Making The Grade

College towns can be great places to retire

Anybody watching retirement trends knows that college towns are top draws. Retirees and soon-to-be's are pouring in, attracted by the diversity, energy, culture, sports, and employment opportunities that universities generate. You can get all these advantages plus some great golf choices in many college locales.

To identify the best spots, we asked the Longitudes Group to crunch the numbers. It found more than 20 college towns with at least four quality private and public courses. Among them were predictable venues like Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill (Duke, University of North Carolina), Eugene (University of Oregon), and Boulder (University of Colorado). It also identified some less obvious towns such as Ann Arbor (University of Michigan).

At the top of the list is Austin, home of the University of Texas main campus. With the draw of a giant academic enterprise (45,000-plus students) and 11 top-quality golf courses and dozens more next-tier tracks, West Austin and the Hill Country are attracting thousands of retirees and second-home buyers. Michael and Kathy Poehl (pronounced "pell") are typical of the wave of newcomers. The Poehls lived and traveled all over the country as Mike, a chemical engineer, rose through the ranks at Amoco to plant manager and national sales manager. After looking in Colorado, South Carolina, and Florida, they retired in 2002 to Austin.

"For me, golf was going to be a central part of retirement, so I wanted to be in a place where the golf at all levels is superb," says Mike, 55, a 9-handicapper at Barton Creek Country Club, which offers four courses, two of them Tom Fazio-designed. Kathy is not a golfer, but she loves the theater, the arts, and being plugged into the campus. The move also has been a homecoming for Mike, who got his undergraduate degree at UT, and Kathy, who graduated from Texas State University, just 30 miles south.

If you have any doubts that a college environment might energize your retirement, follow Mike around for a few days and see him incorporate three or four rounds of golf every week amid his many other pursuits. He finds plenty of competition among fellow members at Barton Creek. And he plays in at least a dozen area tournaments each year. He also teaches two courses as an adjunct professor of chemical engineering at UT, attends almost every Longhorn home football and basketball game, and is helping launch a food-products company in nearby San Antonio.

In college towns, a connection with the university helps marketers appeal to future retirees. In Austin, for example, the giant Steiner Ranch development 30 minutes west of campus made a deal with the school to create the University of Texas Golf Club, a 7,225-yard Bechtol Russell layout that is home to the Longhorn golf teams. "We're signing a lot of young local members, but also a high number who plan to retire in the Austin area in the next decade or two," says membership director Dana DeLorenzo. She estimates more than 100 nonresidents have joined at half the full initiation fee (about to be bumped by almost 10% to $30,000) with retirement plans in mind. Just as the Barton Creek club named legendary UT football coach Darrell Royal (three national championships) as its chairman, the UT Golf Club nabbed as its chair Mack Brown, coach of the 2005 national-champion 'Horns.

More than 60 universities are associated with retirement communities. In Palo Alto, Calif., for example, the 388-unit Classic Residence by Hyatt sits adjacent to the Stanford campus on land leased from the university close to its storied golf course. "It's been fun to be able to play at Stanford and stimulating to live in a place where you get a chance to meet and dine with fascinating people drawn from all over the world," says attorney Frank (Sandy) Tatum, who won the NCAA Championship in 1942 while at Stanford and later became president of the U.S. Golf Assn. Though some of his fellow residents are Stanford alumni, many were attracted to the residence by its highly educated and affluent demographic.

In Austin, similar residences are going up at Barton Creek, where Royal will live and serve as vice-chairman of the Querencia residence, with 168 units opening in 2007. The Ex-Students' Association of the University of Texas and CRSA, a Memphis-based operator, plans to develop Longhorn Village, a $160 million senior residence affiliated with the Ex-Students and located near the UT Golf Club. The Village will offer residents continuing education in university courses and shuttles to performing arts events on campus. It's clear that golf and the university culture both will be central to their retirement lifestyle.

By Mark Morrison

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