The Club Life | Social Networks That Can’t Be Hacked
Once upon a time, retirement communities were built around amenities like golf courses and recreation centers with pools and tennis courts. Social life revolved around the country club or racquet club or other popular activities like boating and gardening.
Today’s active-adult communities offer that and so much more. Baby Boomers still play golf and tennis (or, increasingly, pickeball), but we also like some diversity in the things we do and the connections we make. What may have begun coincidentally in some places—“You collect stamps, too?”—has become a proliferation of “interest clubs” that are changing the dynamics of community social life.
Large planned communities can have 100 or more active clubs, but every community these days has dozens of groups where you can share your writing, learn to play an instrument or sculpt a vase, enjoy sports and games from kayaking to keno, and give something back by tutoring a student or helping the needy. The bonuses are new social networks created and a quality of life enhanced.
“‘Relationships’ is one of the three core Cresswind lifestyle components,” says John Manrique, Vice-President of Marketing for Kolter Homes. “Clubs are a major part of creating, growing, and strengthening personal relationships in our communities.” Kolter began to develop its Cresswind brand for age 55+ homebuyers in 2010, and today there are eight communities in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida. While each site was chosen to enhance active-adult options in its area and offers distinctive amenities, all began the planning process in the same place.
“We design our Cresswind communities around the clubhouse as the social and activity
center for our residents,” says Manrique. “It’s the starting point for each masterplan and then we design the clubhouse itself with a flexibility of space for future uses. Our residents are empowered to create and lead the clubs that they and their neighbors are interested in exploring together. Most have a book club and a cooking club, but we also have clubs for horseback riding, canoeing and kayaking, and even triathlon training. And we’re especially happy when they take the initiative to address a need in the area, so we’ve got clubs that lead food drives, mentor students, build homes, and raise funds for a variety of good causes.
“To accommodate that diversity of interests,” he continues, “we have a lifestyle director at every location to help establish new clubs, schedule events, and reach out to the surrounding community. As interests change over time, we want their opportunities to expand as well. After all, how many pickleball clubs were there 10 years ago?”
For most Cresswind residents, there are no additional dues to pay. “Access to and the full use of all on-site facilities is included with membership in the property owners’ association,” Manrique says, noting that groups like travel clubs set their own budgets for off-site adventures. And while none of the Cresswind communities have their own golf courses, most partner with local clubs that offer access and discounts.
True to the core component of “relationships” in the Cresswind communities, each hosts a monthly cocktail party or potluck dinner in the clubhouse so that new residents can meet their neighbors and find out about existing clubs and activities. Those mixers are appreciated not only by couples, but also by those who are single, divorced, or widowed. “And we recently heard from a new owner in our Cresswind Peachtree City location near Atlanta,” Manrique concludes. “She had decided to move in a few months ahead of her husband, who was finishing up his business back home. She thought it might be a lonely time, but instead was delighted to join several activity clubs and found she was busier and happier than ever. That’s what it’s all about.”
Located on Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau between Knoxville and Nashville, Fairfield Glade is an established community with a 50th-anniversary celebration planned for 2020. It’s also a vacation resort, which means that Fairfield Glade has amenities that include five 18-hole golf courses, a Racquet Club with indoor/outdoor courts for year-round play, and meeting facilities at the Conference Center, which is adjacent to medical services the Wellness Complex.
“Our monthly fees are a fraction of what you’d pay for most other homeowners associations with amenities we have,” says Fairfield Glade’s director of marketing and events, Mary Jo Paige. “We use a ‘pay-as-you-play’ model where our residents and members get a reduced rate for what they actually use. Guests pay a different rate and those fees help to keep member dues low.”
The abundant facilities are an obvious draw, but a half-century of experience has taught Fairfield Glade that interest clubs are the heart and soul of community life. “We have more than 50 different active clubs today,” says Paige, “representing just about everything imaginable. In addition to our golf and racquet clubs, we have groups for fishing, birding, cycling, chess, softball, card games, quilting, kayaking, photography, and writing, to name just a handful. And since all are organized by our residents, new ones are created every year. In addition, we have an events team that plans and manages more than 130 community events every year.
