June 2012

JUNE 2012: Behind The Gates - Colleton River Plantation Club and Moss Creek

Author: Frank Dunne, Jr.

COLLETON RIVER PLANTATION CLUB

Ask the people who live there why they chose Colleton River Plantation Club, and they will probably give you one of two answers. It’s either the two elite golf courses or the natural beauty of the land and surrounding water. Since one begets the other, they’re really the same answer. Situated on Colleton Neck, a peninsula touched by the Chechessee and Colleton Rivers, and with views out to Port Royal Sound and the Atlantic Ocean, Colleton River Plantation Club forms a perfect union of “the good life” and the long-held Lowcountry land planning credo: respect the natural environment.

In return for that respect, Colleton River’s 1,500 acres engulf you in pure Lowcountry serenity, with Spanish moss-draped live oaks and palmetto trees lining roads that wind through a blend of luxurious homes and natural terrain, paid off with sweeping water views. It’s an excellent off-island choice for the higher-end homebuyer who places high priority on golf, a vibrant residential club life, and water. “In Bluffton, along 278, this is the only piece of land that’s surrounded by water and has deep water access,” said Julie Mercer, Colleton River Plantation Club’s director of marketing and communications. “From our deep water lots, you’re just a few minutes from the Atlantic Ocean.”

“I would say if they’re looking for top quality golf, if they’re looking for water access, if they’re looking for an active social club, if they’re looking for a lifestyle that is energetic and outdoors, Colleton has a lot to offer in that regard,” added Kevin King, a realtor with Charter 1 Realty & Marketing and a nine-year Colleton River member. “I love it.”

The member population is predominantly permanent residents, approximately 60 to 70 percent according to King’s estimate, and that refers to anybody who lives there for at least nine months of the year. In terms of life stages and age groups, “I would say that the majority are empty nesters or pre-empty nesters, like people with kids in college,” Mercer said, “but like the region as a whole, we’re seeing a trend of younger members coming in. In fact, of a recent group of 20 new members, five are between 35 and 45.”

Peter Elder, a member since 2006, offers this perspective of Colleton River’s membership: “My wife Mimi and I have lived all over the world, so we have a pretty good handle on lifestyles and cultures. We bought here when we retired because we were looking for interesting people, meaning a variety of people who have been all over the world and bring a variety of perspectives. The joy in sharing your life comes down to the people you share it with.”

Having world-class amenities to share doesn’t hurt either, and here that conversation has to begin with golf. “A lot of people have multiple golf courses. We have three,” said Mercer. “We have two championship courses that are as different as night and day in how they play and how they feel. A Parkland style Signature Jack Nicklaus course and a links style Pete Dye course that he’s been quoted as saying is the best course he’s ever built.” Together the Nicklaus and Dye Courses have earned Colleton River a long list of accolades as a golf community including Travel & Leisure Golf’s “America’s Top 100 Golf Communities,” Golf Digest Index’s “America’s 50 Greatest Golf Retreats,” Links Magazine’s “America’s 100 Premier Properties” and Golfweek’s “Top 100 Residential Golf Courses.” The Borland nine-hole par three course is the third golf course to which Mercer alluded. “Great for working on your short game and great for kids and beginners,” King said.

Other sports and wellness facilities include the Stan Smith tennis center with a pro shop and five Har-Tru courts, and a Jr. Olympic sized pool. A 6,000-square-foot fitness center in the Nicklaus clubhouse rivals any commercial health club in the area with free weights, circuit training, cardio equipment, personal training and group classes, as well as a therapeutic and esthetic spa.

Recreation, though, isn’t always about organized activities and training regimens. Miles of leisure trails wind through the community for walking, running, biking, or simply taking in the views and communing with nature. Depending on where you’re standing, Colleton River can feel like an extension of the adjacent Victoria Bluff nature preserve, and it provides ample material for the artists and photographers among the membership. Fishing, crabbing and shrimping from the community dock, or hooking bass and catfish from one of the fresh water lagoons dotting the plantation are also popular activities.

