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Will you ever get a better deal Stateside?

Outstanding courses, impeccable service, good all-year-round weather and quality property cheaper than at any time for three years. What’s not to like? Peter Swain tees up real estate in Florida & the Carolinas

Golf in the USA is big, big business. Incredibly, 17,000 or so of the 32,000 courses that exist worldwide are in the United States. And, when it comes to the game we all love, American standards of design, course conditioning and service arguably set the benchmark for the rest of the golfing world.

All of which – for anyone tempted to invest in a second home across the pond – makes the idea of owning a property on or near a golf course a very tempting one. Especially at this point in time, as we all know the American property market has been a bloodbath of late. July's $105,000 average price for condos (apartments) in Florida marked a 52.1 per cent decline from the $219,000 peak in July 2006.

However, the signs over the past few months would seem to indicate the market has bottomed out, with prices stabilising or even showing slight gains in certain areas. So, for Brits buying abroad – and America ranks number two after Spain in terms of popularity – there's never been a better time to look at what the US has to offer.

From a British perspective, there are some truly outstanding destinations for playing the odd game of golf, such as California, New York,Michigan or even Las Vegas;while there are others on the east coast – Florida and the Carolinas, for instance – where the weather, shorter flying times and family-friendly facilities actually make buying a second home a more realistic proposition.

The Sunshine State of Florida has 1,478 courses, most of them public. Flights to Orlando and Miami (and even Tampa over on the west coast) are relatively cheap, and you hardly need me to tell you there are plenty of attractions for non-golfers. Florida is one of the world's major tourist destinations. Disney World, Universal Studios, the Everglades and beautiful beaches (particularly on the Gulf of Mexico) are just some of the many reasons why around 70 million people visit every year. It's long been a popular choice for overseas buyers and investors, and, taking all this into account, now could well be the ideal time to make the jump? Many experts believe so.

The American property market has been in free fall, with the number of distressed properties or 'foreclosures' increasing at an alarming rate. The foreclosure market currently accounts for more than 40 per cent of transactions in Florida, according to the National Association of Realtors.

However, if you're in a good to position to buy, there are some great deals to be had. "Do it immediately!" says James Wyatt, partner at golf-property specialists, Barton Wyatt. "Take advantage of the current exchange rate and market conditions. Now is the time to buy in America. We'll get to next summer and people will be wishing they'd made a move. We're already seeing prices in some exclusive parts of Florida creeping back up, so the time to buy is now."

Lee Weaver from The British Homes Group says: "In all our 30 years of helping UK buyers find Florida property, the market has never been so full of bargains." Charley Prichard, Sales Manager for Knight Knox International, who is currently promoting three developments in Florida, is also enthusiastic about the potential. "It's the place to buy at the moment, and it's real, it's not off-plan. It's one of those situations where people will look back in the future and say, 'Why didn't I do it?'"

Sarah Stirk recently spent some time in Florida taking a closer look at the market, and, of course, enjoying the fairways. She simply couldn't believe what you could get for your money. It's a buyer's market, so here's a closer look at some of the incredible offers she found.

ORLANDO - IT AIN'T MICKEY MOUSE!

Orlando is quite simply the most-visited holiday destination on Planet Earth. Over the past 20 years, that popularity has created a property boom. Being relatively easy to get to, and boasting a fabulous climate, it's not surprising that the city and its suburbs are a popular choice for British buyers lured by the combination of family fun, top-quality golf courses and reliable rental returns. It has, however, been hit harder by the credit crunch than most areas in Florida. Feltrim Developments have numerous projects in the state, one of which is the Horizons at Grenelefe golf resort. This substantial resort boasts three golf courses, a marina and a spa. One-bed condos start from around $99,000 (£60,000).