“We’re especially proud of our spirit of volunteerism that supports charitable activities,” Paige continues. “The Fairfield Ladies Club is one such organization with nearly 500 members. And Fairfield Glade hosts our “Get Involved Expo” every year, where over 40 local non-profits can inform our residents about their good work and recruit new volunteers.”
Paige also cited an example of a Fairfield Glade interest club that has, literally, branched out into the surrounding area. “Years ago, a group of residents started a ‘Friends of the Trails’ club to promote hiking and trail building within the community,” Paige says. “Today we have more than a dozen great hiking trails in Fairfield Glade, which the club members maintain.” Many Fairfield Glade residents have gone on become “Friends of the Cumberland Trail,” putting their experience and enthusiasm to work in establishing what’s well on its way to becoming a 200-mile Tennessee trail.
Regular items on the Fairfield Glade schedule are the newcomers’ events that acquaint recent residents with available clubs. “Our residents come from all over the country and bring with them a diversity of backgrounds and interests,” says Paige. “Our activity clubs get and keep them engaged socially and, most importantly, having fun.”
Compass Pointe is a master planned community on the North Carolina coast near Wilmington that offers residents an impressive amenities package and membership options.
The Compass Pointe Golf Club features a centerpiece 18-hole course that opened for play in 2016. Membership also includes access to the nearby 27-hole Magnolia Greens Course. The separate Grand Lanai Amenities Center is open to all, with a recreational lawn out front for bocce ball, a central building with flexible meeting space, a resort-style pool, a new indoor pool and lazy river, tennis/pickleball courts, and a wellness center with fitness facilities.
Amanda Marks is the Vice-President of Operations at Compass Pointe. “All property owners pay a monthly association fee for access to Grand Lanai amenities, plus common areas like the dog park, walking and biking trails, and lakes and ponds for kayaking and fishing,” she says. “Residents can also enjoy our golf course and restaurant on a ‘pay-as-you-go‘ basis or they can choose a full golf membership plan, which gives them unlimited play, access to members-only events, and significant food and beverage discounts.”
While new members are joining the golf club every month, community clubs that meet at the Grand Lanai are growing, too. “We now have more than 30 active interest clubs at Compass Pointe,” says Marks. “They’re all formed and run by residents. Our tennis club is huge with more than 250 members and our bocce club has 200 participants. We also have clubs for for everything from gardening, bowling, and knitting to card games of all kinds and Bible study. One of our more unique new clubs is ‘Professionals Without Walls’ for residents who work remotely and benefit from the interaction and networking opportunities.
“Giving back to the community is a big theme at Compass Pointe,” she continues. “For instance, we have groups that raise money for breast-cancer awareness and volunteer at local community theaters and animal-rescue centers. We also have a very active Veterans Club that organizes patriotic events and fundraisers, and our Culinary Club awards a scholarship every year to a local student studying to become a chef.”
In addition, Compass Pointe has organized a Singles Club for residents who appreciate companionship when attending Wilmington-area events. “Clubs are such an important way for people to make friends, especially when they’re new residents,” Marks says. “In fact, that sometimes happens before they move in: When our agents tour prospective buyers around on Sunday afternoons, they always stop at the rec lawn where the bocce club plays. Many times our guests will join right in and that’s how they make new friends who may soon become their neighbors.”
Kenny Walker is an SC golf icon whose pace challenges all golfers, no matter their age.
The ancient Greek poet Hesiod is credited with first observing that “moderation is best in all things.” For one member of Long Cove Club on Hilton Head Island in the South Carolina Lowcountry, that sage advice rings true—about everything but golf.
Kenny Walker was born in Massachusetts in 1936 but spent much of his youth in the textile town of Anniston, AL. Always a good student with an interest in the sciences, he earned a degree from Harvard. A new job in the growing plastics industry brought him to Greenville, SC, where he met a local girl who would become his wife.
