustain the clubs financially and continue to offer initiation-free membership to residents, the community opens the tee sheet to outside play. However, with two 18-hole layouts and a location more than an hour from any city (Greenville, the closest, is 80 miles away), club members don’t have to fight for a tee time.
The same is true at Old North State Club, inside the golf community of Uwharrie Point and one of nine top-notch private clubs in the Carolinas run by Raleigh’s McConnell Group. According to Membership Director Lauri Stephens, this year the club will host approximately 17,000 rounds of golf, a modest number for a golf course the North Carolina Golf Rating Panel deems the third best layout in the state.
Somewhere across the Carolinas is a golf community for those seeking peace, quiet and a relaxed golfing lifestyle. Here are just a few worthy of consideration:
Haig Point, Daufuskie Island, SC
(30 minutes by ferry to Hilton Head Island)
Surrounded by water, Haig Point is not first and foremost a beach community. In fact, only in the last few years has the community built a beach club that looks out across the Calibogue Sound to Hilton Head and the iconic lighthouse at Sea Pines Plantation. Haig Point centers on golf, 29 holes of it by Rees Jones (the 29 is no misprint; two holes can be played in alternate configurations). Professional golfers liken the Haig Point course to the famed Harbour Town Links, except “not as wide open,” according to U.S. Open champ Graeme McDowell, who won the 2013 RBC Championship at Harbour Town. Daufuskie Island is loaded with Low Country atmosphere that includes live oak trees hundreds of years old and wide expanses of marsh and open water, but the one thing it is missing makes it even more like paradise – cars. Golf carts are the predominant mode of transportation and quiet is the predominant sound. Some desperate owners whipsawed by the recession are currently giving their lots away for less than the cost of a bag of tees. Homesites from $1 (not a typo), and single-family homes from $295,000.
Savannah Lakes Village, McCormick, SC
(35 minutes to Greenwood)
Location determines the price of real estate. And the farther out there you are, the lower the price generally. People pay for convenience. Savannah Lakes Village, a near perfect planned golf community with every conceivable amenity, is way out there, a good 90 minutes to the city of Greenville, but within the community’s few thousand acres is much to occupy its more than 3,000 residents. For examples, Savannah Lakes’ two golf courses offer a strong contrast in design, the Tara Course changing elevation on virtually every hole, and the Monticello Course a classic but challenging design. Club membership conveys with property ownership at Savannah Lakes, and dues are quite reasonable for what you get. Homesites on the golf course from $10,000, homes from the mid $100s.
The Reserve at Lake Keowee, Sunset, SC
(25 minutes to Clemson)
The developers of The Reserve comprise a local contingent of professionals who wanted a community for family and friends on one of the east’s most beautiful manmade lakes. They are justifiably proud of the result, a stable community just down the shoreline from the better known Cliffs Communities, which spent millions more on marketing until the bubble burst in 2008. That recession made barely a ripple at The Reserve because of measured approach to developing its amenities, including a Jack Nicklaus golf course good enough to host the annual BMW Charity golf event on the Web.com tour. With Clemson so close, get used to a clubhouse full of bright orange-shirted fans on game days. Homesites from the low $100s, homes from the low $400s.
Uwharrie Point, Badin Lake, NC
(60 minutes to Greensboro)
With Old North State Club, the 3rd best golf course in the state, as ranked by the North Carolina Golf Rating Panel, and reasonably priced real estate adjacent to a pristine lake, Uwharrie can overcome its off-the-beaten-cart-path location with a little bit of creative marketing. The nearest town of consequence, Albemarle, population 16,000, is just large enough to support a Walmart Supercenter and JC Penney store. Those seeking a more urban fix can choose between Greensboro and Charlotte, the latter 70 minutes away. Homesites from the $60s, homes from $385,000.
Bald Head Island, SC
(20 minutes by ferry to Southport, NC)
The golf course on Bald Head, originally designed by George Cobb and refreshed a few years ago by Carolina coast designer Tim Cate, is about as close to links golf as you can find on the east coast (sandy soil, constantly blowing winds, water views from many holes). If clean air (the result of an automobile-free island), and peace and quiet, except for crickets and sea birds, are your idea of a perfect vacation or retirement spot, leave your car in Bald Head’s private parking lot in the charming town of Southport and hop on the ferry. It could change your life. Homesites from $59,000, condos from the mid $200s, homes from the $400s, fractional home shares from the $30s.
Mountain Air, Burnsville, NC
(45 minutes to Asheville)
In winter, it can be lonely at the top of one of the highest points in the Blue Ridge Mountains, but if you love a golf round that includes far-reaching mountain vistas, then consider the extra bit of distance off the tees in the thinner air to be a bonus. Residents who love heavy metal have a birds-eye view in the clubhouse of private planes taking off and landing on the adjacent (2,975 foot strip) mountaintop airport that cuts right through the course, making for some occasional waits between green and tee (but worth it). Homesites from $48,000, villas from under $200,000, and single-family homes from $459,900.
Grandfather Golf & Country Club, Linville, NC
(1 hour, 15 minutes to Asheville)
Don’t be fooled by the name; this grandpa is a relatively young 50 years old, and Golf Digest recently named its Championship layout one of America’s top 100 golf courses (the club offers a second 18-hole layout called Mountain Springs). Deep in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Grandfather is family-oriented by design, and the community is especially proud of its charitable and volunteer contributions to the surrounding area. Homesites from $112,500, condos from $159,000, single-family homes from $385,000.
Scotch Hall Preserve, Merry Hill, NC
(40 minutes to Elizabeth City)
The area that surrounds Scotch Hall Preserve was known as Avoca, native Indian for “meeting of the waters.” Any time three bodies of water meet, in this case the Salmon Creek, the Chowan River and the Albemarle Sound, you are going to have some splendid views from homes. The Arnold Palmer golf course, with seven holes backing up to the water, takes full advantage of the landscape. Long before Europeans came to these shores, Native Americans saw both the beauty and function in Avoca and made it their own homes. Recently, Scotch Hall developer Rial Corporation donated a tract of land on the sound that one archaeologist described as “the greatest artifact density and preservation I’ve ever encountered.” Just across the bridge from historic Edenton and a few more miles from Hertford, Scotch Hall Preserve only feels far removed. Homesites from $70,000, homes from $350,000.