In Canary Island Circle, near Disney, Feltrim is offering a family home with four bedrooms and two bathrooms and its own private garden with a heated and screened swimming pool. The property sits within a gated community that boasts an 18-hole golf course and fishing lakes, and is currently on the market for just $115,000 (£70,000). Feltrim's ebullient Managing Director, Gary Kenny, warns against even cheaper bargains. "You can buy condos for $60,000 (£36,000), but the Home Owners Association, which takes care of insurance and maintenance, is probably broke."

Another resort worth considering is Reunion, which features three signature golf courses (by a non-too-shabby trio of Arnold Palmer,Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus), the Annika Academy and an on-site water park.

Members can also join 'The One Club', which allows free use of two sister communities, Bella Collina and Hammock Beach. "The current condo prices start in the low $100,000's (£60,000), and increase up to the $500,000's (£300,000).Three years ago, you couldn't get a condo here for less than $400,000 (£242,000)," commented Ross Brewer from Imagination Realty, who works with Reunion.

Elsewhere, Bella Collina, featuring a superb Nick Faldo-designed course and an extravagant clubhouse, is also definitely worth a look. Management has shifted from Ginn Properties to Reynolds Clubs, which has guaranteed its future stability, and the prices have come down considerably. Building plots that once sold in the $500,000's (£300,000) can now be purchased for a tenth of that cost, and lakefront lots that once sold for over $1.6 million (£1 million) can be bought for less than $75,000 (£46,000).

Of course, if you want to mix it up with some of the world's top golfers, play at one of Florida's finest courses, and all within 10 minutes of Orlando International Airport, then check out Lake Nona. This exclusive Orlando-area golf and country club is so special that Ernie Els, Ben Curtis, Chris DiMarco, Retief Goosen, Trevor Immelman, Graeme McDowell, Mark McNulty, Ian Poulter, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and Annika Sorenstam all have homes there.

The Tom Fazio-designed Lake Nona setup is golfing nirvana for very heavy hitters. Homes range from $1million (£604,000) to $7 million (£4.2 million), so this is lottery winning fantasy time for most of us. But having been privileged to play the course, trust me on this: every inch of the 7,215- yard course is quite simply immaculate. If I had the money, I wouldn't think twice. The professional golfing stars' endorsement of Lake Nona also demonstrates that Florida is the pre-eminent destination for winter golf. If it's good enough for them, it'll probably work for the rest of us.

NAPLES - HEAD WEST FOR THE BEST

Orlando might be the safest bet in terms of rental yields, but Naples is arguably Florida's property current hotspot. There are dozens of top-class golf courses, great beaches and a vibrant social scene, and it's also highly regarded for its school system and low crime rate. "It used to be the Bournemouth of the US, but the demographic is getting much younger.You pay a premium here because it's a sought-after place. It's very up and coming, just a fabulous part of Florida,' said Charley Prichard.

While in Florida, Sarah played TPC Treviso Bay, host of an annual Champions Tour event.The course was superb,with particularly good greens. Members here enjoy the nationwide network of TPC courses, including the infamous TPC Sawgrass up in northern Florida near Jacksonville. Property on the development isn't cheap, starting at $500,000 (£300,000), but may never be cheaper. It's set to be one of Florida's prized developments.

Not all Naples property costs the earth, though.The IBIS Club is a gated community with heated pools, a 24-hour fitness centre, a nature preserve and an on-site golf course. Again, prices have reduced by around 80% since their peak. One-bed condos start at $70,000 (£42,000).

Slightly more expensive, but still cheap by Naples standards, is the Marbella Lakes development, where Carriage Homes start from around $208,000 (£125,000). Remember, with all these properties, you can take your pick from an abundance of courses in the region.

Those selling property in Florida will always say 'now is the right time to buy'. There does seem to be a groundswell of opinion that prices have fallen as far as they're going to, but with a 10-month supply of foreclosure property, they could remain depressed for a while.