“Hila and I got married in Greenville in 1960,” Walker says, “and after a stint in the military, we were living there when a neighbor’s boss very graciously let us use his new house in Sea Pines. Back then, you knew you were in the Lowcountry from about an hour out, driving on the narrow roads with the big, mossy oaks hanging over them. Even after you crossed over to the island on the old two-lane bridge, it was like that all the way to Coligny Circle on the south end. It was just beautiful.
“So we started vacationing on Hilton Head almost every summer,” he continues. “We’d stay at the William Hilton Inn, which was a very classy oceanfront hotel where you had to dress for dinner—jacket and tie required. One year, probably in the early 1980s, the club pro at Harbour Town, John Farrell, told me that I should check out Pete Dye’s new private course at Long Cove Club. After a friend invited me to play it, I told myself, ‘that’s where I want to live one day.’”
But, taking care of business came first, and Walker found that his growing passion for golf would play a significant role in both the journey and the ultimate destination of his life.
“I took up the game in my late 20s,” he says, “because I saw that it would be a big asset to take prospects out for a round of golf. In fact, with thousands of manufacturers in the plastics business, I made a decision early on to focus on the companies run by people who were also golfers. It worked out very well.
Do What You Love
“I started my own company in 1982,” he points out. “We were living up north, and when it reached the point that we could live anywhere we wanted to live, we first went to Atlanta. We also visited Aiken [South Carolina] frequently because our daughter lived there at the time and we liked it very much. But, we kept getting drawn back to Hilton Head Island.”
Kenny and Hila Walker moved into their new home in the Long Cove Club residential community in February 1991. Then, as now, the initial fee for club membership was built into the purchase price, so he was at the clubhouse and ready to play within days.
Play it Fast
“I couldn’t have been more warmly welcomed that first day,” Walker recalls, “and I got paired up with some guys who quickly became great friends. Since then, I’ve tried to be just as welcoming to new members. We form our own golf groups at Long Cove Club—my current group has about 40 people—and I’ve always thought it was important to include players of different ages and skill levels. The only thing I ask is ‘don’t be slow.’”
But Walker’s vigorous pace of play isn’t the reason for his status as a local golf icon; it’s his Iron Man durability: He’s the acknowledged (if unofficial) all-time record holder on Long Cove Club course with more than 6,000 rounds played and counting.
“Back in the ‘90s,” he says, “I played over 300 rounds a year—five or six, even seven days a week sometimes—and for most of those I’d walk the course and carry my own clubs. When you walk the entire 18 holes, it’s about five miles, plus the weight of the bag. Now that’s a good workout.”
Lead with a Club
Over the years, Walker also got involved with club leadership by serving on the golf committee, then being elected club president in 1996-97. He introduced player-friendly changes in course operation—allowing walking rounds any time of the day and carts on the fairways for the benefit of older members—and other improvements that have kept Long Cove Club among the nation’s top-rated private clubs. He also developed a friendship with Pete Dye (“he’s a treasure”) during the course architect’s annual visits to the club and supported investment in a complete restoration of the golf course that was completed in October 2018. “They did an excellent job,” according to Walker.
All the while, he’s continued to set course records: On December 5, 2016—at age 80— Walker shot his fourth hole-in-one on the Long Cove Club course, his seventh ace overall during a half-century of play. “I tell people these days that I don’t really play golf anymore, I play at it,” he muses. “But that was a pretty good shot.”
Now in his 82nd year, Walker has cut back his golf schedule to just two or three rounds a week, but enjoys the game and his playing companions just as much. Has that been his key to a healthy lifestyle?
Keys to the Good Life
“Well, I was blessed with great genes, and I watch what I eat. We have a lot of seafood and fresh vegetables,” he says. “And I do enjoy a cocktail, not every night, but I’ll have one when I want one.
“It’s no secret that I enjoy golf and being around people who make me laugh. I think that makes for a long and happy life,” Walker notes. “It’s important to do as much as you can to fill your life with the things you like to do and do them with people you enjoy. Being married to Hila is my greatest joy.” The Walkers recently celebrated their 58th anniversary and cherish time with their son and his family when they’re visiting from North Carolina, and their daughter and two grandchildren who now also live on Hilton Head Island.
