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What I’ve Learned about Golf Communities…and the People Who Move There

Category: Active adult communities

by Larry Gavrich

Editor’s note: Larry is a frequent contributor to discussions here at Top Retirements, and we have learned much from him. We are happy to have him today as a guest to discuss what he has learned from helping individuals and couples find the best golf community for them (even if they don’t play golf!).

After 15 years of research, visits to 150 planned communities, more than 1,000 articles and hundreds of conversations with real estate professionals, golf directors, community board members and, most of all, the hundreds of clients I have worked with to identify the best community for them, I have come to a few important conclusions. I cover them, and more, in my new book, Glorious Back Nine, How to Find Your Dream Golf Home (which I could have titled, just as well, “Not for Golfers Only” since about half of those who live in golf communities never play golf).

Here are a few of the most critical lessons I’ve learned:

The first step in a golf community search is the most important

I call it the “kitchen table” discussion that every couple must have if they are considering a move. (This step is much easier if you are a single.) You don’t need to decide specifically between, say, Wilmington, NC, or Charlotte or Asheville. But you must agree on topography; that is, whether you plan to live in the mountains, near the ocean or somewhere in between (perhaps by a lake).  After that, consider your health and lifestyle interests to decide whether you should live near a big city or in a pollution- and traffic-free remote area, or somewhere in between.  Your search will be long and arduous if you can’t make these critical decisions up front.

But what if a couple can’t decide on location?

I specialize in golf communities and, typically, at least one spouse in a couple that contacts me for assistance plays golf. In some cases, neither spouse plays golf (more about this below).  If one loves the ocean and one loves the mountains, my solution to this dilemma is simple: The one who doesn’t play golf, or is less serious about it, gets to choose the location. The golfer in the family will find great golf courses everywhere. But there are no beaches in the mountains (or vice versa) for the non-golfer.  Happy Spouse, Happy House.

Why non-golfers choose a golf community

Ignore mainstream media articles about how there is something inherently natural about golf community courses being plowed over to make way for new houses. In virtually all such cases, mismanagement caused these golf courses’ downfalls, and those are relatively few and far between. The vast majority of golf community clubs are well-managed, many of them by self-interested residents, and are stabilizing influences on home values inside the gates.  For non-golfers, the 150 communities I have visited in the last 15 years offer a wide range of amenities, including pools, fitness centers, walking trails and an active social calendar centered around the clubhouse. Others offer less-common amenities such as marinas and equestrian centers.  Plus, who doesn’t like to live amidst the manicured and nicely landscaped green spaces in a golf community (except, perhaps, when the lawn mowers show up before 8 a.m.)? 

Trust Rankings and Hype at Your Peril

Beware of magazines and online websites that pose as objective but tend to tout only those communities that pay them a marketing fee (not even the fine print discloses this in many cases).  Therefore, when you read a popular retirement magazine that headlines “Top 50 Communities,” understand that virtually all of the 50 advertise in that magazine.  And when you stumble upon one of the many web sites that tout Best State or Best City to Retire to, be mindful that they all use different criteria, which is why one respected media outlet recently listed five cities in its top 10 that are located in states where snowfall is substantial and temperatures below freezing many days during the winter months. Best places to retire?  No thanks. Also, when you visit the web site of a golf or other planned community, avoid the tab marked “About.” As I write in my book:  “[Ignore] the come-ons “World Class Golf,” “Welcome to Paradise” and “Natural Beauty…[and] the ‘customer testimonials’ in which a couple tells you how happy they were with their decision [to buy in that community].” At a community’s web site, you want just the facts – a list of amenities, services in the local area, country club and golf course details, price range on house and lots, etc.

State income tax is less important than cost of living…way less

One of the great mistakes made by couples looking for a planned community home in the Southeast is to focus on state taxes, specifically the income tax. Tennessee, Alabama and Florida do not assess a state income tax; but would you believe that the state of Georgia, which does have an income tax, ranks 17 places better than does Florida in terms of cost of living, according to WorldPopulationReview.com?  (North Carolina and South Carolina are also more advantageous than is Florida in terms of cost of living.)  If a state charges no income tax, it may be skimping on important expenditures. (For example, Florida ranks 40th in spending per pupil, and Tennessee and Alabama rank 41st and 37th, respectively, according to Governing.com.) In Glorious Back Nine, I post a chart showing cost of living indexes in 23 states both North and South.


Thanks Larry, this should be very helpful to the Topretirements membership. We hope you will keep coming back as one of our great regular contributors!