Florida contacts:
www.bardellrealestate.com
www.marbella-lakes.com
www.bartonwyatt.co.uk
www.knightknox.com
www.ibisclubcondo.com
www.britishhomesgroup.com
www.imaginationrealty.net
www.trevisobay.com
www.horizonsatgrenelefe.com
www.feltrim.com
www.reunionresort.com
www.bellacollinagolf.com
www.lakenona.com

THE CAROLINAS - A HIGHLY RATED ALTERNATIVE

Florida isn't the only game in town. Further up America's eastern seaboard, South Carolina has two quite outstanding centres of golfing excellence: Kiawah Island, within easy reach of historic Charleston, and Myrtle Beach – the 'Grand Strand', an area rammed with terrific golf at value prices. The state is known for its subtropical coastline, also called the Low Country, and its sea islands. You can find terrific beaches, swampy marshes (homes here come with 'marsh-views') and palmetto groves. As with Florida or anywhere else in the US, you have the choice of living right on a golf development, which adds up to 25%to the cost of a property, or living off-resort and driving a little further and paying more to play. Kiawah Island, for example, has no fewer than seven golf courses, of which five are public and two are private. The most famous, Pete Dye's stunning Ocean Course, which hosted the 1991 Ryder Cup, the infamous 'War on the Shore', and which will make headlines again in 2012 as the venue for the PGA Championship, is a public course (albeit a pricey one).

Property prices at Kiawah are off about 35% since 2006, and there are currently 90 resale properties available. A small one-bed villa on Shipwatch Road that cost $450,000 (£272,000) in 2006 is back on the market at $295,000 (£178,000). A three-bed lakeside house at Parklake now costs $599,000 (£362,000) – that's down nearly 30%in three years. There is clearly some optimism in other areas, however. The brand-new Cottages at Cypress Point start at $1.1 million (£664,000). They're being built across a lagoon from the 5th hole of The River Course under large canopy trees, and the price includes membership to The Kiawah Island Club, offering private access to Tom Fazio's stunning River Course and Tom Watson's classy Cassique set-up. (Note: only property title holders are entitled to join the The Kiawah Island Club as a member, with initiation fees currently $150,000, with yearly dues $12,000. For value and variety there are several public courses within striking distance, while Charleston (and its airport) is just 30 miles away.

A 60-mile strand of white, sandy Atlantic coastline makes Myrtle Beach a favourite holiday destination.Over 14 million people a year visit the area, which has been voted the number- one family beach destination in the US. Myrtle Beach almost matches Kiawah for quality but drives right past it for quantity – 100 courses are dotted around the region.The Tom Fazio and Pete Dye courses at Barefoot Resort are outstanding, as are TPC Myrtle Beach, the Dunes and Tidewater. All are public courses, and there's enough choice within an hour's drive to give players of all abilities an absolute blast.

After a very sticky couple of years, with prices off 50%, things are stabilising. 'Myrtle Beach is a place where regular guys come to play golf,' says agent Terry Adams of Condolux. 'The private resorts have taken a hammering in the recession. Up to 50% of our business now comes from foreclosures.' Expect to pay $260,000 (£157,000) for a two-bed condo in the Windy Hill area of North Myrtle Beach; a large seven-bed house with a pool can be bought for $695,000 (£420,000). The budget-conscious might go for a two-bed condo at The Gardens overlooking the Cypress Bay Golf Course, a snip at $128,000 (£78,000).

Myrtle Beach has its own airport, with connections to international hubs. Tragically, Hooters Air, sponsored and staffed by the restaurant of that name, and once based at the airport, has gone bust, so no longer services travelling golfers.

For British buyers, a key part of the decision to buy or not, is the exchange rate, currently at about £1 to $1.65, approximately the mid point of the last year's mad gyrations. If you think the dollar has further to fall, hang on. But otherwise, there are better opportunities for British buyers right now in the US than at any time in the last 10 years.

Kiawah/Myrtle Beach contacts:
www.kiawahisland.com
www.condolux.net

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine






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