Tom head has been living in Boca Raton, Fla., for 35 years. Within a short drive of his house are dozens of golf courses. Since he's an avid golfer pushing 60, you'd think Tom was in the ideal spot for retirement, but he and his wife, Rita, think they've found something better.
"In addition to golf, we also like to ski, so we visited Red Sky Ranch a few winters back," says Tom, of the 700-acre golf course community set in a valley alongside the Rocky Mountains near Vail, Colo. "You couldn't even see the golf course that day because of the snow, but we knew this was where we wanted to be. It was so much more quiet and peaceful, and we were surprised to find a lot of quality golf out here. It made more sense than living in Boca year-round."
Tom and Rita did not know it then, but they were at the start of a trend when they chose Colorado ski country for their second/retirement home. The Glenwood Springs-Breckenridge area of Colorado, which includes famous resort towns Vail and Aspen, is No. 1 on Golf Digest/BusinessWeek's 2006 ranking of the 18 hottest retirement destinations for golfers. The ranking was compiled with the help of the Longitudes Group, a market research and consulting company in Omaha, specializing in sports, travel, and leisure. The ranking takes into consideration the number of golf courses built since 2000, as well as new courses in the planning or construction stages. That data is then coupled with such quality-of-life statistics as safety, weather (playable golf days), culture, health care, and airport access.
While many retirees are still flocking to traditional places such as Scottsdale, Ariz., Palm Springs, Calif., Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Naples, Fla., to get their golf fix, many others are now looking for spots that offer quality of golf and quality of life, but are far less congested. Glenwood Springs-Breckenridge is just one of many regions across the country where new golf-course construction has been matched recently by home purchases from baby boomers. Like Glenwood Springs or Vail, these are places you might not immediately associate with golf.
"This whole boom seems to be driven by the anticipation of the coming onslaught of baby-boomer retirees," says John Rooney, PhD, co-founder of Longitudes Group. "In addition to the golf opportunities, which seem to be growing rapidly in a number of places, improved airport access, less congestion, and a perceived or real improvement in quality of life are fueling this trend. This is just the beginning."
Adds Andrew Schiller, PhD, a geographer who created neighborhoodscout.com, a Web search engine for people looking to move: "Increasingly, people of retirement age are looking to live near ‘real' towns and cities. Places with character that are off the beaten path. They don't want plastic, retirement-only communities. They want places that are safe, clean, friendly, not crowded, and rich in services and amenities--golf included."
Of the 18 places on the Golf Digest/BusinessWeek list, here is a snapshot of seven hot retirement destinations across the country:
Glenwood Springs/Breckenridge, Colo.
Red Sky Ranch has received a lot of attention since it opened in 2002, but it's not the only golf development to make this area a viable retirement destination. Within the ski region are seven of Colorado's top-20 golf courses, as ranked by Golf Digest: Roaring Fork (Basalt, No. 11), The Summit Course at The Club at Cordillera (Edwards, No. 14), Breckenridge Golf Club (No. 16), Maroon Creek Club (Aspen, No. 17), Aspen Glen (Carbondale, No. 18), Ironbridge (Glenwood Springs, No. 19), and Raven Golf Club at Three Peaks (Silverthorne, No. 20). Ironbridge and another newcomer of note, Snowmass Village Club, are among nine other courses that are being built or have been built in the ski country since the start of 2000. Most are in housing developments.
Red Sky Ranch offers two golf courses designed by Tom Fazio and Greg Norman, ranked sixth and ninth, respectively, in Colorado by Golf Digest. It also has a David Leadbetter Golf Academy and is a 20-minute drive to the charming shops, restaurants, and ski resorts of Vail. Red Sky is close to Eagle County Airport, which is serviced with nonstop jet flights from 14 U.S. cities.
At Red Sky, prices typically start in the millions for homes and about $725,000 for one-acre homesites. Roaring Fork, a Jack Nicklaus course and private club, has timeshare opportunities in on-site cabins, or they can be purchased for year-round living for $2 million and up. Despite the high prices, baby boomers are attracted by the mild summers and by courses that are less crowded than in such areas as Palm Springs, Scottsdale, and Austin, Tex.
The biggest downside to the region is obviously the short season (May to October), and traffic in the winter on Interstate 70, U.S. Highway 24, and the area's other main arteries makes travel difficult. But in the summer it's much more peaceful, and the recent profusion of new courses makes it an attractive golf-retirement destination.
Kona-Kohala Coast, Hawaii
The Big Island of Hawaii features nearly every type of climate and topography, including snow-capped mountains; tropical rainforests; breezy beaches; arid, wind-swept plains; and erupting volcanoes. But it's the irruption of golf-course development on the windward side of the island that has made retiring golfers take note. Tourists have long known the area as a golf destination. Famous courses such as Mauna Kea (No. 3 in Hawaii), Hualalai Nicklaus (No. 10), and Mauna Lani North (No. 15) have been host to many professional tournaments as well as millions of vacationing golfers over the years. Many of those tourists who are of retirement age, particularly from California, have decided that if Hawaii is good enough for a two-week vacation, then it's good enough for a permanent home.
