The Top 10
What does it take to be the best of the best?Extraordinary golf, a great location, attention to detail and paradigm-shifting service.
1 Santa Lucia Preserve Carmel, California
With an entrance gate only three miles from the sophisticated bustle of Carmel and Pebble Beach, the Santa Lucia Preserve seems like a miracle. Of its 20,000 pristine acres, 18,000 will be forever preserved as a conservancy for the community's 296 families. Tom Fazio's mesmerizing course nestles almost invisibly into the landscape. Community central is an eighty-year-old Spanish hacienda with world-class dining, nine guest rooms and a nearby sports complex. The Preserve's equestrian center is a world unto itself.
2 The Bear's Club Jupiter, Florida
Behind the forged-steel entrance gates, every aspect of development was supervised by a Nicklaus. The Golden Bear oversaw the course and housing concepts, while wife Barbara did the clubhouse interior. The Bear's Club will top out at only ninety-six residences at prices typically north of $6 million. An on-site concierge caters to residents' whims and an acclaimed chef runs the dining room.
3 Isleworth Orlando, Florida
To outsiders, Isleworth is best known for being Tiger's lair. But to insiders it's the little things that count: family Thanksgiving turkeys cooked by Isleworth's master chef. The 'tween dances for kids. The $25 million Sotheby's sculpture exhibition adorning the recently revamped course. The 7,000-square-foot men's lounge with golf simulator, putting green, gaming tables and basketball court.
4 Kiawah Island South Carolina
Best known for its resort with five courses (the Ocean hosted the 1991 Ryder Cup), the island is mostly residential. Picture shingled mansions and Charlestonian elegance framed by the Atlantic on one side, a majestic river on the other and marshland in between. Residents have two private courses, three clubhouses, two restaurants under chef Tom Colicchio, a spa and soon a new sports center.
5 Mayacama Santa Rosa, California
Nestled into the fabled Sonoma Valley, Mayacama boasts twenty-nine "vintner members" from surrounding wineries. Members have access to special wine allocations. The lyrical Jack Nicklaus course, traipsing through the hilly 675-acre property, has a top-flight caddie program and is walking only.
6 Wade Hampton Cashiers, North Carolina
Tucked into a perfect Appalachian valley between Asheville and Charlotte, Wade Hampton is a cool summer retreat for Southerners and a cultural retreat for others. The community, limited to 280 homesites, is understated but traditional; men must wear slacks on the golf course and jackets at dinner. The Tom Fazio course is one of the best mountain layouts in the world.
7 Estancia Scottsdale, Arizona
Estancia is justly famous for Tom Fazio's magnificent course, which wraps around Scottsdale's landmark Pinnacle Peak and offers spectacular views of the high Sonoran Desert. Equally splendid, however, are the 32,000-square-foot clubhouse, the fitness center, the Tuscan-style houses in low density (only 267 homesites on 640 acres) and the community's exclusive cachet.
8 Sea Island Georgia
Some families have been returning to this Old South enclave for five generations, but ongoing improvements have propelled Sea Island to a whole new level. In addition to fine dining, a new spa to open this summer and the grand old Beach Club, residents enjoy three courses—including Tom Fazio's ethereal redesign of Seaside—excellent golf instruction and arguably the world's most beautiful practice facility.
9 The Cliffs Communities Travelers Rest, South Carolina
Four separate communities, perched in the exquisite Appalachian landscape on both sides of the South CarolinaNorth Carolina border, are united with a common membership. The Keowee, Walnut Cove, Valley and Glassy communities all have great golf, great food and outstanding amenities, such as marinas, stables and extensive spa and fitness services.
10 Promontory: The Ranch Club Park City, Utah
In summer, an equestrian center, a fly-fishing outfitter's cabin and fifty miles of hiking trails augment the aesthetically over-the-top Pete Dye course, with a Nicklaus course to open this spring. In winter, residents have their own staffed ski lodge at nearby Upper Deer Valley and some of the world's best snow. Year-round: a huge spa and multiple clubhouses, including one of 5,000 square feet just for kids. Located thirty miles from Salt Lake City.