You have to hand it to the developers of America's premier golf communities. No matter what happens to the U.S. real estate market at large, there's no slowing these guys down. For them, the sky is always within reach.
Consider: At the Cliffs Communities, building a global headquarters for Gary Player Golf wasn't nearly enough, so this year they up and hired Tiger Woods to design his first U.S. course, the Cliffs at High Carolina. Likewise, at Reynolds Plantation, adding one of the best new courses of the year, the Creek Club, just wasn't going to cut it, so they had TaylorMade create the Kingdom at Reynolds Plantation, a hyper-realized instruction/fitting/lifestyle facility complete with famous tour pros as guides. For horse lovers, Palmetto Bluff is adding an equestrian center of, oh, 170 acres or so.
Even their shows of restraint are compelling: Balsam Mountain Preserve's commitment to protect thousands of acres on its property, for example, or Santa Lucia Preserve leaving twenty thousand acres of Carmel backcountry to the sharp-shinned hawk, the California condor and other worthy denizens. Hey, maybe you should be one of them.
The Top 25
1. Sea Island Sea Island, Georgia
This year marks the eightieth anniversary of the opening of the Cloister, that citadel of Southern hospitality around which the Sea Island community is built. The anniversary is a reminder that Sea Island has flourished as a resort even while building Frederica, the new jewel of its real estate operation. All of Sea Island's nine residential communities come highly recommended, but Frederica marks a leap forward. Its homes and club amenities luxuriate in a three-thousand-acre site on Saint Simons Island, five minutes from the hub of the resort and destined to comprise fewer than four hundred homesites. Resident members have their own golf course plus a boathouse adjoining a private, bass-stocked lake. They also have the run of Sea Island's exceptional resort amenities, including three additional courses, a spa, stables and a new beach club.
2. Palmetto Bluff Bluffton, South Carolina
Traditional pedestrian neighborhoods fitted with retro touches like brick and gaslight are an important trend in upscale golf communities, as is generous conservation of land. No golf community melds these two elements like Palmetto Bluff, where the village design (see previous pages) is spot-on and the conservation acreage is downright primeval. Recently Palmetto Bluff opened its River Road neighborhood, all brick, granite and wrought iron, bordered by a Lowcountry wilderness laced with trails. A riding facility with stables is set to open this spring. Boating, fishing, an award-winning spa and Jack Nicklaus golf are other standout amenities.
3. Santa Lucia PRESERVE Carmel, California
One of the more interesting residences in this globe-cooling community won an award for its "green" roof, built of sand and lava rock out of which grow sedge and wild strawberries. There is space in the Preserve's master plan for 130 golf courses, but they've built just one: a Tom Fazio layout amid redwoods and stately oaks. Eighteen thousand acres of protected land ensure "nothing will change here" for some time.
4. Maycama Santa Rosa, California
When in doubt, developers of golf communities turn to "Tuscan" or "Mediterranean" design themes. This community comes by its European sensibility honestly, through its vintner members and wine-country pedigree. The golf is walking-only on a highly praised Nicklaus design, vintage 2001. Homes are villas with courtyards or cottages on generous lots.