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Real estate developers used to believe that the mere presence of the royal and ancient game of golf was glue enough to bind the members of a group into a community—and, assuming the course was first-rate, enticement enough to purchase a plot of land or a dwelling on the property. Our May 1995 report on buying a home in a golf community, “Where the Grass Is Greener,” reflected this notion. Golf was the undisputed center of these developments. The course was a golf community’s town common, its heart, its reason for being. The notion that residents might have interests beyond improving their handicaps was not reflected in the master plans.

 

Recognizing that layout and landscaping have their limits, some of today’s developers have taken a different tack toward distinguishing their communities, one that suggests golfers might want more from life than 18 holes a day. Golf skews slightly to older persons, and the baby boomers are still the “it” generation, but tastes have undoubtedly changed since the mid-1990s. Today’s prospective golf course community home buyer has no intention of retiring behind the gates to do nothing but make endless loops around the course and slowly fade away.

“We’ve learned there is an important difference between living in a golf community, and living in a great community,” says Jim Chaffin, co-owner of Chaffin/Light Associates, which has successfully developed several golf-oriented communities, all of which include top-notch golf course designs, exquisite clubhouses, and palatial homes. They also boast what Chaffin calls the software of the community: artistic and informational programs designed to entertain and educate the homeowners. Fine artists—painters, sculptors, and photographers—are invited to participate in residence programs, in which they live, work, and lecture at the community for months at a time. Over the years, donations from grateful artists have endowed each community with an impressive collection of art.

In addition, weekly lecture programs bring residents into contact with university professors, authors, investment gurus, and others who discuss local history, botany, current events, and other topics. “People arrange their entire weekly schedules around these ‘fireside chats,’ ” Chaffin says
Similar activities have sprung up at other exclusive communities around the nation, which previously offered only the once-a-month Saturday night dinner dance. Now, continuing education courses, investment seminars, and cultural events are part of the community amenity package.

A more recent trend is that of affinity communities. A new division at the Melrose Co. is planning golf communities for specific university alumni groups. Its first such project, the Georgia Tech Club, located north of Atlanta, will feature a new Rees Jones–designed golf course and an expansive practice range that will also be used by the university’s golf team. In addition, the club will have a lecture hall in which Tech alums can learn about the latest developments in hydroelectricity, nuclear propulsion, or quantum theory following a round of golf. Melrose is discussing similar projects for other universities.

The questions and issues that we advised house hunters to raise when community shopping in 1995 are still relevant today. But one might also ask the real estate agent: “When is the Bolshoi Ballet coming?”

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