About the Author

Larry Gavrich is the author of the new book, Glorious Back Nine: How to Find Your Golf Community Home, a step-by-step guide to finding a golf home.  The 160-page book is currently available in paperback for $9.99 at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com and will be released soon in an eBook edition.  The book includes a list of 125 golf communities, most of which Larry has visited and reviewed at his blog site, GolfCommunityReviews.com. Larry also assists couples searching for a golf community home in the Southeast.  He does not charge a fee for his services.  He can be reached at editor@homeonthecourse.com.  (Note: If you contact Larry and indicate you have purchased his book, he will be pleased to sign and send you a label you can affix inside.)

Comments? Do you live in a community with golf, or are you thinking about one? How about if you don’t play golf, would a community like that still appeal? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Posted by Admin on November 29th, 2020

15 Comments »

  1. Thanks for the article Larry. As a big golfer I have always been interested in living on a community with a course. My father lived at 7 Lakes in FT. Myers and loved its executive course and many other amenities. It was particularly good when he got into his 70s and 80s and regular courses were too hard for him. When he first retired there he would often go and play regular courses outside. I am wondering if you see people who pick communities with difficult courses when they are in late 50s early 60s who later regret it as they age? What would you say about that.

    by Admin — December 6, 2020

  2. Good question. Many of them regret it even sooner because they expect to continuously improve their handicaps the more they play, and that doesn’t generally happen on tough layouts (and after challenging careers, do we really want tough challenges in retirement?) In the 1990s and into the early 2000s — call it “The Tiger Era — many developers thought they needed a “trophy” course to attract property sales, and that meant a true championship course (although every golf community labels its course “championship” but the only championship they hold is the club championship). Those courses were too tough for the average golfer, especially aging ones who couldn’t drive the ball 250 yards. Moving up a tee box or two and playing a shorter course wasn’t the answer in many places because the traps, literally and figuratively, were designed into the green complexes. I have seen a softening of the layouts at new golf community courses over the last 15 years as developers realized they needed to commission layouts more friendly to the recreational golfer. Two of note (of many I could cite) are Carolina Colours in New Bern, NC ( a Bill Love design) and Compass Pointe (Rick Robbins), 15 minutes outside Wilmington, NC. When you play those courses you can imagine the developers giving the golf course architect Goldilocks instructions to “make it not too easy, not too hard…and fun to play.”

    by Larry Gavrich — December 6, 2020

  3. Good Day. My Wife played Competitive Golf & My Centreman/Best Friend was a Golf Pro & they 1st got me into Golf. Am still playing & am not Shy about about playing the Forward Tees. In fact; enjoy playing Combos. Like playing with “The Young Guns” as their $$ is the same color as mine. & I do really enjoy taking it & sometimes paying out. It gives the Moths some Fresh Air!
    Having said above know Executive Courses are Fun to Play, take less time & do make your “Wheels Turn”. So pleased to read they are becoming in vogue!!
    Also, know playing them gets me out with my Buds & sure beats shoveling Snow!!

    by BillyBogey — December 7, 2020

  4. Thank you for the article. I don’t play golf and probably never will, but article is still interesting. And this is something I never would have thought of: The one who doesn’t play golf, or is less serious about it, gets to choose the location. Intelligent reasoning.

    by Judy — December 7, 2020

  5. Billy, better late than never to get into golf. You are deriving the best bits out of the game — fun, exercise, camaraderie and the occasional small, but satisfying, winnings. Judy, I have arbitrated a few quandaries between spouses over where to live, and the approach you referenced seems to work. Buying a home anywhere is a big investment, and you don’t want to make it unless both are fully supportive of the choice of location. This is why I am insistent that location be the first decision in the search process. If one wants coast and the other mountains, they are doomed to a long and fruitless search.

    by Larry — December 8, 2020

  6. Though we are not totally retired yet, we are non-golfers who have looked at everything from golf to manufactured home communities. We did purchase in a golf community (Colonial Heritage). Though now it is our “get-away” place and we don’t live there permanently yet, we just love it! The virus has kept us from enjoying everything they have to offer, but “this too shall pass”. We love the people, the cleanliness, it’s other amenities we will be able to use when things settle down and the beauty! The security also is welcome. Not just anyone can wander through and I’ve never seen so many happy, smiling and waving neighbors as we drive in and out. Yes, many of our neighbors are golfers and that was their reason for buying there, there are also many of us non-golfers. We are extremely happy. I do agree with the magazines saying some communities are “Top 50” and they are hyping the places that advertise in their publications. Colonial Heritage is never/seldom mentioned in ads, but wow, they are thriving! New building still going on, and for sale homes don’t sit on the market long. I’m pretty certain this course will remain open for a long time after having a look at the next year’s proposed budget. Things are looking real nice! I love Williamsburg!

    by Dave C — December 9, 2020

  7. I live in a master-planned community with a beautiful golf course, and I am a golf member.

    Also consider – is the course open to the public as well? Some courses are private; others are not. May or may not be important to you when making a decision about where to retire and considering a golf community.

