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24 Places to Settle Down

When you're looking for a place to buy a golf home, sorting through all the possibilities can be daunting. How do you know which areas have the best weather, day in and day out? Which have the lowest crime statistics? And of course, where is the best golf?

We have tried to do much of that work for you. Our goal was to provide a wide range of regional choice for golfers contemplating the good life. We began by dividing the U.S. into six macro regions. They include Florida & Gulf Coast, Atlantic, Great Lakes, Sunbelt South, Mountain West, and Pacific.

We then selected the most desirable areas in each one, based on availability and caliber of golf facilities, for a total of 24 best places to settle down (see our sortable table, "Best Places to Settle Down"). The smallest, in the Sunbelt South region, is a one-county area in the Lake of the Ozarks. The largest, in the Great Lakes region, is a 14-county golf mecca in northwestern Michigan.

You should know that within the Florida & Gulf Coast and Pacific regions, Florida and California received special treatment. Because they offer hundreds of golf communities, each state could qualify as a macro region itself. Instead, we identified the major golf-driven areas in each state and averaged them together. The Florida statistics are a blend of numbers from the southeastern part of the state, the southwestern section, Orlando, and Tampa/St. Pete. California comprises Palm Springs, the Monterey Peninsula, and San Diego.

Climate was a key factor in our decision-making. We have selected a wide variety of climactic zones. Although our emphasis is on warm-winter places, we have profiled a number of great four-season locations. We also assume that golfers will travel between regions to seek out the best playing conditions. Turning to Dr. Stephen J. Stadler, an applied climatologist at Oklahoma State University, we have developed a measure of golf climate that quantifies the number of playable golf days at each location.

Golf is just part of the golf-home equation. Golfers want access to quality facilities, but they also want to be safe, live in an environment with relatively low traffic density, have excellent health care, and affordable housing. Our Quality of Life Index is derived from the FBI county crime data on violent and nonviolent crimes, American Medical Association health data, U.S. Transportation Department commuting information, and the American Association of Realtors housing-costs surveys.

Finally, we have assembled data on the number and quality of facilities in each region. The Database of Golf in America is the source for the number of 18-hole equivalents per avid golfer in each region. Golf Digest's Places To Play, published by Fodor's and updated every two years, documents the quality of golf, based on reader ballots. We developed a ranking index using the number of courses rated 3.5 or above (out of 5) in Places to Play. In the individual charts, we averaged the two golf numbers for the ranking .

The end result is a matrix of 24 second-home golf destinations. Our rankings are based on five quality-of-life variables and two golf indicators. We have summed up these seven variables to create our overall ranking of the best places to settle down. We also decided to give each variable--crime, congestion, cost of housing, health care, climate, and the two golf indicators--equal weight. That may not reflect your priorities. If housing costs are more important than safety, say, you can double- or triple-weight housing and refigure. By Ron Kaspriske

Research by John Rooney, Phd

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