Golf is a key attraction. Since the start of 2000 the west side of the island has grown by 144 holes, including a second course at the Four Seasons Hualalai Resort in Kailua-Kona. Jack Nicklaus designed the first course there in the late 1990s, and Tom Weiskopf completed a second one two years ago. Also new to the area is the Kuki'o Golf and Beach Club, a private, Tom Fazio course. Most courses in the area are open to the public, however, and the views of the Pacific Ocean are stunning as the island gently rises from the beach up toward the peaks of Mauna Kea, Hualalai, and Kohala, three of the island's five major volcanic mountains. The red glow of molten lava sometimes can be viewed at night crashing into the sea. Such lava flows pouring down the countryside have created some of the most interesting hazards you'll ever encounter in golf. On most of the area courses, hardened lava rock, which has turned black, borders fairways and sometimes cuts across them.
Real estate isn't as high as you might think. It's possible to get a three-bedroom house with a water view for under $700,000. When you couple those prices with the warm weather year-round, the only drawback to Kona might be the five-hour flight from the continental U.S. For some, that's a bonus.
Plymouth County, Mass.
The pilgrims knew this was a great piece of land, but it took retiring golfers nearly 400 years to figure it out. Situated 40 miles south of Boston and 33 miles north of Hyannis, on Cape Cod Bay, the city of Plymouth and its surrounding county is now one of the most desirable retirement destinations for golfers in the U.S. At the heart of the retiree influx is a new master-planned community called The Pinehills, which offers condos starting in the $300,000 range and homes at a little more than $500,000. The community has three courses, including two public tracks designed by Rees Jones and Jack Nicklaus. Both are among the best public courses in the state, receiving 4 1/2 stars in Golf Digest's Best Places to Play guide. The community's third course is even more highly regarded--the Old Sandwich Golf Club, a Ben Crenshaw-Bill Coore design that finished fourth on Golf Digest's 2005 list of Best New Private Courses in the U.S.
Another of the area's key golf attractions is Waverly Oaks, which opened in 1998 and received 4 1/2 stars in Best Places to Play. Joining the roster a few years ago was the city-owned Crosswinds Golf Club. It started as 18 holes, but has an additional nine under construction.
The appeal of Plymouth is not just the new courses but its easy access from New York, Boston, and Connecticut. Unlike Cape Cod, which requires crossing one of two bridges for access, traffic is not a major concern in the summertime. The weather makes the golf season at least six months long, and the coastal location makes winters milder than other New England areas.
Fort Walton Beach/Panama City, Fla.
All it takes is one look at the powdery, sugar-sand beaches and the aquamarine waters along the Florida Panhandle coastline to know why retirees have discovered this 60-mile stretch along U.S. 98. For golfers, there's the bonus of roughly 20 new courses built since 1999 in a region that already boasted a sizable roster. Panama City also recently announced it will start construction on an international airport in 2007, opening up the area to more direct flights. And the cost of living is among the lowest of any major retirement area.
Camp Creek Golf Club, opened in 2001, is the area's best. The Tom Fazio-designed course, which is roughly halfway between Fort Walton Beach and Panama City, is ranked 30th in the state by Golf Digest. The club owners say it will soon be expanded to 36 holes. The first course is private but open to guests of WaterColor and WaterSound Resorts. Homesites at Camp Creek are being offered for less than $300,000.
Of the newest courses in the region, the highlight is a 2005 Gary Nicklaus redesign of Bay Point Resort's Lagoon Legend course in Panama City. It remains the only course on the Panhandle with the Nicklaus name. It was given 4 stars in Golf Digest's Best Places to Play guide. Bay Point's Meadows Course also will be redesigned in 2007. Another popular new addition to the region is Windswept Dunes in the bayside town of Freeport. The public course was built on 750 acres of sandy terrain that includes 20-foot high dunes. It's 7,607 yards from the tips, the longest course in Florida.
There are many desirable towns along the Gulf Coast, but Destin, 10 miles from Fort Walton Beach, remains the gem of the area. It has lost some of its sleepy, resort-town feel because of the influx of new residents, but it's still a small town in comparison with more well-known retirement areas such as Naples/Fort Myers and the Palm Beaches. Around Destin there are several courses, including three very good ones at the Sandestin Resort: Burnt Pines, The Raven, and Baytowne. All three received four stars or more from Golf Digest. Beachside condos at Sandestin start at $530,000.
Northwest Arkansas/Branson, Mo.