    However, as noted by Larry, whether you play golf or not, the beauty of the course is something to enjoy.

    Enjoyed the post!

    Jan Cullinane, author, The Single Woman’s Guide to Retirement (AARP/Wiley)

    by Jan Cullinane — December 9, 2020

  8. Dave, I visited Colonial Heritage 13 years ago and was impressed with the community. I played the golf course, which was designed by one of my favorites, Arthur Hills. I found it one of the most challenging courses in the South, which was a head-scratcher since the community is 55+. I was 60 at the time and carrying a 10 handicap and I found it tough. I assume they have softened it over time, but there were so many forced carries, it must still be a challenge. In any case, you have found a place for your Glorious Back Nine, and that is great. Congrats…Jan, terrific to hear from you. You may not recall, but we met at one of those Live South trade shows many years ago. I learned a lot from your presentation that day and from your first book, which is on my bookshelf. I am currently working with a single lady to find a golf home and will recommend your latest book to her. (If your golf community is single-friendly, I would love to recommend it to my client. You can contact me through my website, GolfCommuityReviews.com) By the way, I cover in my book all the different types of club memberships available in golf communities. It is one of the more confusing choices a couple (or single) will make in their choice of a golf community. Cheers

    by Larry Gavrich — December 10, 2020

  9. Larry, maybe the challenging course is the reason my 70 year old neighbors all look and act like they’re only 35? Healthiest bunch of older adults I’ve ever seen! If they aren’t on the course, they’re doing something else physical. Hmmm, maybe I should take up golf again…

    by Dave C — December 11, 2020

  10. Dave, maybe you should. It seems as if you accomplished what Ponce de Leon could not: You have found the Fountain of Youth.

    by Larry — December 11, 2020

  11. Larry, and Colonial Heritage is it’s name! LOL! Give me some new wrists and I’ll be on the course tomorrow!

    by Dave C — December 12, 2020

  12. NEVER AGAIN! Living in a golf community often means the course is right in your backyard! Sounds like paradise! WRONG! 7AM shouting ! Multiple broken glass doors! The Cursing!
    I will avoid living in a golf course forever! When I want to play it’s always nearby! Don’t get beguiled by the idea of golf course living until you get to experience the noise, early morning yelling, broken windows from wild shots!

    by Ron — December 12, 2020

  13. Ron, the course is only in your backyard if you purchase a home beside the course. Your windows will be broken only if your home is positioned at mid-fairway or to the side of a green. (We own a vacation condo beside a tee box, and the earliest any group arrives there is around 8:30 a.m., and the only noise I hear is the thwack of club head on golf ball.) With all that shouting and cursing at 7 a.m., I think it would be a public service if you let us know where this community is so that no one ever makes the mistakes you made.

    by Larry Gavrich — December 13, 2020

  14. I’m neither for or against golf communities and while Ron has legitimate concerns, Larry is right. We rented a wonderful house for a month (June) at a course in Arizona — right on the course at the 9th fairway. Beautiful landscaping and views. The owner was not a golfer, but had a 5 gallon bucket of errant golf balls in the garage — no need to buy balls. The fairway side windows (including sliding glass doors) were fitted with special screens to ward off balls. Though the course saw heavy use while we were there and we were outside much of the time, we saw and heard only occasional players — enjoyed several pleasant conversations.

    by RichPB — December 14, 2020

  15. RichPB, thanks for that. Those precautions you mentioned are customary for many golf homes with the views of the course. For golfers, there can also be a side benefit, based on the course layout. In my case, with a condo beside the 15th tee box, I could go out and play the 15th, 16th, 13th (par 3) and 14th and return home at the 15th. It was a great way to spend a late afternoon, or early evening (often with my children) after the last “fee paying” golfers had come through. (I was a member and did not feel guilty about “sneaking” on.) I own a lot beside the 16th fairway, and whenever I visit it, I note a few golf balls lying under the brush. If I do build a home there, I will certainly consider special screens for the windows in the danger zone. The view — down the fairway and out to the marsh — is worth the effort.

    by Larry — December 21, 2020

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