Golf, in its purest form, is a public sport. It was born that way in Scotland, imported to the U.S. as an accessible outdoor escape for the masses and to this day, more than 70% of golf courses are public with a median rate of $36.
The division between public and private golf was once so binocular that golfers often identified themselves proudly as either “public” or “private” golfers. This was especially true during the 80s, 90s and early 00s as developers invested billions of dollars in upscale golf courses as centerpieces of exclusive communities.
That line of demarcation has been perhaps forever blurred in 2020. Private clubs throughout the country have experienced a substantial increase in new members, largely due to an upsurge in golf participation in light of Covid-19, but also because of people moving into private golf communities from densely populated areas.
According to a recent survey by Private Communities Register, 71% of 1,679 respondents surveyed indicated they’re planning to move to another state and purchase a home in an amenitized community, with 65% relocating within the next two years. And Private Communities officials report a 41% increase in golf-related traffic at the website.
“We certainly did not expect to see such a spike in traffic during a pandemic, but in retrospect it makes sense. Getting exercise and being outside is exactly what people want,” says Private Communities Register Director of Sales and Operations Ben Keal.
Not only are new members and relocations on the rise, but first-time private club membership sales are hitting all-time industry highs, especially in Sunbelt states like Arizona, the Carolinas, Florida, Georgia and Texas.
Here are three clubs and communities leading the way in offering amazing memberships for first-time private golf buyers.
Champion Hills is home to what many golfers consider to be one of the most exhilarating courses in North Carolina. Situated in the charming small town of Hendersonville, an hour south of Asheville and an hour north of Greenville, S.C., Champion Hills is ideally positioned for the current luxury real estate market and membership upswell.
It boasts a broad array of residential options – resale homes, building lots and low maintenance cottages and lock-and-leave villas – suiting a wide variety of buyers. For golf lovers, Champion Hills is synonymous with Tom Fazio, one of the greatest living golf course architects, who for decades made his home amid the Western Carolina hardwoods.
Fazio was so enamored with Champion Hills’ location near Hendersonville’s quaint, vibrant downtown, that he relocated his office to Main Street where it remains to this day. His design work at Champion Hills is legendary, a magical mountain layout wrought by not only Fazio, but many of his brightest architecture pupils of the time.
New Champion Hills residents from points north are often pleasantly surprised by how much home they can afford in one of Western North Carolina’s most exclusive mountain communities. Building lots typically range from .5 up to 1.5 acres, with prices from $50,000 to $300,000. Move-in ready luxury residences range from $500,000 to $3 million featuring golf course, mountain and wooded views.
“We’ve welcomed a number of new full golf members this year,” says Dana Schultz, Champion Hills’ general manager and chief operating officer. “They love the pure Fazio golf experience, Blue Ridge mountain setting and the playability of the layout from tee to green.”
As residents are known to say at Champion Hills, “visit for a day, stay for a lifetime.”
While relocating to an island may sound extreme, it’s actually quite feasible along Florida’s highly desirable and underexposed Treasure Coast. The region running from Indian River County south to Martin County is a throwback to the Sunshine State’s unspoiled coastal landscapes of the 50s and 60s.
Near its southern end in Stuart, Sailfish Point is a 532-acre luxury, oceanfront community surrounded on three sides by the Atlantic Ocean, Indian River and St. Lucie Inlet. For prospective buyers whose love of deep-sea fishing rivals their obsession with golf, there simply is no better place to park your flip-flops.
Its nationally-ranked Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course meanders through the waterways, wetlands and coastal dunes that define Sailfish Point’s Treasure Coast setting. The first time they play it, golfers are blown away by the course’s stunning collection of unobstructed water views from nearly every hole.
A host of move-in-ready luxury residences are available, from surprisingly spacious townhomes and condos to sumptuous villas and sprawling estate homes. Prices start just below $1 million for condos and scale up to $15 million for an oceanfront estate.
“We had a lull in March, April and the first part of May like everywhere else, but activity ramped back up in June once businesses started reopening and there was more clarity about our path forward,” says Sailfish Point Realty Broker and Managing Partner Kristen Cheskaty. “We’re anticipating a robust peak season as people realize more flexibility by working remotely or opting for early retirement.”