You might not have heard of Bentonville, Ark., but it's a safe bet you've heard of the company that calls the northwest Arkansas town its headquarters: Wal-Mart. The retail giant, and all the community growth it has brought in--jobs, new homes, etc.--is a big reason golfers have turned this area into a trendy retirement destination. The region, which includes the resort and entertainment town of Branson in southern Missouri, is also rapidly becoming known for its golf. There are more than 47 courses in a 95-mile radius from Fayetteville, Ark., to Branson. The Lake of the Ozarks region, including Mark Twain National Forest, makes it a very scenic place to live.
The top golf choices are Stonebridge Meadows in Fayetteville, ranked 10th in the state by Golf Digest, and two Branson-area courses: The Club at Porto Cima (Lake Ozark, No. 7 in Missouri) and Branson Creek (No. 8). Stonebridge and Branson Creek are open to the public, and each received 4 1/2 stars in Best Places to Play. Porto Cima is, by far, the region's best course, and the community that surrounds the Jack Nicklaus course on Lake of the Ozarks has homes that sell for under $500,000. Also not far from the region is Big Creek Golf and Country Club in Mountain Home, Ark., ranked fifth in the state by Golf Digest and a five-star course in Best Places to Play.
Two new courses in Northwest Arkansas also are getting a lot of attention: Shadow Valley Country Club, designed by Jerry Slack, in Rogers and the Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed Blessings Golf Club in Johnson. Shadow Valley is part of a master-planned community with three-bedroom condos for less than $300,000, and Blessings is a 7,500-yard monster.
Golf season is about nine months, and the entertainment options in Branson rival anything short of Las Vegas. The resort town is a hotbed for country- music acts, and its only real drawback is the lack of a major airport accessible from many big cities. Fayetteville has a regional airport, and Branson is opening one in 2008.
From the desert of Sedona to the pine forests of Flagstaff, the varied climate and topography of Northern Arizona has been stealing 50-somethings from traditional Arizona retirement spots Scottsdale and Mesa for some time. But golfers started paying even more attention to Prescott, Sedona, and Flagstaff in recent years as 108 new holes have been built since the start of 2000.
The four newest additions to the region worth noting are Seven Canyons in Sedona, Pine Canyon Club and Flagstaff Ranch in Flagstaff, and Talking Rock Ranch in Prescott. All four are private real-estate developments with homes starting in the $500,000 range. Seven Canyons, a Tom Weiskopf design, is the most striking with a 6,746-yard routing through the red rocks that make the area famous. Weiskopf, who is not someone to gush over anything, said the property "took my breath away" when he first saw it. Pine Canyon, which opened in 2004, and Talking Rock Ranch (2002) were designed by Jay Morrish. His previous work in Arizona includes Forest Highlands in Flagstaff, whose Canyon course is ranked No. 1 in the state by Golf Digest, and TPC of Scottsdale (home of the PGA Tour's FBR Open). Talking Rock ranks 19th in Arizona. Flagstaff Ranch, a Jerry Pate design, opened in 2004.
While private clubs are sprouting rapidly, the area also has a lot of public courses, including two in the tourist town of Sedona--Sedona Golf Resort (4 1/2 stars in Golf Digest's Best Places to Play) and Oakcreek Country Club (4 stars).
Aside from the golf, Arizona is an adult playground with the Grand Canyon less than an hour from Flagstaff, and Las Vegas, the Hoover Dam, and Lake Mead National Recreation Area only a few hours away. While Sedona offers incredible views of red rock buttes, as well as a bohemian artist community, Flagstaff is more of a pioneer town, with bearskin rugs covering the floors of log-cabin homes. It snows in Flagstaff in the winter, but all it takes is an hour drive south down Interstate 17 to get back into warm, golfable weather.
Plumas County, Calif.
Located in northeastern California, where the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges meet, Plumas County has more than 100 lakes, and 1,000 miles of rivers and streams with more than a million acres of national forest. Retirees, starting to discover this area in greater numbers, describe Plumas as Lake Tahoe without the traffic. It's 90 miles from South Lake Tahoe and roughly an hour from Reno, but far from either in terms of congestion. It's small and idyllic, and is rapidly expanding its golf options.
At the top of the list is Whitehawk Ranch Golf Club (4 1/2 stars, Golf Digest's Best Places to Play) near the town of Graeagle. This mountainside course, designed by Dick Bailey, is a hot spot for potential retirees, not just for the scenery and quality of golf but also for home values. Northern California real estate is among the highest in the nation, but a three-bedroom house on the golf course at Whitehawk was recently listed at $569,000. The only private club in the area--Grizzly Ranch in Portola--is also growing in popularity. Architect Bob Cupp designed the course in a valley alongside the surrounding mountains. There are a few other public courses in the area as well, including Plumas Pines Golf Resort (3 1/2 stars). Less than an hour away in Truckee, Calif., which is the gateway to the Tahoe/Reno region, is Lahontan Golf Club (No. 15 in California), a private course, and Coyote Moon, an excellent public course.
By Ron Kaspriske