May 2012: Behind The Gates - Long Cove Club, Windmill Harbour, Spanish Wells and Wexford Plantation
Author: Frank Dunne, Jr.
This is a continuation of a several part series on island living in gated communities.
What does “Lowcountry lifestyle” mean to you? Does your vision include beaches, golf, sunshine, tennis, outdoor living, boating, entertaining, fishing, mild winters, kayaking or paddle surfing, gardening, crabbing, wine and food festivals, dining out and nightlife?
Is it a big house on the beach or overlooking a fairway, or a house in a neighborhood that reminds you of where you grew up? Maybe it’s not a house, but a villa or townhome…who wants to mow the lawn with all this other stuff to do anyway?
Surely something in there is on your list, but not everybody’s list is the same. The thing is, the South Carolina Lowcountry has all of it and then some to offer, and there’s a neighborhood somewhere around here that matches your personal vision.
You’ve heard clarion call from your friends in the real estate business that this is a great time to purchase a home because prices are more favorable to buyers than they’ve been for some years. If you are ready to take that advice any time soon, we’re here to help.
No, this isn’t going to be a catalog of available listings or a market report or anything of that nature. You’ll have to pick up the phone and give your realtor a call for that. On these pages we’re profiling local communities in terms of lifestyles and amenities to help you identify where you should be looking if you’re in the market.
This month’s installment has a bit of a maritime feel as we spotlight four venerable Hilton Head private communities that all feature either a marina, deep water home sites, or both. They are Long Cove Club, Windmill Harbour, Spanish Wells, and Wexford Plantation. Some of the things that differentiate these communities are obvious, and some are more subtle. We’ll give you a taste here, but the best way to find out which community best suits your lifestyle is to enlist the services of an experienced, local realtor who can take you behind the gates to see for yourself.
LONG COVE CLUB
A discussion of what life is like in Long Cove Club usually starts with golf, and we will do that here, but speaking to those knowledgeable about the community, you’ll discover that golf doesn’t necessarily have to be the beginning, middle and end of the conversation.
It begins with golf because the Long Cove Club course has long been regarded by the golf elite as one of legendary course architect Pete Dye’s finest creations. Naturally, the community attracts its fair share of the kind of folks who place golf very high on the priority list when choosing where to build or buy a home. And that choice is paid off with a robust agenda of member events and instructional clinics for adults and kids led by head golf pro Bob Patton and director of instruction Tim Cooke. With honors like Golfweek’s No. 8 Best Residential Golf Courses, Golf Digest’s No. 71 Best Course in the Nation, and Golf and Travel Magazine’s No. 2 Top 40 Real Estate Courses, among others, it’s a pretty nice place for the serious player to call “my home course.”
That said, even the most die-hard of the die-hard golfers know that all of life isn’t lived on the fairways, and Long Cove Club delivers in that regard as well. Ask John McKenzie of Long Cove Club Realty what—aside from golf—sells Long Cove Club, and he’ll tell you, “Long Cove sort of sells itself. Just take a drive through and you’ll see.” Set on Hilton Head Island’s south end on the shores of Broad Creek, the community pays homage to the Lowcountry’s natural beauty with wooded, water and marsh views suitable for framing. The homes, nestled in with the lush indigenous vegetation, typically exhibit understated elegance with traditional Lowcountry style architecture. A collection of homes ranging in size from about 2,500 square feet to over 7,000 square feet, and in price from under $400,000 to about $3 million, sets the table nicely for a diverse group of neighbors who enjoy active lifestyles, with or without a club in hand.
Speaking of clubs, Long Cove Club membership is automatic with home or land ownership in the community, and the soon-to-be-renovated clubhouse is at the heart of Long Cove’s long list of social and recreational offerings. The tennis center features eight courts, four of them lighted, and a year-round schedule of competitive, social, and instructional events. Members can take a dip in the Jr. Olympic sized pool, or exercise their green thumbs on a complimentary garden plot at the Farm. Long Cove is also Hilton Head’s only private residential community with its own dog park.
Long Cove Club’s 85-slip marina on Broad Creek completes the Lowcountry lifestyle picture for the community. The marina can accommodate craft up to 35 feet in length, and its docks are very popular with all members for fishing, crabbing, kayaking…or simply enjoying a sunset after cocktails and dinner in the clubhouse.