That choice of location seems to have played a role in his happy longevity as well.
“Obviously, there’s been growth and a lot of changes since we moved here in 1991,” he says. “One new thing is that they’ve finally extended the runway at the Hilton Head Airport, so regional jets can fly in directly from Charlotte, and eventually Atlanta and other places. I think that will help to keep the island as a top retirement and vacation destination. But, one thing that hasn’t really changed that much is the natural character of the island. Hilton Head has done a magnificent job of maintaining the beauty of this place,” he concludes.
“And, the same is true of Long Cove Club—it looks great, the people have been so friendly, we have lots of good neighbors, and we share all these great amenities. We really have been blessed.”
Gracious and affable. Generous and polite. The folks at Long Cove Club will tell you that Kenny Walker is the kind of member who has made their community such a special place for so long. There was only one reason that he’d kindly point out that the hour allotted for this interview was up.
This is an especially good year to consider upgrading with a residential solar-power system for two reasons: the cost has never been lower and the 30% federal tax credit starts to disappear in 2020. Understanding how solar systems function will help you to determine the desirability of that investment.
How Solar Works
Every rooftop solar system has four essential components and an optional fifth.
Solar panels have photovoltaic (PV) cells that turn radiant energy from the sun into direct-current (DC) electricity. Each standard-size panel is 65 by 39 inches (5.4 x 3.25 feet), weighs around 40 pounds, and is typically rated for output at 300 watts. To install an average-size residential system that produces six kilowatts (kW) of electricity, you’ll need 20 panels covering an area of 500 square feet and weighing about 1,000 pounds with mounting hardware. All-weather panels are durable for at least 25 years. Rain removes most grime, but annual inspections may include professional cleaning.
A mounting system secures that half-ton array to the rooftop. Most roofs can handle the weight, while older ones may need reinforcement, but this is definitely not a DIY job. Ideally, the roof has a pitch of around 30 degrees, is unobstructed by trees, and faces south because east-west orientations can be about 15% less productive.
An inverter converts that DC electricity into the standard alternating-current (AC) that powers electrical devices. A performance monitor tracks how much electricity is being produced and used. Data is displayed on a wall unit and can be transmitted to an off-site service accessible online or with an app.
The performance monitor also keeps tabs on excess electricity being fed back to your local utility because you’re not off the grid yet, nor do you really want to be. Instead, it’s a two-way street: you’re both a producer and consumer as part of a net-metering system. For every kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity you generate but don’t immediately use (typically during the afternoon), you get a credit for sending it out on the wires for redistribution where it’s needed. Those credits are cashed in when you’re producing less than you’re using (morning/evening peaks, all night long and during inclement weather). There’s also an annual cycle of summer production versus winter usage. This ebb and flow results in either a credit surplus that can be carried forward according to utility policy or a deficit requiring a small power bill that’s far less than what you’re paying now on the one-way street of consumption only.
So why can’t you just keep all the power you create, use it as needed, and get entirely off the grid? With current technology, electricity is much cheaper to produce and distribute than it is to store. Hence, the optional component of your system: solar batteries. Until there are major breakthroughs in storage capacity, current batteries serve as little more than emergency back-ups and can add 50% to your total price.
HOW MUCH SOLAR COSTS
The good news is that the declining price of solar panels plus a growing number of competing installers have combined to make residential solar-power systems more affordable than ever. As an example using nationwide averages, the 20-panel/6-kW system described above has a gross cost today of around $20,000, including all equipment, permit, and installation charges. Deduct $2,000 for the rebates offered in many states, subtract the 30% federal tax credit from that subtotal and another $1,000 for state credits where applicable, and you’ve got a bottom-line cost of just $11,600.
