For Charlotte Bruce, walking into the new Wellness Center at Cliffs Valley is like opening a mammoth box of chocolates.
What should she try first?
There’s yoga, spinning, strength-training for women, belly dancing, indoor water aerobics and aerobics on a floating floor. Outdoors are eight tennis courts, another swimming pool and a full-length basketball court. Coming soon: Pilates.
Add the saunas, a Jacuzzi, fruit smoothies, golf course, and five miles of hiking trails, and you’ve got a fitness feast served daily in this Upstate South Carolina community. Mrs. Bruce, a retired teacher from Connecticut, has her game plan ready.
“My theory is I’m going to try a bunch of classes and settle on the ones that are appropriate for me,” she informs. “I like the idea of being able to try anything.”
Mrs. Bruce isn’t the only one with such a delicious dilemma. The Carolinas are brimming with communities that offer spectacular and unique recreational amenities beyond emerald fairways and heated pools. Here’s a look at a few of them from the perspective of their residents:
WHAT TO DO, WHAT TO DO…
“You feel like you’re at summer camp: What are you going to do next?”
Oldfield, Okatie, SC: 866.653.3435
Maybe it took Bob Harris 11 years to move to the Hilton Head area instead of the estimated 10, but he’s just glad he arrived. Michigan winters were far too cold, and he and wife Lorraine felt like they were Southerners at heart. “I can adjust to this,” he says flatly, noting the high temperature of 14 degrees back home on this January day - a day in which he played golf just a few hours earlier. “Absolutely, I can adjust to this.”
New Year’s Day 2003 was spent more enjoyably than any New Year’s Days before. Mr. Harris played 18 holes of golf on the Greg Norman-designed course with a friend, while his wife, Lorraine, and their children went fishing. “I passed them at the eleventh fairway and waved,” he recalls. They caught 25 striped bass from the two-acre salt pond, built for fly-fishing and light-tackle spin fishing. Later, they met at the Outfitters Center, where the naturalist cooked bean soup and grilled duck. “It was pretty nice,” Mr. Harris understates.
He does not understate Oldfield’s beauty. The lush landscape has captivated him, with its dramatic live oaks streaming with Spanish moss, deer and bald eagles, and the Okatie River nearby. Developer Crescent Resources (a division of Duke Energy) created a community surrounding the river. A full-time River Pro leads classes in fly-fishing and shrimping, and guides pontoon tours (dolphins swimming alongside are free). Meanwhile, several small johnboats are available for residents to use – a wonderful benefit for Mr. Harris, a financial planner who got tired of keeping up his own. “I’m done with boats,” he says contentedly.
The Outfitters Center is where the River Pro and naturalist work. Besides providing a place to clean fish and get tackle, it has two 500-gallon aquariums and a screened-in pavilion with a large fireplace. It was here where the impromptu New Year's Day supper occurred, and where the Harrises gathered with friends recently for drinks. "And then we came back home and no fuss, no muss."
The ease of life here has made the Harris family more relaxed. “I haven’t even started my car in 10 days,” he reports. “I don’t carry money or a wallet. Once I go through those gates, it’s like living in your own world.” The style of the homes, with their wraparound porches, encourages a laid-back existence - the better to enjoy sunsets on the marsh, and suppers of blue crab and boiled shrimp.
“Lorraine dropped me off at the airport the other day and said, ‘Thanks for moving me here,’” he says. “We just really appreciate what we have.”
CREATIVITY IN THE MOUNTAINS
“Sometimes it’s a debate whether you should play golf or simply gaze at the beautiful views.”
Mountain Air, Burnsville, NC: | 800.247.7791
Shirley Rothouse has been spending most of her time quilting, but has managed to get up to Hole 8 on Slickrock Mountain. “You can see forever,” the retired medical technologist says. And well she might: This is the third-highest course east of the Mississippi, with an elevation of 4,600 feet above sea level. Golfers have 27 holes to play, with 100-mile panoramic views and a drop of 900 feet. Still, Mrs. Rothouse prefers quilting, and while she shows her work in exhibits, her husband Lloyd, a retired pathologist, perfects his wood-turning skills. Mountain life lends itself to crafts, they say - noting the number of painters and other artisans living here. Their work has been displayed at Mountain Air’s clubhouse, in the Slickrock Village Green.*
“There’s an amazing amount of people with all kinds of talents here,” observes Dr. Rothouse, recalling two NASA engineers he met, who’ve retired home to these hills. The isolation of the mountains has bred a history of self-sufficiency, he theorizes, which is seen in the skillful crafts so prevalent here. “I like to describe my change from left brain to right brain activity,” he continued. “I’m more cognizant of artistic things than I was before.”
