February 2013

February 2013: Behind the Gates- Belfair

Author: Frank Dunne, Jr.

“Let the majestic Avenue of Oaks welcome you home,” opens one piece of Belfair Plantation’s literature. These are not idle words. Beyond the gatehouse, a seemingly endless tunnel of beautiful moss-draped live oaks greets you and superbly sets the tone for the character that Belfair wishes to express: a private community offering first-rate golf and amenities, but spoken in a more informal voice than some of its neighbors.

“If you said, yes, I play golf, and you’re interested in a private club community, this is great because it’s a 36-hole private club with a great amenity package,” said Tom Jackson of Gateway Realty. Jackson, who specializes in Bluffton golf communities, continued, “If we’re talking about golf communities, most people would say Belfair is a more laid back community. It’s a little more subtle when you get to the clubhouse. It has a comfortable feel and the membership seems to prefer that to something more formal and grandiose.”

The private golf community model has long been perceived as targeting retirement-aged owners exclusively, and in years past, one could make the argument that perception was reality. The real estate landscape has changed significantly, though, and we now find these communities casting wider nets. Nevertheless, some of them remain retiree oriented by virtue of their original design, and because that’s primarily who lives there.

Belfair is a little different. Certainly the homes, amenities, location and everything else have always presented an attractive package to retirees. However, thanks to its decidedly comfortable, yet first-class lifestyle, as well as some recreational amenities that might be considered atypical for a golf club community, Belfair tends to attract a broader demographic.

Belfair Property Owners Association director of communications, Nicki Jacoby, says that retirees and near retirees probably constitute the largest portion of Belfair members now, but the membership is getting younger. “We have a lot of younger families coming in who are looking to establish a tradition with their families here. Everyone is so welcoming when you come in. They want to know who the new members are; they want to invite them to dinner and get them integrated into the community so they feel a part of everything.” Jackson adds that amenities like basketball courts, volleyball courts and softball fields lend a neighborhood feel. There’s just something about the sound of a basketball bouncing in the distance that says “home town.”

Your neighbors in Belfair are really your neighbors, too. “Out of the 468 homes that we have here, more than 300 of them are primary residences,” Jacoby said.

A conversation about the amenities at Belfair Plantation begins with golf. Two distinctive courses present members with a variety of challenges, and a top-flight learning center offers a place to practice meeting those challenges. The pastoral parklands design West Course winds through the community accentuated by ancient live oaks, lush native grasses, rolling terrain, lagoons and manicured, elevated undulating greens. In contrast, East Course recalls the links courses in golf’s birthplace, Scotland. It features deep-water views, wide-open windswept fairways, and a very walkable layout.

To further cater to Belfair’s golf lovers, the Jim Ferree Golf Learning Center is a 29-acre practice and teaching facility where golfers can practice pretty much any shot they might encounter playing West and East Courses. The center features covered and outdoor driving ranges, three putting greens and two holes for working on the short game. The indoor driving suite is equipped with video swing analysis technology, and full-time instructors are on hand as well. New to the Learning Center, former PGA Tour and Club Professional Carl Lohren, creator of the “One Move to Better Golf” teaching method, makes himself available two days per month for private lessons.

For tennis players, Belfair Plantation sports six Har-Tru courts at the Belfair Fitness & Sports Center and two grass courts overlooking the Colleton River. “These are the only grass courts in Bluffton,” Jacoby said, which is fitting for a place where she describes the tennis participation as strong.

The Fitness & Sports Center, offers other sports and athletic oriented amenities, including a resort-style Junior Olympic outdoor pool and heated indoor lap pool, fitness equipment and a staff of professional trainers. You can also enjoy almost 30 miles of walking/biking opportunities and even venture through Belfair’s nature preserves. “We have basketball courts, a junior sized soccer field, playground, volleyball courts, and a pickleball court,” Jacoby said. “We’re seeing over 125 people coming through the Fitness and Sports Center a day. A healthy lifestyle is really important here.”

For lower-intensity recreation like fishing, bird watching, or simply enjoying the Lowcountry surroundings, Belfair is the perfect place, situated along the Colleton River and home to Hidden Lake, a 42-acre chain of freshwater lakes within which lies one of the more significant colonial wading bird rookeries in South Carolina, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The lakes and lagoons found throughout Belfair are popular for hooking bass with the membership’s anglers, and the Colleton River is a great location for viewing the abundant Lowcountry wildlife.

The Belfair Clubhouse recently re-opened after a $2.5 million expansion project. “A quantum leap ahead!” says seven-year Belfair member Doug Adamson. “It’s just very well done and creates such a sense of community and connection.” Jacoby says that other members agree, and that the expansion is a reflection of Belfair’s growth. “We have annual events that are really large like Fourth of July and Easter. The expanded clubhouse is much more conducive to the size membership we have and their activity level.” That activity level is reflected in more than 20 organized clubs, serving avocations that range from golf to books, dining, gardening, cards, Bible study, theater and the arts, volunteerism and a host of others.

All of the homes in Belfair are single-family lot styles. There are no attached construction (townhome, villa, etc.) or patio style homes. The average lot size is half-acre, and the prevailing architectural style is typical Lowcountry with porches, golf, water or wooded views, and two-three-car garages. “We are seeing a trend toward building a home that’s 2,800-3,500 sq. ft. as opposed to the big houses that you saw in the ’80s and partially into the ’90s,” Jackson said. “Basically, a high quality house in a smaller package.”

Price points for homes begin around $450,000 and go up to about $2 million. “The bread and butter is somewhere between $550,000 and $700,000,” Jackson said, pointing to the excellent value proposition presented by buying a lot and building that exists in any Bluffton golf community, but might be slightly advantageous in Belfair due to low lot prices and lower club fees. “There are inexpensive lots in all of them, and there are price point homes in all of them,” he said. “You’d probably have more homes in the $500,000-$600,000 range in Belfair compared to others; the point is you can buy a lot inexpensively in any of the clubs, build a home and be in the same price point, but the club fees are a little bit less. That makes a difference with a lot of buyers, and I do think it creates an opportunity for younger couples to come into a community like Belfair.”

Belfair’s main entrance is on west-bound Highway 278 about 7 miles from the Hilton Head Island bridge, close to Bluffton schools, shopping, dining and services. In fact, members can access Belfair Towne Village for shopping and errands through the Plantation’s East Gate and avoid 278 altogether. The location also makes it a quick trip to Savannah, Beaufort, or Hilton Head Island’s sandy beaches.

Adamson and his wife Rhonda bought their Belfair home in 2005 and became permanent residents two years ago. Though an avid golfer, he says the hidden secret about Belfair is that there really is so much beyond golf that makes it special. “I would still live here if I never played another round of golf…and, by the way, as you drove through did you notice that everybody waves?”

Belfair is located at 200 Belfair Oaks Blvd., Bluffton. For more information, call (843) 757-0701, e-mail info@belfair1811.com, or visit belfair1811.com.

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