With two world-class championship golf courses, Colleton River members also get two clubhouses that are as distinctive as their namesakes. “The Nicklaus Clubhouse is very stately and formal, and then you go over to the Dye Clubhouse and its very Lowcountry, it’s very relaxed. It’s like being a member of two clubs,” Mercer said. Both clubhouses offer fine dining for lunch and dinner, and members can drop in for lighter fare at the Halfway Café, whether making the turn on the Nicklaus course or not. The clubhouses also serve as meeting places for the members to share their interests in everything from Canasta and Poker, to literature and art, to cooking and single malt Scotch. There is even a library in the Dye Clubhouse with a collection donated by members. “I would mention that the club did obtain Platinum Club status,” King said, “and I think we’re the only one anywhere near here that has. This is all based on the amenity package and the service and quality. It’s just a high end club, and that’s how our members want it to be.”

Homes in Colleton River Plantation Club range from 2,800-square-foot ranch style bungalows to more lavish mansions upwards of 7,000 square feet. The diversity of home styles and sizes is one of the community’s more attractive attributes to its members. “All the homes are custom homes, so the styles differ from house to house, but I would say it’s a more traditional style for the most part,” King said. “Although we do have some contemporary, we have some French chateau style, some Tuscan style, Mediterranean style…we’ve got them all, and that’s what is neat about it. There is a wide choice for people. There is an architectural review board, and they’re not going to let you go hog wild, but it’s not as rigid as some other plantations.” Prices for homes currently on the market start in the mid-$400,000s and go up to about $2.5 million, although King notes that there are some homes that significantly exceed that range.

There are no short-term rental properties in Colleton River, but there are nine member-owned, club-operated cottages that are great for golf getaways and the like. These may be rented exclusively by members and their guests. Other than that, Colleton River is purely residential. Presently, the master plan is approximately 50 percent built, and there are unbuilt lots on the market. The smallest are about four-tenths an acre and go up from there. The average is about half an acre, but there are some estate-sized lots up to five to six acres.

The main entrance to Colleton River Plantation Club is on the westbound side of Highway 278 in Bluffton, about two miles from the bridge to Hilton Head Island. This places it conveniently to all of the recreational activities, shopping, dining and services on the island and throughout greater Bluffton; but Colleton River is, at the same time, well secluded from the hustle and bustle. You’re right in the middle of it all, but behind the gate, you’ll feel as if you’re a world away.

There is another way to access Colleton River Plantation Club, but not by automobile. “There is a community day dock, so you can bring your boat in and dock it overnight right on the Colleton River; boat storage is also available on the property,” King said. An expansion of the community dock is currently underway and will be completed by summer. The renovations will include a gazebo and an open deck with a mist system to keep the no-see-ums away, kayak stands and a launch area, a fish cleaning stand, and water and electricity right at the dock. “It’s going to be a very nice gathering spot,” King added.

Another recurring theme that comes up when you talk to members about their decision to live at Colleton River Plantation Club is the way that it sells itself: all you have to do is look around. “We looked everywhere from Wilmington, N.C. to south of Charleston, and this really set the standard for us,” Elder said. “The variety of architectural styles, the land, the people, and it’s all exquisitely managed and well-kept.” To that he added, “Everything you do here, at a certain time of day you stop whatever it is and take in the sunset. Magic moments.”

Member Kevin Fegan discovered Colleton River Plantation Club when he read about it in Travel & Leisure Golf. “My wife Hazel and I knew we’d end up in a golf community one day, and we became very experienced at looking at golf clubs. Obviously, the unique profile here begins with the fact that you have two premier golf courses, but when you’re sitting on the back porch at the Dye Clubhouse having a martini, that’s when you say, can you believe this?”

MOSS CREEK

Right at the foot of the bridge to Hilton Head Island on the mainland side sits Moss Creek, a place that its members like to call “Mother Nature’s Hole-in-One,” which might lead one to conclude that Moss Creek is a golf community situated on a piece of land that reflects and respects the natural beauty of its surroundings. That would be correct, but it’s more than two outstanding Fazio-designed championship golf courses that draw people into Moss Creek.

“We are a very active community with participation in all our amenities, said Suzanna Johnston of the Moss Creek Owners Association. “ While we are largely a golf, tennis and boating community, Moss Creek has walking trails, bike paths and several nature preserves that showcase the fauna and wildlife of the Lowcountry.” In fact, the Moss Creek website cleverly lays out the multitude of things going on within the community as a list of “31 Things to Do at Moss Creek if You Don’t Play Golf or Tennis.”

