How better to live a golf-centric life than to live practically within sight of the first tee?
Recently, the answer to this apparent no-brainer of a question has become somewhat more complicated. For decades, real estate developers have sought to capitalize on golfers' general affluence, carving out huge swaths of attractive land and turning them into golf-and-residential communities of varying degrees of privacy. Common to all of them, though, was the promotion of the opportunity to live on and around a common adult playground: the golf course.
According to Jason Becker, CEO of Naples, Florida-based Golf Life Navigators, a service that matches prospective members with compatible clubs and real estate solutions across the Sun Belt, a decline in desire for in-community living is one of the major trends in golf real estate at the moment.
Life better outside the gate?
Of the more than 9,000 golfers who have completed Golf Life Navigators' "ProGuide3" questionnaire - the first step in identifying one's potential future home golf clubs - nearly 40% do not wish to live within a gated community as they look to move to the Sun Belt.
Why the apparent shift in priorities?
"I would confidently say that the average age of the clubs membership does play a role," says Becker. "In most Sun Belt clubs, your average age may be creeping into the 70s. For the 59-year-old buyer (GLN's average client's age) this is a bit discerning to their overall lifestyle anticipations. Perhaps living downtown or on the beach is a bit more appealing than living in a community where HOAs oftentimes dominate your club life."
Ah yes, the dreaded HOA (Homeowner's association) fees. Writ large, HOA fees are akin to hyper-local taxes one pays for the privilege of living in a gated community. Usually separate from golf club dues, HOA fees cover things like lawn maintenance, salary for security gatehouse staff and even in-home utilities like electricity and water, as well as cable and internet in some cases. In some communities, these fees can double or even triple the ordinary carrying costs of a property. Here in Florida, I have heard of clubs whose combined club dues and HOA fees add up to $30,000 or more per year. It's easy, then, to see how one could buy a $500,000 house in a golf community, only for the carrying costs to make it feel like a million-dollar mansion.
As a result, with relatively few clubs requiring residency inside the community as a condition of membership, many Sun Belt seekers are content to live nearby and take up membership from the outside. Especially for those with non-golfing spouses, this adds some balance on top of greater financial flexibility.
Practice makes paradise
If you pay close attention to the pace of golf course renovations, especially at private clubs, this may not come as a massive surprise, but per Becker's data, a whopping 92% of Golf Life Navigators clients say a practice facility is the most important amenity they want at a prospective new home club.
Even ahead of a great course layout worthy of repeated play, golfers want an expansive practice facility with not just a putting green and driving range, but a state-of-the-art short game practice facility too. Practice holes, too, in some cases. (More: Bay Hill debuts new practice area)
Becker passed along a quote from one of his recent clients that speaks directly to this emphasis: "My future club had to have a great practice facility. It was a deal breaker for a few clubs I visited. Because I am still working there are times where I only have an hour to get to the club and want to spend it bettering my game. In addition, coming from Midwest bent grass and transitioning to Florida bermuda grass I really want to work on my game around the green."
Bye-bye, (snow) birdie
Anecdotally, in just the four-plus years I've lived in Vero Beach, Florida, there's been a palpable increase in activity around town in the summer months. This suggests to me that people who were traditionally "Snowbirds" - seasonal residents who stay through the winter and some of the fall and spring - are gradually deciding to make Florida a more permanent home base.
Becker breaks down the decision this way: "1.) Weather; 2.) Healthier Lifestyle; 3.) Taxes. In a recent study it was concluded that a healthier lifestyle is indeed leading the way in terms of motivation out of the three factors. People are conscious of their health and if they can be in a place where outside activities exist year round, then relocation gets a serious consideration among buyers," he says.
I gave an overview of the tax factor here, and the weather factor is pretty self-evident. In order to both serve existing retiree populations and attract more, Sun Belt states and communities are welcoming the healthcare industry at a gathering pace. Orlando Health aims to build two new Orlando-area hospitals soon, and Arizona-based HonorHealth is breaking ground on its sixth hospital in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area, to name two of several similar projects in regions of interest to golfers.