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A Slice of Life: The Region’s Golfing Communities

Golf is a game, goes the old saw, in which you hit down to make the ball go up, swing left to make it go right, yell "fore," shoot a seven and write down five. The winner has the lowest score and then buys drinks for the losers. Even the name of the game, christened anonymously as "a good walk spoiled," is backward: it is so confounding and humbling that it ought to be called "flog."

Here is something else counter-intuitive about golf: communities that are built around golf courses are highly desirable and sell at a significant premium, but not primarily because of golf. 

The Golf Community Premium

A few dozen golf communities dot the Charleston area, from Rice Fields at Bulls Bay in Awendaw to the Ocean Course on Kiawah and from Pine Forest in Summerville to Stono Ferry in Hollywood. Yet, golf aficionados and real estate agents alike will testify that the supply of golf communities in the tri-county area needs to be more robust to meet the demand. What they all have in common, say those who sell houses in them, is that they are planned communities with a host of amenities desirable to those who are not necessarily into golf. Indeed, all the non-golf advantages are the primary reason golf communities are so popular.

Consider the home for sale by Margaret Todd Truluck of the Cassina Group at 5 Beechwood East in Isle of Palms' golf resort community, Wild Dunes. Priced at $3.5 million, this 3,300-square-foot beauty a block off the beach will likely fetch more than double the $1.4 million average for IOP homes. Indeed, joining Wild Dunes Golf Club at an additional cost is part of the allure. Still, the home also benefits from its proximity to the ocean and a community replete with amenities – two pools, a fitness center, tennis courts, play areas, a racquet club, boat storage, clubhouse, crab dock, miles of exercise trails and a highly rated school district. Truluck says there has already been strong interest in the listing even though the beach home buying season is just beginning.

Truluck says prospective home buyers in golf communities are surprisingly varied in their interests. They are attracted to the opportunity to swim, play pickleball, eat at the clubhouse and join a community where they know and connect with many of their like-minded neighbors. Often, one spouse is an avid golfer, but the other spouse is sold on the myriad of other opportunities to work, play, shop and live.

Truluck helped one family of three purchase a house in Charleston National, the Rees Jones-designed championship golf course in Mt. Pleasant. The husband golfs regularly, so his interest was apparent, but the wife was also attracted to life on the verdant undulations, looking out their window onto the landscaped fairway. "It brought a lot of peace and joy to them, and they paid a premium to be on the golf course for that serene feeling," Truluck said. When Dad is on the links, Mom can be found lounging by the pool or enjoying one of the many recreational opportunities in the neighborhood. Indeed, the family paid nearly a million dollars for a house that required substantial renovations, but the opportunity to live on Charleston National was more significant to them than the house's condition. It is the real estate motto in stark relief: location, location, location.

The Pros and Cons of Golf Communities

Joel Torres, a broker associate for Marshall Walker Realty, is a swimmer, not a golfer, and neither is his wife. But they live in Shadowmoss, the golf community in West Ashley, in a home backing up to the 15th tee they never play. "We love the community, the walking trails and how the houses are kept up," he said.

"Golf got its name because all the other four-letter words were taken."

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Golf communities are not all holes-in-one. Torres says most golf communities must pack in the houses because so much of the developable land is gobbled up by the course. As a result, most of the lot sizes are small, and the houses are close together. Most golf communities include significant HOA fees to cover the maintenance of all the expensive amenities and common areas. Moreover, golf course privileges aren't automatic when buying in a golfing community. The mortgage covers golf fees in Wescott Plantation and Pine Forest in Summerville but not in most golf communities. "It's not as simple as people think," Torres said. "You have to look into the fees, which can run $200 to $1,000 on top of the mortgage." That is when it pays off to have a real estate agent who knows the intricacies of buying in a golf community.

But that appears to be a small handicap for most buyers.

Prices of houses in golf communities continue to climb despite the doubling of interest rates, and the apparent reason is scarcity. The MLS listed 21 houses in golf communities for sale last week, about half the typical number, and most are on Daniel Island and Johns Island. Golf courses and their attendant communities require ample land, a plentiful water supply and years of permitting, limiting the inventory of available golf-proximate homes. Every local club has a significant waiting list, says Jill Hamilton, a Realtor with Island House Realty and an operations consultant with private golf clubs for the past 22 years. She says there are a couple in the pipeline, one inside 526 and one farther out where land is more abundant, but they are many years from fruition. Still, she says, there is sufficient existing demand that they appear to be can't-lose propositions.

"If you put a new golf community up for sale today, it would sell out, even if it's not going to be built for seven years," she said. Real estate agents are reluctant to put a dollar figure on the price premium of life on a golf community or houses along a golf course, but the latter is easily six figures.

"Hitting a golf ball left is a hook, right is a slice and straight is a miracle."

Golf and the Lowcountry Runs Deep

It would seem that the Lowcountry is tailor-made for golfing communities. Our temperate climate, multi-hued sunsets and shorebird-speckled, dolphin-skimmed coastline conspire to create a beautiful backdrop for the game. Award-winning course designs by the likes of Pete Dye, Tom Fazio, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, along with our laconic Southern pace, beckon migrants from across the country. Proximity to historic Charleston and all the attractions that accrue to its popularity as a tourist destination entice 10,000 new residents every year. Home prices in Charleston hover way above state averages, and the influx, particularly from high-cost Northeastern markets, ensures that almost any real estate investment here will rapidly increase in value. 

At the same time, Charleston is not a golf-first region like Myrtle Beach or Hilton Head. Charleston would still grow even if the retirees and the golf were absent, with burgeoning tech, automotive, life science, logistics and aerospace sectors. The Charleston region was named the sixth-best labor market among regions with populations under a million people by the Wall Street Journal. The Charleston market is a working community first with a side dish of golf.

What Tiger Woods did for golf – inspired millions across demographics to it – Covid expanded. Isolated and forced outdoors, many took up the game or increased their participation. But Millennials and Gen Y golf differently than Boomers and Gen Xers, says Jill Hamilton. They're not interested in sacrificing five or six hours away from their young families just to hit a ball into a hole and occasionally throw a club. Golf courses are responding by offering nine-hole courses that can be played in half the time, lighting their courses so adults can play when the kids are asleep and adding family-friendly aspects like kids' hours and parent-child tournaments. She believes Top Golf-type arrangements, which focus first on eating, drinking and socializing with a bit of video golf stirred in, are the next frontier on golf courses, fitting perfectly within the amenity-rich golf communities that cater to non-golfers as well.

That kind of thinking is new for a game that harkens to the Middle Ages and has hardly changed since its supposed invention in 1297. Coincidently, its invention is often attributed to the Dutch low country. The word "golf" derives from the Dutch word for "club." The rapid evolution of the philosophy around golf courses may presage what is next for Charleston's golf communities. Whatever form they take, three things are almost certain: they will be a long time coming, they will be highly desirable and they are going to be expensive.

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