OK, that’s a big chunk of change, but consider this: you’re paying $100 or more a month for electricity now, which is $1,200+ a year or more than $30,000 over 25 years. But, if your system hits the sweet spot of producing roughly the same amount of power that you consume annually in a net-metering system, your monthly bill will be $0—a total savings of about $18,400. And, several recent studies have shown that a residential solar system can raise a home’s market value by up to 4%; for a $300,000 property, that’s an increase of $12,000 on day one. If you can’t afford the entire up-front cost, there are financing options and even leasing plans. But, under current law, the 30% federal tax credit available in 2019 will decline by 4% each year in 2020 and 2021, expiring altogether for residential solar in 2022 unless the program is renewed, which is ironic because rooftop solar systems are renewable-power sources that enhance American energy independence, create skilled jobs, and may help to save the planet.
Women’s golf associations add to quality of life for all
“Our team-play formats enhance our goals of fellowship and fun on the course,” Gail Wickstrom said, a member of one of Dataw Island’s Women’s Golf Associations, “and we’ve found that our flighted groups help to create a circle of friends.”
Ever since the popularity of golf spiked in the 1990s, there have been more women on the fairways and greens than ever before. Many women who took up the game then now find themselves enjoying the bliss of grandparenthood and a more relaxed schedule with full-time employment behind them.
Ever since the popularity of golf spiked in the 1990s, there have been more women on the fairways and greens than ever before. Many women who took up the game then now find themselves enjoying the bliss of grandparenthood and a more relaxed schedule with full-time employment behind them.
For many such women who retire to a community with one or more courses, joining an established women’s golf association is a natural portal to improving their games and making new friends. But, in addition to personal health benefits and social networking, being a member of their club’s all-female golf group also makes them a part of our nation’s gender equality movement.
It may be hard to imagine today, but there was once a time in the not-too-distant past when women golfers at both public courses and private clubs were limited to less desirable tee times and permitted to hold events only so long as they didn’t conflict with the men’s schedule. Women’s golf associations formed to pool their numbers and clout to do away with those “traditions,” thus putting the game on an equal footing for all. The result has been gender parity at nearly all private clubs and a legacy that future female players will hopefully appreciate.
Thus, in communities large and small across the nation, women’s golf associations continue to be an important quality-of-life asset, creating new connections and dispensing with outdated norms.
The Landings on Skidaway Island
The Landings is a sprawling Georgia retirement and residential community that covers much of the high ground on Skidaway Island, located just east of historic downtown Savannah. Among the more than 8,000 homeowners are young families just starting out, multi-generational households, and retirees from most states in the union, plus a number of foreign countries.
Golf is the featured recreational amenity at The Landings, as might be expected in a community with six on-site championship courses crafted by some of the game’s most gifted designers. The Landings Club is the membership association for community residents who play those scenic layouts and is home to the largest women’s golf association among all private country clubs in America.
Founded in 1974 and with a current membership of around 450, the Landings Women’s Golf Association (LWGA) has provided a model to be emulated by scores of similar groups, especially in establishing that all-important standard of equal course access.
Women’s golf at The Landings Club employs a three-tier approach. The informal “Farm Team” program is designed for women who are new to the game or maybe only played a few times a year before retiring. Staff professionals at the club offer instructional classes and players are grouped with those of similar skills for low-pressure rounds.
The Landings Nine-Hole Women’s Golf Association (L9GA) is the next step for former “Farm Team” players and new residents for whom a Thursday morning half-round of fun competition best suits their schedules. Members of the LWGA are lower-handicap golfers who often fill up two of the Landing’s courses for their Tuesday morning flighted tournaments, among other monthly competitive events. And a “buddy system” gets newbies at each level right into the swing of things.
Gail Wickstrom is a Chicago-area native who currently serves as Chair of the LWGA Board of Directors. “When you’re as large a group as we are,” she said, “you might arrive for your first event and there are 100 women milling about and you don’t know any of them. So we assign a ‘buddy’ who meets the new member at the course, introduces her around, and generally makes her more comfortable with the group’s various programs and benefits.”
And while LWGA members certainly look forward to the special tournaments where individuals vie for the lowest scores, weekly competitions and most other events emphasize camaraderie. “Our team-play formats enhance our goals of fellowship and fun on the course,” Wickstrom said, “and we’ve found that our flighted groups help to create a circle of friends.”
