By Brad King
Twice a year for more than three decades, Tim Cooper visited Grandfather Golf & Country Club for a weekend of golf competition and camaraderie with friends.
“I fell in love with the place a long, long time ago,” says the Winston-Salem native who is general manager of two Triad Mercedes-Benz dealerships. But it was only recently that Cooper and his wife, Kate, considered buying a second home there.
In the shadow of Linville’s iconic Grandfather Mountain, the gated, private community is surrounded by mile-high peaks, waterfalls and the forested slopes of Pisgah National Forest. Since the 1960s, it has served as a cool escape from sweltering Carolina summers for its members — who today number more than 400 and also own the club — hailing from Charlotte, the Triad and beyond.
Grandfather is a success story amid rising second-home prices and falling sales. For the second year in a row, vacation sales tumbled in 2016, down 36% from its recent peak in 2014, according to the National Association of Realtors. A bright spot in the group’s annual survey is the popularity of Southern destinations. Sunset Beach was named the country’s second-hottest vacation home market last year by Trulia.
In the mountains, Grandfather decided to make it easier for families to own a second home by launching its joint property ownership program as part of a three-year $9 million improvement project thatculminated this year. That was around the time the Coopers fell in love with a five-bedroom Grandfather cottage on the market for $849,000. But with two recent college graduates and another son still in school, the couple didn’t want to bite off more than they could chew. When they learned that friends John Reece, a Winston-Salem developer, and his wife, Libby, also were interested in the home, they were able to reach an ideal arrangement: The two families utilized Grandfather’s program, pooling their investment assets. They split the cost of the club’s initiation fees. The club collects village fees plus operating and capital dues from both families, who enjoy the same access to club amenities as other members.
Families have been sharing beach houses and mountain cottages for generations — and the ups and downs that come with splitting expenses, not to mention desirable summer weeks at the coast or fall leaf season in the mountains.
“Shared ownership is nothing new on the Outer Banks,” says Tim Cafferty, president of Outer Banks Blue Realty Services. “Typically, such an arrangement comes in the form of an LLC or partnership between like-minded people. I’m aware of families creating an LLC and sharing the cost and ownership of the property, as well as just some friends that have pooled their funds and may have been able to purchase something more as a group than they would on their own.”
Grandfather makes the matchmaking easier. Broker Rebekah Wood says the club is small enough and its knowledge of prospects deep enough that it’s possible to identify families who might be a good fit for joint ownership.
For the Coopers and Reeces, “This house seemed to fit [both] perfectly, so we decided to get together and pull the trigger,” Tim Cooper says. “We didn’t know the specifics [of the program], but we knew it was possible. That made it very easy to go ahead and get together and do it. We didn’t have to ask anybody or jump through any hoops.”
The two families worked out the financing and who would use the house when. The club does not restrict any of its amenities should the families share the house at the same time.
It’s one way even the most elite clubs are reinventing themselves as older families age out of golf developments and younger ones don’t want the same amenities their parents did. Zach Platek is Grandfather’s general manager. In the last few years, he says, the club has seen increased interest from younger professionals who live within driving distance and want a second home that involves a lesser investment and more conveniences.
Golf has been at the center of Grandfather since its Ellis Maples-designed course opened in 1968. It has been widely hailed since, second only to Pinehurst in Business North Carolina’s annual Top 100 golf list for two years running. Maples had input from club founder Agnes “Aggie” Morton Cocke Woodruff, an accomplished amateur golfer and sister of Hugh Morton, who developed Grandfather Mountain. A clubhouse was added in 1970, and the first homes were built in 1974. Members bought the club in the early 1980s.
The recent three-year improvement project was the club’s first since golf-course renovations seven years ago. Starting in 2014, two holes were redesigned and the driving range was expanded. More dramatic was the opening of a multimillion-dollar gym, updates to the beach and pavilion, and the addition of a youth-recreation and child-care facility. So far, efforts to attract new families seem to be paying off. Thirteen homes were sold through late June, on pace for a record year.
“Sales of homes have grown by almost 60% since 2014 when we embarked on this modernization program,” says President Frank Gusmus, a retired banker. “It has enhanced the Grandfather experience for our existing members, while also helping us attract new members and new homeowners.”
To be sure, some are departing — in mid-July, about 15 homes were listed for sale, ranging from $500,000 to $3 million. Homesites ranged from $125,000 to $350,000.
As for the Coopers, they are already enjoying Grandfather’s offerings. “It’s so family-oriented, with the beach and the lake and everything else,” Tim Cooper says. “Then, there are so many other things to do in the area. That’s what attracted us.”
Provided by Grandfather Golf & Country Club