June 2009

Belfair: Golf and a Whole Lot More

Author: Paul deVere

It’s labeled a “private golf community.” While golf is definitely king at Belfair, the “community” part of that label is the glue that binds residents together. “Sure, it’s a wonderful golf community. But it’s a lot more than golf,” said William Thorpe, a retired orthopedic surgeon and Belfair resident. Thorpe doesn’t hold back. “We’re surrounded by a community of the most caring, educated, interesting and interested individuals that I have ever experienced in my life.”

Veterinarian Will Fuller agreed. “Belfair is a very caring community. It rallies around residents. Should anything happen, they’re there, in huge numbers,” Fuller said. “The latest example,” he continued, “was when a house was hit by lightning and it burned to the ground. The community has gone out of its way to help the young couple who lived there. We’re offering anything we can do for them, any care we can provide,” Fuller said.

Veronica “Ronnie” Godshalk, Business Department Chair at USCB, elaborated. “Our daughter had gone over and done some dog sitting for them. So we immediately reached out to the family, the whole community did. E-mails have already gone around providing help and assistance for the family, their children, their dogs, whatever. We’ve put them up at one of the cottages with a full- stocked refrigerator. That just speaks for the community. It’s such a welcoming environment,” Godshalk said.

When Belfair was initially conceived, golf was definitely the big drawing card. The developers brought in world-renowned architect, Tom Fazio, to build the West Course. When it opened in 1996, Links Magazine called it, “the finest set of golf holes in the Lowcountry, if not on the East Coast.” Fazio also built Belfair’s East Course in 1999.

But also included in the plan was a soccer field, basketball court, tennis courts, fitness center, sand volleyball court, picnic areas, and swimming pools. The idea was to provide a setting for market that not only included retirees and empty nesters, but working professionals and families. Based on the resident mix at Belfair, the idea succeeded.
“We are definitely multi-generational,” said David Porter, Belfair’s general manager. He divided the residents into three basic categories: retirees, residents who chose to retire early, and business owners and professionals with families.
Godshalk and her family fall into that third group. “We had come down (from Philadelphia) and spent summers and school breaks on Hilton Head. We wanted to come down and live here permanently. We wanted to be centrally located in Bluffton because we have children who go to school at Hilton Head Prep, I had taken a position at the university, and my husband travels frequently. So we needed (our home) to be convenient to the Savannah airport, too. We thought somewhere, mid-way, would make sense for all of us,” Godshalk said.
What also made sense was the fact that Godshalk, with a single-digit handicap, her son Tim and husband, Bob, were all golfers. Daughter Lauren has since taken up the game. “At first, we thought children there might be a problem. Actually, it’s turned out to be a great benefit. Everyone was so welcoming. Our son is top golfer at Hilton Head Prep. He enjoys the members and they enjoy him. They have great putting contests, and Tim has become friendly with one of our young men who plays on the Nationwide Tour,” Godshalk said.
Fuller fits, more or less, in the middle group. He sold his veterinary clinic in Boston and became a full-time resident at Belfair three years ago. He now practices at Coastal Veterinary Clinic, a few minutes from Belfair’s entrance, three times a week, and plays golf four times a week. “Nice life,” he said.
Both Fuller and the Godshalks take full advantage of another highlight of life at Belfair, the Jim Feree Golf Learning Center. “We have two highly-talented teaching pros. Both teach in a different manner which is really good for the members. It’s a huge plus to have those guys here and the facility here. I can say the practice facility is the best I’ve ever seen. It’s been copied by a number of other clubs, like Old Sandwich in Cape Cod, a very prestigious club. Members came here, took notes,” Fuller said. “I’ve played there and I think, because of our location and terrain, Belfair’s is still the best.”
Fuller has been club champion two years running, which gets him on the roster for Belfair’s very important nod to amateur golf, the Players Amateur, held in July. Many of the top-ranked young players compete in the event. Started in 2000, the inaugural tournament was won by Ben Curtis, who went on to win the British Open in 2003. “I played last year but didn’t make the cut and felt like a grandfather to some players. There is always a players’ lunch (during the event), and I said to myself, ‘I’m in the tournament, I’m going.’ One of the players, who said he was 30, thought he was one of the oldest guys in the group. Then he said, ‘I hear there’s some guy playing who’s 63.’ I said, ‘Yeah, that’s me,’” Fuller said, laughing.
Thorpe, along with wife Judy, started to come to Hilton Head Island 20 years ago. They became property owners at Palmetto Dunes. But when they were looking for a place to retire, they wanted to live somewhere more private. “I really investigated. I went as far north as Wilmington, North Carolina and as far south as Miami looking at places. We looked at 20 different communities for about four and a half years. I didn’t want to commit until I knew we were sure. The more we looked at other places, the more Belfair became a source of confidence for us,” Thorpe said.
He listed two very specific reasons he thinks so highly of the community. “First, the Belfair Men’s Golf Association and the events that they sponsor. I am a very bad golfer. In fact, I say that Belfair hired me to make everyone feel better about their golf game.
“I have been welcomed with open arms, even by the most competitive golfers, to participate in every golf event that has gone on. I never played golf before I came here; I’ve been involved in every golf event, and I can only tell you the camaraderie and the energy that people put forth in just having a good time playing golf. Plus, we always raise a lot of money for charity, making the golf experience, for a hack like me, just absolutely top drawer,” said Thorpe.
His second reason: the cultural richness of the area. “We belong to a group of people who go to the symphony and theater regularly. It’s a dinner group, so every time we have an event on the island, we all meet at Belfair [clubhouse]. These same people I golf with are instrumental in this theater and symphony group. I’ve learned more [through the theater and symphony events] than I ever could have imagined. In the past, Judy and I had regularly gone to New York City three to four times a year to see plays and other cultural events. We don’t have any plans to ever go again,” Thorpe said.
Thorpe is also a pilot. Before retiring, he practiced in Missouri and, whenever possible, he would fly back to Belfair. His wife, Judy, was already there. “I tell everybody that I owned an airplane until three months ago, because when I lived somewhere else I was always flying down to Belfair. But once I got to Belfair, I no longer wanted to go anywhere, Thorpe said. “This is where we want to be.”

  1. great article. every thing written in the article is absolute true. we recently completed our house in nov 08 and my wife spent the entire winter at belfair, some of the time alone. She is not a golfer but loved all the people, the actitivits especailly the bridge and book groups and the indoor pool. Before we moved in we knew everything was beautiful about Belfair,but what we discovered that the external beauty was surpassed by the internal beauty and warmth of the members.

    — leonard reich    Jun 8, 12:01 pm   

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