A recent $13 million enhancement of the community village has brought many amenities, including an amphitheater for lectures, a movie theater and the Chautauqua Activity & Fitness Center. Here you can exercise while enjoying mountain views from floor-to-ceiling windows, and indulge in the heated pool, sauna, whirlpool and massages. A game room for children offers Ping-Pong, billiards, computer games, air hockey and a vintage jukebox.
Meanwhile, the Mountain Market sells fresh fish and meats, prepares picnics, and rents videos, saving residents a 10-minute drive down the mountain to Burnsville. Maybe most impressive is the Golf and Tennis Learning and Performance Center, with its driving range, short game practice area and golf library. "World-class," is how Dr. Rothouse describes it. Though he calls their game "comical," his handicap has improved from 21 to 12.
Avid hikers, the Rothouses have enjoyed trails led by Mountain Air’s fulltime naturalist. Besides walks for birdwatchers and wildflower-lovers, she’s given special evening lectures about meteor showers. Now empty-nesters, the Rothouses don’t miss Indianapolis, where they lived more than 20 years. They enjoy the culture and cuisine found in Asheville, 35 minutes away. And, the “surprisingly fine” live theater in Burnsville, just down the mountain, beckons to them.
“There are mountain people and ocean people,” Mrs. Rothouse sums up. “We are definitely mountain people.”
“We just call it the workshop.”
Sun City Hilton Head, Bluffton, SC: | 888.315.8051
Oh, but it’s so much more. Listen to the enthusiasm in Don Avedon’s voice as he talks about the camaraderie that percolates in this $1 million-plus woodworking center. No less than 350 Sun City residents have joined the Woodworkers and Modelmakers Guild, but they’re doing more than making things. They’re making friends.
“We have a lot of fun,” says Mr. Avedon, the group’s president. “We all moved here not knowing anyone, but participating in activities is how you get to know one another.”
A retired consultant in the document management field, Mr. Avedon always tinkered with tools in Potomac, Maryland, before he and his wife, Edith, decided to settle in Sun City. It was the workshop that clinched the deal. At 6,200 square feet, with one section for machines, another section for assembly, and a library, training room and resource center, the workshop is a palace of delights for one’s inner carpenter. It’s the largest workshop of the Sun City communities.
While many members make things for themselves and their families, most are there for the joy of building. They’ve built picnic tables for nearby Boys and Girls Clubs, trucks for Toys for Tots, and repaired desks and built bookcases for a nearby elementary school. They’ve also constructed stage flaps for the Sun City theatrical group and a cabinet for its fitness center. With scrap lumber from construction sites on the property, they’ve built 24 workbenches. Classes are taught on how to build things and use the machines, with more experienced members instructing the novices. Within the Guild are separate groups - wood carvers, stained-glass artisans and model railroaders. Everyone must complete a safety course before gaining membership.
Projects at the workshop are therapeutic, Mr. Avedon upholds. “You get your mind off other things,” he explains. “You can’t use power tools and have your mind somewhere else or you’ll have an accident.”
The Avedon family doesn’t play golf; indeed, non-golfers are the majority at Sun City Hilton Head, he says. For them - Mrs. Avedon does ceramics - there’s nothing like taking raw material and making something with it. “You feel useful and productive when you work on a charitable project,” he observes. “If you’re doing something for yourself, and it comes out well, you feel you’ve accomplished something.”
Please note: Nearby Penland School of Crafts is a national center for craft education that attracts artists to its workshops in books & paper, clay, drawing, glass, iron, metals, photography, printmaking, textiles and wood. The school also sponsors artists’ residencies, educational outreach programs, and a craft gallery open to the public. Visit Penland's website for more information.
A RELAXING RETREAT
“I love looking at the water, because it’s so peaceful.”
Beacon Ridge, West End, NC: | 910.673.2950
With seven children between them, and both volunteering full-time for Habitat for Humanity, Toni and Larry Lyerly don’t have much time to play. But when they do, they stay home, on the shores of Lake Auman. For Mrs. Lyerly, who travels to Africa to build homes, the lake provides serenity after weeks constructing new roofs.
“It’s truly our haven,” she reflects. “When we can be out there in the yard or sailing, it’s wonderful.”
Lake Auman offers 1,000 acres of recreational paradise. The Lyerly family skis, canoes, fishes and kayaks, but sailing is the favorite sport. Mrs. Lyerly also indulges her love for roses, tending them with the lake as a backdrop. When she has a gardening problem, she heads to nearby Sandhills Community College, where professors in its horticulture department lend expert advice.
