There are more than 3,600 residential golf communities in the United States, and almost as many considerations in choosing one as your home. We weighed numerous factors property values, quality of golf, proximity to metro areas, health care and transportation to find the 50 best places to live. We also reveal the top picks in six important categories. From established favorites to chic newcomers, these communities are where you'll find your dream life.
Lots: $282,000-$3.75 million
Homes: $700,000-$7.25 million
Contact: 800-255-5519, desertmountain.com
When uber-developer Lyle Anderson announced plans in 1985 to transform a cactus-choked property outside Phoenix into a luxury residential community, he was greeted with dismissive laughter. Today, Desert Mountain is the gold standard against which all golf-course communities are measured. Perched high above the Valley of the Sun in northeast Scottsdale, Desert Mountain has 33 neighborhoods and 1,515 homes a runaway success by any yardstick and the golf has kept pace. Ingeniously marketed as the longtime home of the Tradition, a Champions Tour major, Desert Mountain has six courses, all designed by Jack Nicklaus. The most recent layout, Outlaw, was unveiled in 2004. Other choice amenities include grass tennis courts, a fitness center with personal trainers, wine-tasting events and nature hikes. But the key stat at Desert Mountain isn't the number of golf courses. The average asking price of a lot here in 1987 was $47,500. Today the few remaining parcels start at $282,000 and rise as high as almost $4 million. That's growth any homeowner can appreciate.
Kiawah Island, S.C.
Lots: $299,000-$9.5 million
Homes: $350,000-$9.9 million
Contact: 800-277-7008, kiawahisland.com
It's ironic that one of golf's most heated skirmishes the infamous "War by the Shore" at the 1991 Ryder Cup took place at its most sedate enclave. Kiawah Island, 21 miles south of Charleston, is home to more than 4,000 residents, a number that scarcely seems possible given the tranquil ambiance of the place.
Most property owners were drawn by the 10 miles of beach, 10,000 acres of maritime forest, and 30 miles of tidal marsh-tinged biking and hiking paths. The golf isn't bad either. In addition to Pete Dye's celebrated Ocean Course (ranked No. 33 on GOLF MAGAZINE's Top 100 Courses in the U.S.) there are six other tracks. Two are for the use of residents only: Tom Fazio's River course and Cassique, crafted by Tom Watson.
Two other noteworthy amenities contribute to the good-life feel on the guard-gate protected island: a new luxury oceanfront hotel, the Sanctuary, which opened in 2004, and the residents-only Beach Club, which sits on the opposite end of the island from the golf courses.
Santa Lucia Preserve
Lots: $900,000-$2.9 million
Contact: 831-626-8200, santaluciapreserve.com
Intimate isn't the first word that leaps to mind when considering a 20,000-acre residential development. However, if you accept the textbook definition of intimate "informal warmth or privacy ... fostering a friendly atmosphere" then you won't find a better example than Santa Lucia Preserve.
This exclusive development occupies pristine mountain terrain three miles east of Pebble Beach on the Monterey Peninsula. Only 300 home sites, at a minimum of five acres apiece, were made available. The rest of the land, comprising more than 18,000 acres, was permanently set aside to prevent further development, leaving a habitat for the wild boar, mule deer and bobcats that have roamed here since it was a Spanish ranchero more than 200 years ago.
Most homes nestle unobtrusively amid mountain meadows, 1000-year-old redwoods, ponds, streams and wetlands. The only outward signs of development are a 20,000-square-foot hacienda-style clubhouse that dates to 1924, an equestrian center, tennis and croquet courts, and a fitness center. The Preserve Club, a Tom Fazio-designed course, melts flawlessly into a landscape peppered by creeks and live oaks.
Lots: $250,000-$4.75 million
Homes: $965,000-$2.5 million
Contact: 866-316-5262, palmetto-bluff.com
Palmetto Bluff is proof that big packages can hold small wonders. This 2-year-old development occupies a massive 21,000-acre tract near Hilton Head Island, but while 35,000 people call that resort island home year-round, Palmetto Bluff is drawing the line at 2,917 units. That ensures residents of this Colonial-era plantation and lumber farm are guaranteed thousands of acres of untouched Lowcountry scenery.
Residential options include Headwaters, ten enormous family compounds, each with river and freshwater lake access, and May River Forest, which offers half-acre to eight-acre home sites. The hub is the waterfront Village, with its post office, bookstore, bakery and dock. Jack Nicklaus' May River Golf Club, a beautiful track that zigzags through river estuaries and over wildlife-filled marshes, was named one of GOLF MAGAZINE's Top 10 New Courses in 2005. The Inn at Palmetto Bluff has 50 guest cottages on-site. The River House at the Inn features fine seafood and a 4,000-bottle wine cellar.