McKenzie estimates that Long Cove’s population is split 70 percent/30 percent full-time residents/part-time residents, and according to the club’s own 2011 member survey, 66 percent who own a home in Long Cove live there for nine months or more per year. It is very much a neighborhood enjoyed equally by empty nesters and young, active families, like JoAnn Orischak and her husband who settled in Long Cove with their three children about a year ago, after much careful consideration. “We looked in a lot of places on and off the island, and we found great values everywhere,” Orischak said. “Obviously, it’s perfect for my 13-year-old son, because he’s pursuing golf pretty seriously (he’s a two handicap), and my older son has a nice group of friends his age.”
A common sentiment among Long Cove members is an appreciation of the privacy of a neighborhood community, with an abundance of amenities in a self-contained area, while still feeling connected to the greater Hilton Head community. Long Cove’s main entrance is located on William Hilton Parkway, a short distance from the Sea Pines Circle, so members enjoy their privacy and seclusion without being way off the beaten path. “I think they like the proximity to ‘Downtown Hilton Head,’” McKenzie said.
“Before we found our house in Long Cove we’d made an offer on a house that we were leasing at the time,” Orischak said. “That didn’t get done, and I’m glad that it didn’t. We would never have ended up here.”
Upon entering Windmill Harbour, you have a sense that you have actually left Hilton Head Island. That’s partly because you have. Windmill Harbour is actually located on Jenkins Island, which sits between Hilton Head and the base of the bridge to the mainland. But that’s a technicality. You feel like you’re in a different place because Windmill Harbour is cut from a rather different cloth than most Hilton Head gated communities. Golf is not a focal point and, instead of fairways, a 15-acre harbor, protected by one of only four lock systems on the entire East Coast, winds its way through the community. “Windmill Harbour is for somebody who’s interested in views, water, boats and harbors,” said J.R. Richardson, broker-in-charge of the Richardson Group and Windmill Harbour’s developer. “That’s what we really are. We don’t have a golf course.”
The 172-acre community is also distinctive in that it offers a departure from the more classic Hilton Head architectural styles and land plans. “I immediately loved the look and feel,” said Windmill Harbour resident Christina Laios. “I like that the community is smaller with walking paths hidden throughout. Aesthetically, I love the colorful Charleston-style homes and the fact that they’re built among the existing foliage and old oaks. It makes for a romantic escape compared to some of the other nature-inspired hues of other developments. I also like the fact that the marina is the central point of interest…even though I’m not a boater!”
Windmill Harbour is also home to the South Carolina Yacht Club. “The heart of the community is the club,” Richardson said, “and it’s a unique club because it’s not just property oriented,” meaning that membership is not a requirement of ownership in Windmill Harbour, nor is it limited to residents. “It’s a yacht club, it’s a property owners’ club, and it’s a community club, and it’s extremely well run.” The Yacht Club is a major attraction for Windmill Harbour with amenities such as clay tennis courts, a 25-meter swimming pool, saunas, a Jacuzzi, and plenty of social activities. “The Yacht Club was icing on the cake. It’s a great club with amazing food and community spirit,” Laios said.
Windmill Harbour’s residential neighborhoods are a mixture of single-family homes, patio lots, and townhomes created in an aesthetic slightly reminiscent of historic Charleston, South Carolina. Although once considered off-the-beaten-path and out of the way, the Cross Island Parkway has effectively brought the rest of the island closer to Windmill Harbour. Combined with its proximity to the bridge connecting Hilton Head to the mainland, it just might be Hilton Head’s most conveniently sited community. Of course, the location affords some of the area’s finest water views overlooking the Intracoastal and the salt marshes of Jenkins Creek. “It’s a wonderful little jewel right on the Intracoastal,” Richardson said. “A huge plus is the ability to stroll to the pier to watch the dolphins or sunsets,” Laios added. “It has surpassed my expectations. I love living here.”
Spanish Wells sits on a peninsula separating Broad Creek and the Intracoastal Waterway, and is also favored by people who are water oriented. “About half of the homes in Spanish Wells are on deep water, which is the highest percentage in this community; the other half are on fairways,” said James Wedgeworth of Charter One Realty. “The second thing that people like about Spanish Wells is that it’s the only development on Hilton Head where all of the lots are over an acre.” The larger lots and an abundance of live oaks and other indigenous vegetation give Spanish Wells a special character in that it doesn’t “feel” like a planned residential development. Resident Blanche Sullivan describes it as a “serene park-like setting.”
