Carolina golf real estate: From the mountains to the sea

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

Few states in the United States offer the geographical diversity of North and South Carolina. Mountains, beach, rolling hills -- the Carolinas have it all. Collectively, the two states are home to more than 1,200 golf courses, most of which are the centerpieces for real estate developments.

So many courses, so little time. If you are in the market for your first golf course home, how do you decide where to hang your hat?

You can eliminate hundreds of communities by asking yourself a few simple questions. Do you want to golf year-round in comfortable weather? If so, you can narrow your search down to South Carolina. Are you looking for a second or summer home? The mountains of North Carolina offer temperatures 10 to 15 degrees cooler than the Piedmont, Midlands, Upstate and beaches.

"You look at the geographic breakdown of the Carolinas and you have an incredible setting for golf," says John Rhodes, owner of Rhodes Realty in the Lake Norman area north of Charlotte. "It is no accident people are considering the Carolinas for retirement over traditional places like Florida and Arizona."

Once you decide on a location, the next major consideration is price range. A home and lot on a golf course in the Carolinas can range anywhere from $200,000 to $2 million (and beyond). Price is dictated by two main factors, according to Rhodes -- location and the quality and classification of golf course. A home located on the course costs significantly more than one off of it. A home located on the course with a view of the water or mountains commands an even higher price.

And there's more.

"A house on the left side of a fairway is going to cost a bit more than one on the right because the majority of golfers are slicers," says Michael King, director of real estate at Grande Dunes in Myrtle Beach, S.C. "You also want to avoid buying a lot at the 150 yard marker, because that is where most balls land. And generally as a rule of thumb, homes near the green are about 10 to 15 percent more expensive than those by tee boxes."

Location and price are considerations that may seem like no-brainers to some. But many first-time golf course home buyers are not privy to the various classifications that dictate access, initiation fees and dues. A semiprivate golf course is typically open to the paying public, but extends preferred tee times, tournament services and/or range privileges to members who pay annual or monthly dues.

Private clubs come in two varieties: equity and non-equity. Equity clubs are actually owned by the members, and members can sell their memberships (oftentimes for a profit) should they decide to relocate. Non-equity clubs are owned by a third party and the members are not responsible for paying for major renovations and improvements.

Mountain golf, mountain living

"We are non-equity club, which means that our members don't own the club and they will never be assessed," says Laura Becker, membership director at the Reserve at Lake Keowee outside of Greenville, S.C. "Upon selling their lot or after 30 years, they are reimbursed their initiation fee. The monthly dues cover our operating costs and are not reimbursed."

The Reserve at Lake Keowee is one of the hottest golf course communities in the Palmetto State, and it's little wonder why. The property's new Jack Nicklaus signature course clings to the scenic banks of pristine Lake Keowee and tumbles through the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Reserve's other amenities, including hiking trails, tennis courts, a spacious pool, and a planned marina with boat concierge service are attracting recent retirees from throughout the Eastern U.S.

"I would say about 35 percent of our residents are retired," Becker says. "We have a lot of folks out here who are grandparents and their kids come out and spend the summers with them."

The Reserve lifestyle comes at a price, however. Lots start at $80,000 and go all the way up to $1 million. A full golf membership requires a $35,000 initiation fee and $325 a month for membership dues. The goal for the Nicklaus course is 400 members, and plans are underway for another 18-hole course that could accommodate up to 400 more. Becker says about 260 members have signed on since October.

"We have been received very well by the market," she says. "Most of our retirees are coming down from the Midwest and Northeast. They want to get out of the cold but they don't want to retire in Florida because it is too hot."

Pinehurst and the Sandhills

The rolling hills and stately oaks of the North Carolina Piedmont form the backdrop for the Old North State's three largest metropolitan areas: Charlotte, the Triad (Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and Highpoint) and the Triangle (Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill). But situated just two hours east of Charlotte and one hour south of Raleigh is a bucolic region filled with long leaf pines, sandy soil, and some of the Carolina's most storied golf courses.