Reunion Resort & Club
Homes: $585,000-$2.1 million
Contact: 877-REUNION, reunionresort.com
This Orlando-area community is evidence that Bobby Ginn is arguably the hottest developer in the Southeast today. Prices have skyrocketed since its debut in 2001, thanks in part to the legends behind the golf. Tom Watson and Arnold Palmer courses are open, as well as a Jack Nicklaus-designed track. Residents also enjoy the spa, fitness center, horseback riding, pool and numerous walking trails.
Lots: $450,000-$2 million+
Homes: $950,000-$2.5 million+
Contact: 800-541-9424, pronghornclub.com
In his Hall-of-Fame career, quarterback Joe Montana was applauded as much for his savvy plays as for his golden arm. No surprise then that Montana chose Pronghorn as his family's retreat. Since its 2003 debut, Pronghorn has attracted residents with active lifestyles to a solid menu of four-season fun, from skiing at nearby Mt. Bachelor to golf at its Jack Nicklaus course and a brand-new Tom Fazio layout.
Pronghorn's 640 acres are surrounded by 20,000 acres of protected federal land, which afford world-class hiking, biking, fly-fishing and whitewater rafting. But this community is as much about the setting as the amenities. Ancient lava rock ridges and panoramic views of the nine snow-capped peaks in the Cascade Range spice the scenery. And unlike the state's rainy west coast, central Oregon is high desert, with low-humidity summers and mild winters.
A 55,000-square-foot clubhouse is new for 2006, with a 10,000-square-foot spa and wellness center on the way in 2007. Currently, spa treatments are offered at the Trailhead, Pronghorn's family activity center. Unique to Pronghorn is its Connoisseur's Club, where experts on wine, scotch, cheese and chocolate preside at group tastings. The real estate samplings include 289 half-acre to one-acre home sites, 16 villas and the fractional ownership Residence Club.
Lots: $59,000-$2.75 million
Homes: $265,000-$4.45 million
Contact: 800-800-5250, reynoldsplantation.com
Halfway between Atlanta and Augusta, this 10,000-acre property includes 400 miles of shoreline on Lake Oconee, 80 miles of which are devoted solely to residential use. Other perks include two full-service marinas, a pair of swimming pools, a fitness center, walking and biking trails, and an on-property Ritz-Carlton Lodge. But all of these bells and whistles pale next to the variety of golf at Reynolds Plantation.
Bob Cupp's superb Plantation course (designed with an assist from Hubert Green and Fuzzy Zoeller) is a gentle, pine-lined layout. The Jack Nicklaus-authored Great Waters course opened in 1992 and put Reynolds on the map, in no small measure because of a stunning lakeside back nine. Tom Fazio crafted the 27-hole National Course, while the 2000 opening of the Rees Jones-designed Oconee Course confirmed Reynolds' status as a golf gold mine. And things are getting even better. Acclaimed architect Jim Engh is currently adding a new private club for residents and the community recently purchased the nearby Port Armor Club (also designed by Cupp), which has since been renamed Reynolds Landing. If your game needs polishing before you tackle these six tracks, there's also a Dave Pelz Scoring Game School and a sparkling new swing analysis lab from TaylorMade.
The Cliffs at Keowee
Lots: $200,000-$2 million+
Homes: $850,000-$2 million+
Contact: 866-213-2074, cliffscommunities.com
This lakeside community in the semi-mountainous northwestern corner of South Carolina is divided into three communities: the Vineyards, the Falls, and the Springs. Home to two Tom Fazio courses, there is also a Jack Nicklaus Design course too. Amenities include a full service marina, wellness center, equestrian center and dining facilities.
Kailua Kona, Hawaii
Lots: $2 million-$20 million
Homes: $6 million-$22 million
Contact: 808-325-4040, kukio.com
Discovery Land Company's first Hawaiian venture is the only totally-private beach and golf club available on the Big Island. Tom Fazio designed the two courses a regulation course and a 10-hole short course. When not playing golf, residents can enjoy the spa, on-site fitness center, sport fishing, hiking, horseback riding, surfing and more.
Sea Island Properties
Sea Island, Ga.
Lots: $750,000-$6 million
Homes: $2 million-$11 million
Contact: 800-SEA-ISLAND, seaislandproperties.com
There are several flourishing communities at this well-heeled retreat in the Georgia Lowcountry. Davis Love III lives in the Frederica community, with its new Tom Fazio design, while the Ocean Forest neighborhood has a seaside Rees Jones layout.