Golf Life Navigators: Matching Snowbirds With Their Dream Golf Clubs and Homes in Florida

Thursday August 20th, 2015
Overwhelmed by the glut of great golf options in South Florida, including Old Corkscrew GC (above) A new service helps provide clarity.
Nile Young

For the next 18 years, 10,000 Americans will turn 65 every day. Meanwhile, 1,000 people move to Florida every day.

They can’t all fit in The Villages, can they?

They won’t have to. Finally, somebody out there can tell you where to relocate.

If you want to move to South Florida to live or retire and you want to join a private club, how do you pick from the 371 clubs in the region? How do you find a course—and maybe a residence? Too many choices.

Enter Golf Life Navigators (note: the company is in the process of re-branding), a collection of Florida-based PGA of America pros who have joined forces to provide the equivalent of eHarmony for golfers so you can find the golf course you want to, um, marry.

Brilliant, right?

It started as Jason Becker’s graduate school project and turned into a smart new business.

You fill out a questionnaire about your golf needs and desires, much like a dating service. Then the experts match you up with three or four clubs (or properties) to check out, and you take it from there.

The best part? There is no fee for this service. Golf Life Navigators signs up private clubs to pay them to bring pre-sorted, pre-screened potential members who are likely to join.

“We’re pros, we’ve all lived there forever, we know the golf properties,” Becker said. “All we need to know is what you’re looking for. How many days a week do you want to play? Does your spouse play? Are you interested in league play? Are you looking for social activities? We filter that information and suggest potential clubs. Often, they’re clubs the customer has never heard of. We use our local knowledge to make it like a personalized Auto Trader for golfers.”

The GLN crew does the same for real estate.

“When people found out that we could parlay homes with golf, it was huge,” Becker said. “Let’s say you live in Milwaukee and you’re coming to Florida. We arrange three or four courses that meet your budget for you to play and three or four homes in your budget to look at. So you come down with a plan in place so you have a support system on the ground instead of bouncing around haphazardly and asking questions. We do that for you.”

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Here’s a real-life case study from the GLN files involving a man from Akron, Ohio, who connected with GLN after deciding he wanted to move to South Florida: After questioning him on his preferences, GLN suggested three clubs—Quail West, Grey Oaks and Mediterra. The man booked a trip to Florida. On the golf course with his GLN handler, he mentioned how much he liked the architecture of the homes at Mediterra, a gated community in Naples.

“That jumped out so it became a real estate play more than a golf course play,” Becker said. “It was more about the home than the course.”

Within 90 days of his first inquiry the man was on the verge of purchasing a home and a membership at Mediterra. He was probably going to spend $1.5 million on a home and somewhere around $150,000 for an equity membership.

Private club dues in Naples range from $8,000 a year up to $20,000, with $12,000 about the average.

“When we first started, we thought our demographic age was going to be 64 to 65 years old,” said Lynn Josephson, another PGA member who teamed up with Becker. “We were way off. It’s much younger, about 52 to 54.”

Kevin Kuehl of GLN said, “They’re not all buying now, they’re planning. These are baby boomers turning into snowbirds. Clubs like us because we bring qualified prospects to the door. These general managers are getting prospective members who are already a fit for their clubs. Clubs affiliate with us for $3,500 a year and provide us all their info. In return, they get bios and feedback from people who didn’t join about why they didn’t. We’re just a better form of advertising.”

Another case study: A Canadian couple from Toronto called. They had already bought a beach condo in Naples. They knew there were 90 golf clubs in the county and weren’t sure how to pick one. The GLN staff consulted with them. The couple both play a lot of golf. The wife wanted a female pro she could take lessons from. The Country Club of Naples was a match for that. The couple went to the course, visited the membership director and bought a membership that evening.

“If she would’ve had to look for a female pro who teaches on her own, her research would have been endless,” Becker said.

One last case study: He was a CPA in Milwaukee, Wis., and was so busy that his wife did all the research for him via GLN. Their specifics: Her parents already lived in Naples but she wanted to find their own place. The husband has a plane and he wanted a place near an airport hangar.

“We found three great courses in the Fort Myers area—The Forest Country Club, Estero and Old Corkscrew,” Becker said.

“We couldn’t tell which came first so we turned it over to our real estate department. They looked for properties near courses that fit the price range. Since the husband had a plane, the wife said he couldn’t spend a lot on a membership.”

The couple visited three clubs and looked at real estate. Forty days later, they decided on a place and membership at Estero, with a hanger 30 minutes away. (GLN users also get a whole directory of useful information such as recommended dermatologists, air conditioner repairmen, pool service—the works.)

The business is up and galloping.

“It’s funny, it was a grad school project,” Becker said. "I was trying to figure out the process these people go through when they move. It turns out, there was no process. I talked to a lot of people who had gotten misleading information from a realtor or someone else who thought they knew the market. You spend your whole life getting to this point and then, it was just a roll of the dice. You don’t want to buy a membership at some place, spend 50 or 60 grand and then discover that you want out after a year. Then what do you do?”

Josephson said that one glitch in the old system was that realtors are often not golf-savvy and show customers only the two or three golf properties they’re familiar with. Another huge factor that realtors overlook, he said, is clubs' resignation policies in case things didn’t work out.

The GLN system is so popular, Josephson said, that he’s already gotten inquiries from clubs in the North who are interested in duplicating it. He turns them down.

“I don’t know a lot of people who are moving north,” he said, laughing.

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