Rick Turner of Gateway Realty specializes in Mainland private communities, so he’s got a pretty clear profile in mind of who would be interested in Moss Creek. “If they say to me that they’re boaters—that they like fishing or just cruising around and playing on the water—Moss Creek is tremendous. That couple or family will find that they can get a slip at the marina for $1,000 a year, and included in that is unlimited golf on two Fazio golf courses and unlimited tennis.” It’s a great option for the boat owner who doesn’t want to spend a million or more on a house with a deep-water dock on the property. And the location on Mackay Creek puts it as close to all of the places that local boaters like go—the May River, Skull Creek, the Intracoastal Waterway—as if it were on Hilton Head Island. “Golfers and boaters have the best deal anywhere in Moss Creek. It’s an incredible value,” Turner said.

Johnston estimates that retirees comprise the largest segment of Moss Creek’s membership, but it is by no means a retirement community. “If somebody’s looking for mainly young singles area, it’s not here,” Turner said, “but I would say that the kind of people who buy here are of all ages.” That includes families who tend to be at the stage where the children are middle and high school aged, and near-empty nesters with kids in college. “They all fit beautifully into Moss Creek,” he said, noting that age and family status don’t play into the decision as much as the lifestyle and amenities.

Moss Creek members have a choice between two championship golf courses, Devil’s Elbow South and Devil’s Elbow North. Called “a beauty with a bite” by Golf Digest, Devil’s Elbow South is a George and Tom Fazio design that treats players to scenic salt marsh views on many of the holes. The Tom Fazio Devil’s Elbow North challenges members with elevated greens, all protected by either water or trees. Moss Creek golfers love that with fewer than 400 active members playing these private, members-only courses, getting tee times is never a problem.

“Tennis players are great candidates for Moss Creek because it has one of the most active tennis clubs for residents in the entire Hilton Head area,” Turner said. The Moss Creek Tennis Center features seven Har-Tru lighted courts, practice facilities and a clubhouse and pro shop. There’s also plenty of seating for spectators at the frequent USTA league and friendly social competitions.

Moss Creek’s fitness center and community pool complex is unique in that it is located on Mackay Creek near the marina. “It’s the most beautiful setting for a pool and fitness club in the entire Hilton Head area. Nobody else has a fitness club and a pool on the most valuable piece of property,” Turner said.

“The members absolutely love it,” Johnston added. “There are very few places where you can sit by the pool with a beautiful view of the marsh and enjoy lunch and drinks!”

Miles of leisure trails for jogging, walking, rollerblading and biking wind through Moss Creek for members to enjoy the natural surroundings. And in keeping with true Lowcountry reverence for the land and wildlife, there are two nature preserves on the property: the Fording Island Nature Preserve and the Blue Heron Sanctuary.

Moss Creek is one of the earliest off-island private communities, thus the homes by and large adhere to the classic Hilton Head style architecturally, such as you might see on the island in Sea Pines, Palmetto Dunes or Hilton Head Plantation. Most are single family, but there are villa complexes and patio homes as well. The majority are sited with fairway, lagoon, or saltwater marsh views. Homes currently on the market range in price from about $150,000 to just over $1 million.

In terms of location, Moss Creek is probably the only choice for anybody who wants to be in a private community that is off-island, but is close enough to feel like it’s on the island. “Moss Creek is a great location. It’s got all that greater Bluffton has to offer in terms of all this shopping and restaurants and grocery stores on the mainland. And then it’s got all that Hilton Head has to offer also right there. So it’s a tremendous location for people who like the beach or people who want convenience—maybe one spouse works on the island and the other in Savannah,” Turner said. Longtime Moss Creek member and even longer time Hilton Head resident Rocky O’Sheill put it quite succinctly when asked about the benefits of Moss Creek’s location. “You’re half an hour closer to everything else.” Meaning, if you’re on Hilton Head Island, whatever you need to do in Bluffton and beyond isn’t as far away, and vice versa.

O’Sheill moved to Moss Creek 21 years ago, after 17 years living in Sea Pines. He and his wife moved to Moss Creek to find some separation from the tourist trade at a time when the options were somewhat limited. That’s no longer the case, but the O’Sheills are still there. “We go up north for three months during the summer,” O’Sheill said. “When I’m gone, the neighbors keep an eye on the place. I like that we all kind of look out for things.”

“It’s a very social kind of place,” Turner said. “They’re very active socially in all kinds of ways. There are groups who play cards together and groups who travel or go to the theater together or get involved with volunteerism. They’re really committed to the membership.”

The way a neighborhood ought to be.

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