A recently reimagined 60,000-square-foot clubhouse with resort-caliber beach club offers multiple dining options, a two-story fitness center, aquatic center, tennis courts, full-service spa and access to a staggering five miles of pristine beach.
Downtown Stuart, one of Florida’s artsiest small towns, and the hip-but-quaint Jensen Beach, are just minutes away. As is the deep blue water of the Atlantic’s Gulfstream current, offering anglers easy access to the sailfish, wahoo and other coveted sport fish.
Sea Pines Country Club
Sea Pines has been synonymous with Hilton Head Island since its creation in the 50s by real estate mastermind and master-planning visionary Charles Fraser. Situated on the island’s south end, this 5,000-acre gated community features an incredible mix of residences spanning luxury beachfront and golf course homes to villas and condos.
Miles and miles of bike paths famously link the community’s enclaves with a bevy of amenities, such as the Sea Pines Beach Club. Restaurants and shopping abound, as Sea Pines is truly a self-contained Shangri La in which time slows down and days are filled with seafood and sunshine.
Golf fans know Sea Pines as the host venue of the PGA TOUR’s RBC Heritage, held annually on Harbour Town Golf Links at The Sea Pines Resort. What they may not know is there’s private, member-owned enclave situated just behind the community’s guard house, Sea Pines Country Club.
Its Lowcountry-style golf course was designed by Arnold Palmer and later updated by local golf course architect Clyde Johnston. Many golf aficionados consider it among the island’s best layouts, a dexterous mix of challenging and fair holes set amid a Lowcountry backdrop that would make Pat Conroy proud. For those who relish game improvement, the practice area will be upgraded and expanded in 2021.
While golf is a major calling card, Sea Pines Country Club’s lavish clubhouse, with its resort-style pool and expansive outdoor deck – situated along a vast tidal marsh with views of the Calibogue Sound – is where many members end up spending most of their time. Especially young families, of which the club has seen an influx this year.
“Members love having a place to relax, work out, and grab a casual lunch or dinner. And their kids can take part in so many sports and activities,” says Nic Booth, the club’s director of membership development. “After a busy workday, and after all the homework is done, it’s nice for families to have a chance to spread out and enjoy an afternoon together playing golf, tennis, bocce ball or just lounging by the pool.”
Sea Pines Country Club holds the dual distinction of being both a “Distinguished Club” as awarded by BoardRoom Magazine, and one of “America’s Healthiest Clubs.” A 7,300-square-feet $3 million fitness center opened in 2019 featuring the latest cardio and strength training equipment, as well as a grab-and-go café and infrared saunas.
Staying fit is only half of the equation, and Executive Chef Brian Coseo ensures that members have access to fresh and local meats, seafood and produce to keep both their bodies and minds in a healthy state of being. Living in Sea Pines, and really living at Sea Pines Country Club, makes for a highly coveted island way of life.
Often lost amid the resort’s nine 18-hole golf courses, including storied U.S. Open venue No. 2, is Pinehurst Country Club. Established in 1903, the “private side of Pinehurst” offers hundreds of members exclusive access to the resort’s storied layouts. Members have their own clubhouse, tennis and pickleball courts, swimming pool and a robust social calendar that keeps them busy year-round.
Director of Golf Ben Bridgers says the club has added 85 new golf members this year, a banner year under any circumstances, much less the year that was 2020. Golf courses remained open throughout the spring as other businesses were closed due to the pandemic. Local golfers found their panacea in Pinehurst’s seemingly endless supply of world-class golf.
“We are seeing an influx of avid golf members, and also some first-time private club members, and the benefit quickly became clear to them back in the spring,” Bridgers says. “They have a sanctuary where they can enjoy some of the best golf courses in the world, including our par-3 course, the Cradle and putting course, Thistle Dhu.”
According to Bridgers, the majority of Pinehurst Country Club members live in, and around, the Village of Pinehurst. Famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted designed the village’s curvilinear streets, opens spaces and enduring landscape via commission from James Walker Tufts. A number of Pinehurst courses, such as numbers 3, 5 and 6, feature golf course frontage homes that are popular with members.
Sea Pines, Sea Pines Country Club
Pinehurst Country Club
Story by Shane Sharp