Unlike the many beach communities in the Carolinas, the Sandhills attract full time residents searching for a new "first" home. The majority of these transplants are in their mid- to late-50s, retiring from one job up north, and looking to stay active by working at a golf course or in the service industry. And unlike some of the cost prohibitive retirement hot spots for the rich and famous, the Sandhills offer a wide variety of golf course properties.

The region's most lavish offerings are at Forest Creek and Mid-South (formerly Plantation) where lots range from $200,000 to $300,000 and custom homes run between $600,000 and $1 million. Pine Wild is also considered high end for the area, with homes located on the development's two 18-hole courses going for $400,000.

From the realm of the reasonable, Beacon Ridge at Seven Lakes West has home and lots available from $250,000 to $350,000. Many locals consider Beacon Ridge to be one of the best values in the area. Amenities include a Gene Hamm-designed golf course, Beacon Ridge Country Club, swimming pool, tennis courts, boat launch, 50-slip marina and shore-side park. And Lake Auman, a 1,000-acre, spring-fed lake is available for fishing, boating and various water sports.

Coastal Living

Myrtle Beach has long been one of the bastions of resort and daily fee golf. And while the Grand Strand still caters to the 12-guys, two mini-vans, and 36 holes a day crowd, thousands of retirement age couples are relocating to the beach each year. This exodus has been made possible by the emergence of a handful of upscale private and semiprivate golf course communities.

On the semiprivate side, the Grande Dunes Country Club is one of the most grandiose projects to ever hit the beach -- a $20 billion, 2,200-acre behemoth with a 20-year build out. The centerpiece at Grande Dunes is an award-winning Roger Rulewich designed course that plays along the banks of the Intracoastal Waterway. PGA Tour great Nick Price and Craig Schreiner recently were commissioned to design another 18-hole layout that will break ground this summer.

"We think a semiprivate course appeals to retirees for a number of reasons, the most important of which is liability," King says. "You get the benefits of a private facility but do not have the burden of maintaining a golf course."

The initiation fee for a family membership at Grande Dunes is $18,000 and annual dues are $3,600. Members are afforded many of the same benefits they'd receive at a private course: preferred tee times, unlimited golf, complimentary range balls, and country club level service.

In addition, Grande Dunes offers a 25,000-square foot Ocean Club, swim, tennis and fitness center and an upcoming 13-acre marina and urban village. Luxury homes with views of the Atlantic command seven figures, while condominiums, villas and single family homes on the golf course range from to $600,000 to over $2 million.

One man's semiprivate is another man's semipublic, and Myrtle Beach has a small collection of private courses for those seeking totally exclusivity. The Reserve Golf Club in Pawleys Island is one of only three private facilities in the entire Grand Strand, and the only non-equity club.

The Reserve Club currently offers two levels of memberships at its Greg Norman designed course, the Reserve and Golf. The Reserve membership initiation fee is $32,500 and the Golf initiation is slightly less, at $22,000. The Reserve is a "full" membership allowing for unlimited greens fees throughout the year and carries monthly dues ranging from $195 (individual) to $350 (family). The Golf membership is designed for second homeowners, and allows for up to 26 greens fees per year. Dues range from $140 to $200.

Townhomes at the Reserve Club range from $280,000 entry level up to $900,000 for waterfront units. Golf villas start at $325,000 and work up to $700,000 depending on size and location. Single-family home sites and homes range from $500,000 to over $1 million. A full-scale marina with access to the Intracoastal Waterway is also available for members who want to take advantage of the Reserve Club's maritime setting.

Golf Course Living

The Reserve at Lake Keowee
(864) 869-2114

Grande Dunes Country Club
(843) 449-7070

The Reserve Golf Club (Pawleys Island)
(888) 268-1285

Fast Fact

Damage to homes located on golf courses from errant shots are the golfers responsibility, not the home owner's.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of from 1997 to 2003.

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