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America’s Top 100 Golf Communities: The Top 25

1. Pronghorn

Bend, Oregon

Six hundred paces into the volcanic caverns beneath the Fazio golf course at Pronghorn is an unlikely office where Ron Davis, the community’s director of development, toils by lamplight with old Pink Floyd albums as background music. Davis emerged one day from his nontraditional workstation with sketches and plans for Tesana, a new enclave within this ever-evolving high-desert community. An influential California architecture firm, Bassenian/Lagoni, executed the idea in a style that merges Tuscan villa living with a “contemporary organic” theme drawn from Frank Lloyd Wright. These homes have smaller footprints and price tags than most Pronghorn housing, but an enviable location on “the peninsula” between two (distinctly different) golf courses. Their arrival is Pronghorn’s big news maker of 2008. Start-up of construction on a long-awaited hotel will be 2009’s major move.

2. Palmetto Bluff

Bluffton, South Carolina

The resort component of this new-but-very-old community in the Lowcountry is featured prominently in this issue (see “May River Anthology”). Resident members instill a warmth and sense of ease to daily life at Palmetto Bluff—a factor that guests of the Auberge-managed inn have remarked on. Just as the pace of life here is leisurely, development phases are very unrushed. Thus, we’ll have to wait a while to see what the Coore-Crenshaw design team does with Palmetto Bluff’s second course.

3. Santa Lucia Preserve

Carmel, California

Along the creased hills where vaqueros in their skirted saddles herded Don Estevan’s cattle, modern-day Californians savor morning gallops on mounts of their own. The Preserve’s equestrian center, with its arenas, pastures and sheltered paddocks, is part of an amenity package that gets lost in the community’s natural grandeur. An artsy, unstressed Carmel spirit laps into SLP, making way for visiting-artist programs and a “Midsummer Night’s Dream” black-tie musicale that takes place in a clearing among ancient redwoods uplighted for the occasion. Out on the beautifully upholstered Tom Fazio golf course, fewer than ten thousand rounds are played each year.

4. Mayacama

Santa Rosa, California

The terroir of the creased hill country east of Highway 101 in Santa Rosa favors golf courses as well as the cultivation of wine grapes. Mayacama is the natural product of those climatic and topographic conditions. Not everyone knows that quarter-share ownership is an option here. You can buy your way in for ninety nights of residence in a large, professionally decorated home (with wine storage, naturally) and attentive service before, during and after your stay.

5. The Cliffs Communities

Travelers Rest, South Carolina

Cliffs-branded properties have innovated for years with their wellness centers, reciprocal amenities and little extras like America’s first Tiger Woods–designed golf course. But golf communities face competition from the ever-growing destination club industry, and Cliffs founder Jim Anthony is virtually alone in pushing back. He’s been collecting far-flung, exotic getaway properties under the banner of the Cliffs Retreat Collection. Should life in the Cliffs’ eight Carolina communities induce ennui, a member can bivouac off to Patagonia, Chile, or either of two beachheads in British Columbia.

6. Kiawah Island

Kiawah Island, South Carolina

The Kiawah Island resort is about to celebrate its thirty-fifth anniversary, believe it or not. In the meantime it is prepping its famed Ocean Course to host the 2012 PGA Championship. Few communities on this list offer a range of price points for real estate comparable to Kiawah’s. You could pinch out $315,000 for a one-bedroom villa or empty the vault to the tune of nearly $19 million for an ocean-view estate. Praises continue to be sung for Tom Watson’s Cassique Course at the private Kiawah Island Club, with its stark, dune-style shaping and the tall, brushy grasses that rim many greensites. Cassique’s arts and crafts–inspired clubhouse matches the artisan look of Watson’s course nicely. A less-touted component of Kiawah’s club lifestyle is the Sasanqua Spa, a panacea palace surrounded by long and lovely marshland views.

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