That peaceful serenity, plus the presence of some of Hilton Head Island’s most stately waterfront mansions, can be a bit deceptive. A closer look at Spanish Wells reveals a very friendly, energetic family oriented neighborhood with lots of activity to keep kids and adults entertained. “It’s a true community,” Wedgeworth said, “a lot of families and a lot of kids.” Those activities include golf and tennis at The Spanish Wells Club and a community pool. The Spanish Wells Clubhouse, the island’s only waterfront golf clubhouse, provides an idyllic setting for all kinds of social gatherings against a backdrop of gorgeous Calibogue Sound and May River views. A 100-foot community pier is located behind the clubhouse for fishing, crabbing, or just taking in the views. The neighbors also enjoy special events like a Fourth of July golf cart parade, and a carnival atmosphere that engulfs all of Spanish Wells for trick-or-treating on Halloween night, with some of the wackiest Halloween displays you’ll ever see!
Although access by car is limited to a one-lane entrance at the end of Spanish Wells Road, the community’s perceived remoteness is also somewhat deceptive. The entrance is only about a mile from the midpoint access to the Cross Island Parkway, so both the island’s north end and south end are a few minutes’ drive. “The best thing to happen to Spanish Wells was the Cross Island Parkway,” Wedgeworth said.
Most of the folks who live in Spanish Wells have been on the island for some time, giving a feeling of familiarity that, along with its seclusion from the transient population, breeds a neighborly community disposition. “I love living in Spanish Wells,” Sullivan said. “It has such a casual, inviting atmosphere, and it’s a great life for our 13-year-old son. Plus, it’s got the most incredible sunsets you’ll find anywhere.”
Steve Timperman is pretty excited about some things that are going on in Wexford Plantation. In the interest of full disclosure, he ought to be since he both lives in and sells real estate in Wexford.
The biggest news is that Wexford’s nearly 30-year-old golf course emerged from a major renovation project in 2011 as the Arnold Palmer Signature Course at Wexford. On top of that, a clubhouse that underwent a complete renovation of its own in 2010 anchors the course. Those two developments should bring a few people through the gate to have a look, and Timperman anticipates that a lot of them will be surprised by what they see. “It’s a private lifestyle with one of the best golf courses on the island, and if you’re a boater we have one of the nicest marinas on the island,” he said. “It’s also a young and active community, more so than a lot of people may think,” he added, noting that the average age of Wexford residents is 51 years and there are about 140 kids living in the community.
Real estate in Wexford is segmented by four lifestyles. Single family homes on the harbor, which sit on approximately third-acre lots, and single-family golf course homes on approximately half-acre lots. These lot sizes are average to a slightly larger than average for Hilton Head Island. Ideally, second home owners look for something more low maintenance and opt for a patio home or townhome, both of which are available in Wexford. About 35 percent of the occupied residences in Wexford are second homes, but short-term rentals are not permitted so you’re sheltered from the transient nature of the resort trade. “It’s mostly primary residents and second homeowners who don’t want to be near the chaos. Behind the gates it’s just you and your neighbors,” said Timperman. But that’s not to say that Wexford is isolated. The main entrance is located a short distance from the Sea Pines Circle on William Hilton Parkway. It’s also connected to Dunnagan’s Alley, giving a shortcut to the shopping, dining and services at the Village at Wexford, on Arrow and Palmetto Bay Roads, and quick access to the Cross Island Parkway and the north end. Homes in Wexford range in size from townhomes at about 3,000 square feet to single-family homes as large as 10,000 square feet. Naturally, that sort of variety brings with it a wide dispersion of prices from under $200,000 to $2 million and upward.
Architectural styles depart from “typical” Lowcountry and favor more of a British West Indies motif. The harbor features a system of canals that wind through Wexford, allowing deep-water home sites to be situated throughout the community rather than around a single basin. Four of Wexford’s neighborhoods are sited on manmade islands in the harbor and connected by stone bridges. All of these elements combine to give Wexford Plantation a very distinctive signature. Also, the harbor, which can accommodate vessels up to 70 feet in length, is protected by a lock system, one of two on the island and only four on the entire U.S. Atlantic Coast.
Lori Queen and her husband Jim became full-time residents about two years ago and were certainly attracted by Wexford’s amenities: the golf course, the clubhouse with its first class dining, the pool and tennis center, the harbor, but it was the neighbors that really sold them on Wexford. “Golf really appealed to us, and the combination of golf and water made it more attractive,” she said. “What we really liked, though, was the sense of community and the camaraderie that the neighbors in here share.”
Bob Cherichella would agree, and he has quite a story to illustrate the point. “My wife Heather and I originally had a second home here in Wexford; then we bought a house right down the street to be our permanent home.” Unfortunately, that house was hit by lightning and burned to the ground. “We lost everything,” he said. “When that happened, our neighbors came out of the woodwork to help us as we rebuilt. This is really a great group of people who enjoy each other’s company. There’s definitely a sense of community here.”