The college and hospital are just a few of the advantages of living in the Southern Pines area, Mr. Lyerly points out. So are the 40-plus golf courses.
But living on the water is the ultimate luxury, they believe. Before building their home, they were lugging picnics and boating gear and driving 25 minutes to the lake. Now it’s all right there.
"My son ate green beans happily because he picked them himself."
Highland Lake, Flat Rock, NC: | 866.693.5070
The above quote comes from an elated Beth Brand, Highland Lake's first resident. The Pittsburgh native has found peace here between the Blue Ridge and Smokies, and healthy surprises once a week on her front porch. That's when organic vegetables are delivered to her waiting cooler, courtesy of Highland Lake's large garden. Thanks to the developer's interest in community-supported agriculture, willing residents ($250 annually per household) receive fresh seasonal produce.
"It's extra fun to cook when you know where your food comes from," Ms. Brand says. "I look at what I get on my porch and think, 'what am I going to do this week?' And it opens my child up to different types of vegetables and he thinks it's cool."
While a farmer manages the garden now - and the nearby herb and flower gardens, too - residents harvested the vegetables when they were first planted. And, although picking beans and digging potatoes proved an educational experience to the city-bred Ms. Brand, it also turned out to be a natural way to meet neighbors. "It's something productive that we did together," she pointed out. "It's a very relaxed way to get to know people."
Modeled after the pre-World War II neighborhoods of the South, Highland Lake uses sidewalks and front porches to further encourage such casual interaction. Businesses, retail and residences of all sizes are blended; in 2002, the National Association of Home Builders recognized its model home as the best single family home in the country, in its price range. Ms. Brand describes her house as just right for her and her young son.
"Special features like arched entryways and large windows made the house an inviting space," she said, "and that was even before I added my own touches to it."
For a freelance writer who works from home, knowing her son is safe and watched by neighbors is important. So is her ability to see him from her window, playing in the Village Green. She likes living here so much her mother is planning to move to Highland Lake, too.
Besides the largest outdoor pool in the county, and canoeing and kayaking on Highland Lake, the community offers a public 9-hole golf course, and tennis courts. The much-touted Highland Lake Inn Restaurant is another draw. Here, you can taste those organic vegetables after they've been refined by award-winning executive chef, John Musselwhite.
The garden has so entranced Ms. Brand that she's planting broccoli and French string beans in her back yard. For summer months, she and neighbors are creating "Edible Alleys" behind their homes. Berry bushes and fig trees will provide fruit for pies, cobblers, and jams - and more education and activity for children. Maybe best of all, leftover produce is donated to a nearby food bank, so the gardens at Highland Lake benefit others.
A WELLNESS CENTER – PLUS PIZZA
"They've got takeout pizza from a brick oven."
Cliffs Valley, Travelers Rest, SC: | 800.884.2958
Back at Cliffs Valley, Charlotte Bruce and her husband Laurie are bemused by the choices offered at the new $5 million Wellness Center. While Laurie loves the sauna and weight machines, he also appreciates the market in the clubhouse. “Sometimes you get stuck and you don’t have time to drive to the grocery store,” he explains, describing its bakery and fresh bread. Cold cuts, meats and fish are available too. Pizza from the brick oven makes suppers easiest of all.
Life at Cliffs Valley suits the Bruces, who relish its proximity to Greenville. The city’s rich cultural offerings have kept them stimulated and entertained. “We moved from the New York metropolitan area and we were used to going to shows and sporting events and restaurants,” Mrs. Bruce explains. “We were concerned we wouldn’t find things to do. And Greenville has been great for that.”
Happily, Cliffs Valley has attracted others of similar spirit. "It hasn’t been hard to make friends,” Mrs. Bruce says. "Everybody we know was coming from different parts of the country and was involved with the building process. It’s been a nice experience.” A variety of clubs are available, and it’s easy to meet people on the golf course or at the Wellness Center, with its "Gathering Room” for social purposes.
Longtime campers, the Bruces enjoy the hiking available at Cliffs Valley. They also like the reciprocal benefits at other Cliffs Communities. Further expanding their entertaining options, a marina and equestrian center will be available at Cliffs at Keowee Vineyard, also in South Carolina’s upstate. Golf is available at all Cliffs communities, with residents of any allowed to play in all.
Still, Cliffs Valley has so much to do that a short stay can be extended, just to get in all the activities. And, with that Wellness Center – especially after languishing in the sauna and then slurping a peach smoothie – why would you want to?
WHERE DO YOU FIT IN?