Katherine Crew came to The Landings from Atlanta and got involved about a year after moving in with the L9GA, which itself has around 170 members. They play as teams, too, and Katherine especially appreciated the overall health improvements for their members. “One of our trainers from our fitness center comes [over] before we tee off to lead a stretching class. Everyone loves it!” she said. “Getting out on the course on a beautiful Thursday morning, having fun with some great ladies, and playing a nine-hole game of golf does wonders for your health. It certainly does for your well being, as we all have fun and there are always lots of smiles when we’re done.”
In addition to social events like luncheons and dinner dances, both of the women’s golf groups at The Landings serve as conduits to volunteer opportunities and fund raising for local charities. The L9GA sponsors a big tournament every October that’s open to all club members—even men—and raises money for the Kid’s Cafe, an after-school meal program for children in the Savannah area at risk of hunger. The LWGA has raised more than $700,000 in the past 13 years for cancer research with their annual Golfing for a Cure Tournament, while smaller events benefit local military families in need, the Second Harvest Food Pantry, and the holiday-season Empty Stocking Fund.
Making connections with new Landings friends and within the wider Savannah community are laudable accomplishments, but these groups take it one step further by breaking down barriers. “This is one of the most vibrant women’s golf associations that you can imagine, and very welcoming to all,” said Wickstrom of the LWGA. “No one here cares what you did for a living or how much money you made or what kind of house you live in.” And the L9GA’s Crew echoes that sentiment: “There’s no status quo with us.”
Located just up the coast in the South Carolina Lowcountry near the historic town of Beaufort, Dataw Island is a private residential and retirement community smaller in size than The Landings, but second to none in the quality of its golf. Both of the Dataw courses—Tom Fazio’s Cotton Dike and Arthur Hills’ Morgan River—are award-winning designs that have been recently renovated and have hosted numerous sanctioned amateur tournaments.
While Dataw Island Club members enjoy a variety of top-flight amenities, the Dataw Tennis Center was named in 2017 by the U.S. Tennis Association as one of the top four facilities in the country—golf is the most popular outdoor recreation.
“We have very active golf programs for both men and women,” said Director of Golf Dave Britton. “It is not uncommon for couples to move to Dataw Island where the husband is already a golfer and the wife is completely green, maybe even never having swung a club, and SHE ends up playing as often or even more than he does!”
The club’s flexible membership structure and access policies have certainly contributed to that growth in women’s golf participation. Dataw offers “al la carte” cafeteria-style membership plans that are renewable on an annual basis, allowing members to expand or change their choices as their lifestyles, interests, and schedules evolve. All members, regardless of plan, have access to the club’s golf practice facilities, can take part in free instructional clinics designed for new players, and may tee it up on the courses six times a year before joining a golf membership program. “This approach allows future golf members to get their feet wet before fully diving in,” Britton said.
Women golfers at Dataw Island Club, like their counterparts at The Landings Club, can then either move on after a learning period or jump right in to one of two golf groups. Or, like Celeste Nalwasky, a past president of the Dataw Island Women’s Golf Association (DIWGA), they can participate in both the 18-hole and nine-hole groups. She helps to coach new players and enjoys the casual fun of nine-hole outings but keeps her low-handicap skills sharp by playing in most of the competitive 18-hole tournaments.
“We were all beginners once,” said Nalwasky. “Golf is a fantastic way to get connected and to stay active.” Making a positive contribution to the local community is one way to establish those links: Among other charities it supports, the DIWGA recently raised more than $12,000 for cancer research at a single event.
Making new connections within the Dataw community and breaking down barriers are also major benefits of DIWGA membership. “One of the biggest drivers for golf participation is the social and welcoming climate that our members have for one another,” Britton said. “Making introductions and helping members get plugged into groups, whether you are seeking competitive play, a social group, or laughs and lagers, there are enough groups available that new members don’t have a hard time ‘fitting in’ as we hear sometimes can happen elsewhere. Perhaps most important to new members is that our existing members are very gracious and welcoming, regardless of your personal background or skill level on the course.”