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Golf & Retirement

The Cost Of Golf In Retirement

5 couples share what it's like -- and what it costs

November 2010

Like "big-headed driver" and "affordable green fee," the term "golf retirement" doesn't mean what it used to.

As baby boomers move into their post-career years, they're stretching the concept in all-new directions. For some, retirement represents a chance to combine multiple passions in active lifestyles their parents never would have imagined (golf half the year, skiing the rest of the year). Though many still find their bliss in classic retirement communities, others are heading out in new directions: to university towns, where youthfulness and cultural diversity exist alongside a full calendar of country-club activities; to geographically remote -- but economically advantageous -- corners of middle America; to the desert and the mountains of the Southwest, achieving the perfect year-round climate.

To get a sense of what life is like for today's retirees -- and what it costs them to include golf in their lifestyles -- we selected five markets throughout the United States and profiled a happily retired couple in each. We chose these markets with help from the research firm Longitudes Group, which identified regions with a high percentage of residents 65 and over, many avid golfers, and plentiful golf courses. (Perhaps because it's known as much for skiing as golf, Park City, Utah, has a relatively small percentage of 65-and-overs but does well on other counts.)

retirement

ASHEVILLE / N.C.

Ed Woeckener, 75, is a reminder that nothing is permanent, even in retirement. "I've retired three times," says the Asheville resident. "First in '89, then again in '93, and finally in '97." His original goal was to play golf every day. To his surprise, that was too much golf -- so the former airline executive bought a vitamins store and later a health-food business in Miami to keep him busy. When he was truly ready to slow down, he and his wife, Marla, moved to the mountains of North Carolina, drawn by the region's mild weather, low cost of living and all-around relaxed vibe.

But even then, the Woeckeners haven't been sitting still. Their first home overlooked the 17th hole at Mountain Air Country Club in Burnsville, N.C. Much as they loved the golf course and "the most spectacular scenery you'll find anywhere," it proved a bit too remote. Nearly every day, they found they were traveling to Asheville -- about a two-hour round trip -- to enjoy its cultural offerings and to allow Marla, now 73, to teach piano at the University of Carolina-Asheville's College for Seniors.

In 2000 they sold their place at Mountain Air and bought a home in North Asheville. With 14 grandkids, there had to be plenty of space for guests, so the house has four bedrooms. It's just a short walk from the Donald Ross-designed Country Club of Asheville, which they joined and where Woeckener plays three days a week. Apparently he doesn't need to play every day to be good: Last year he shot his age.

Asheville suits the couple, Woeckener says. "It's a city of about 70,000. You get all the advantages of a big city -- arts, restaurants, shopping -- but you don't have the disadvantages of traffic, crime and high taxes." Plus, there's abundant good public golf there. He loves Asheville Municipal Golf Course, also designed by Ross, and the nearby Reems Creek and Broadmoor courses. The latter charges seniors just $25 a round during the week, including a cart, Woeckener says.

Does that mean he has found "the place" and he won't be moving anytime soon? "This is it," he says confidently. "This is our last stop."

retirement

THE VILLAGES / FLA.

'We first saw an ad for this place on the Golf Channel, like most folks," says Don Hahnfeldt, 66. "I said, 'We've got to get down there and check that out.' " He and his wife, Cheryle, 65, visited the central Florida community one day seven years ago. That afternoon they bought a one-quarter-acre lot overlooking the Palmer Legends Country Club. Less than four months later, they had built a 4,000-square- foot single-family home on the site.

To say they love it there is an understatement. "I'm a retired Navy submarine captain, and we moved 30 times in my career," Hahnfeldt says. "Cheryle tells me there will not be a 31st move." Hahnfeldt describes himself as being "in pinch-me mode" about The Villages to this day.

For the Hahnfeldts, the numbers tell a compelling story. The 25,000-acre Villages community has nine country clubs (many of them with 27 holes) and 27 executive courses. Three more 27-hole country clubs and six more executive courses are planned by 2014. Though none of The Villages courses is likely to host a U.S. Open, there are some legitimate tests of golf. The Cherry Hill/Laurel Valley nines at the Palmer club, Don Hahnfeldt's favorite, stretch to 7,180 yards from the back tees, with a Course Rating of 75.1 and a Slope of 137.

The Villages' 80,000 residents can play any of the executive courses without paying a cent beyond their household's monthly $135 "amenity fee" and a monthly $12 "trail fee" for cart use. The Hahnfeldts pay an extra $80 per person each month for "priority memberships" that offer reduced green fees and seven-day advance tee-time booking on all nine country club courses. They play two or three times a week, with regular groups and "social" golf with other couples.

Don, elected president of the homeowners' association almost two years ago, notes that the amenity fee covers a lot more than golf. The community has bowling, tennis, "pickle ball" (a type of paddle tennis), 62 community pools and a massive softball league. The Villages' recreation department says it organizes more than 1,000 activities annually.

One of the things the Hahnfeldts like best about the community is the convenience. It's got dining, schools, even a Walmart Supercenter, all easily accessible by golf cart. The couple owns two carts -- and one "regular" car, mainly used for the hour drive to the Orlando airport to pick up visiting family members. (Children under 19 are welcome at The Villages -- they just can't stay for more than 30 days in any calendar year.) Says Don Hahnfeldt: "We have seven grandkids, and their No. 1 favorite thing when they come to see us is riding in those golf carts."

The Villages

A monthly $135 "amenity fee" helps keep The Villages' facilities afloat.

retirement

ROGERS / ARK.

'My wife says we've now lived in three foreign countries," says Bob Quinlan. "England, Mexico and Arkansas."

Quinlan and his wife, Dona, moved from Southern California to northwest Arkansas in 1992. At the time, he was general manager of a carbide manufacturing company.

"It was a major culture shock," says Quinlan, now 72. "The area was very, very rural then." Yet 10 years later, by the time Quinlan was ready to retire, he and Dona, 73, had become so comfortable in Arkansas they decided to stay.

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