What are the most eye-popping recreational amenities you can imagine?
What front-of-the-plane, box-seat programs or facilities would make you rethink where you want to hang your hat? It depends, of course, whether you prefer pampering to physical challenges, or dining on complex culinary creations as opposed to grilled fresh fish you caught an hour earlier. Share your most extravagant ideas with us online at the CarolinaLiving.com message board – we’ll point you to a Carolina Community offering exactly what you’ve dreamed about!
IS THIS ALL THERE IS?
There are many unique communities in the Carolinas that offer resort living. They have amenities that are the result of resident requests, creative management, and sometimes, nature’s grandeur.
Here are more communities worthy of a second look or a visit. Perhaps one of these will beckon to you and your family.
Barefoot Resort and Golf, Myrtle Beach, SC | 877.612.1418
A 2,300-acre masterpiece, located across the Intracoastal Waterway. Amenities include four world-class golf courses, eight-acre club with clubhouse, fitness center, swimming pools, picnic areas, basketball court, tennis, walking and biking, special privileges at private beach cabana and a planned deepwater marina.
Brier Creek Country Club, Raleigh, NC | 919.206.8655
Named one of the best new golf courses in North Carolina, Brier Creek offers a location that’s hard to beat. Minutes away from Research Triangle Park, this prestigious community offers superb golf and country club amenities, plus a community Intranet.
Cedar Creek Golf Community, Aiken, SC | 800.937.5362
This award-winning community has recently added an Academy of Lifelong Learning at the community center. Schedules change each quarter, and offer residents such classes as Short Stories, a History of the South, the Human Brain, and South Carolina Birds, Butterflies, Wildflowers and Storks. Other amenities include golf, swimming, tennis and nature trails.
Grande Dunes, Myrtle Beach, SC | 843.692.2323
One of the East Coast’s most spectacular Ocean Clubs at 25,000 sq. ft. of uncompromising luxury, elegant wood paneling, mahogany galore, pools, dining, etc. Residents are extended a full membership to the Ocean Club when they move into the community.
Hamlin Plantation, Mt. Pleasant, SC | 843.881.9490
The 7,000 sq. ft. clubhouse and fitness center lead you to a seven-lane junior-Olympic sized swimming pool with waterslide and kid’s mushroom waterfall, tennis courts, beach volleyball, walk paths. Proximity to beaches and Charleston simply add to the charm.
Hampton Lake, near Hilton Head, SC | 866.875.5253
Offers 900+ acres built around a water lifestyle. With 165 acres of freshwater lake, seven miles of navigable waterways, 15 miles of shoreline and 340 acres of natural wetlands, the community is built around the concept of bringing families together to enjoy one another, nature and recreation around the water.
I’ON, Charleston, SC | 866.330.8200
It’s not just the prestigious location near one of the finest towns anywhere. It’s also the meticulous adherence to smart growth, porches designed for rocking chairs, the Rookery for bird-watching, and the more than 80 acres of green and civic spaces including lakes, creeks, parks, trails, and of course, the Rookery.
Islands of Beaufort, Beaufort, SC | 877.334.7526
Located along Battery Creek, a private enclave called Deer Island offers deepwater home-sites allowing private docks that can accommodate vessels up to 100 feet in length. Accessible only by a private bridge, this is one of the neighborhoods of the Islands of Beaufort.
Savannah Lakes Village, McCormick, SC | 800.332.0013
This 4,000-acre adult community includes two championship golf courses, and the benefits of magnificent Lake Thurmond, with 70,000 acres and a 1,200-mile shoreline. Wooded, golf and lakefront property provides options to suit every interest.
Sea Trail, Sunset Beach, NC | 888.801.4285
Sea Trail's 2000 wooded acres are just five minutes from the beautiful, unspoiled, barrier island oceanfront of Sunset Beach. Guests enjoy three distinctly different championship golf courses (54 holes) and a deluxe Swim & Fitness Center with indoor and outdoor pools and whirlpools.
Taberna, New Bern, NC | 800.367.1278
A unique feature of Taberna living is the access provided to all homeowners to the water bordering the community. Pristine Brice’s Creek is at Taberna’s doorstep and flows into the Trent River, which meets the Neuse in nearby New Bern. The Atlanta Ocean is a stone’s throw away. The opposite bank is part of a 170,000-acre national forest. A canoe dock with canoes invites environmentally-friendly exploration.
Trillium, Cashiers, NC | 888.464.3800
Trillium is a private community, hidden away in the stunning Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. It touches Lake Glenville, the highest elevation lake east of the Mississippi. The community is, in a word, astonishing.