We spent a couple of years looking at golf course communities in and around Texas. Each one had its good points, but also enough bad points to keep us from choosing anything we had seen.
In June of 1998, we received an advertisement from Cooper Communities to visit Hot Springs Village ("HSV" - a gated community 15 miles North of the city of Hot Springs) for three days and two nights. We would only have to spend one morning taking a tour of (and sales pitch for) the Village, and the rest of the time could be spent playing golf.
We had never been to Arkansas and had no desire to live there -- we were going solely for the free vacation. In fact, on the way to HSV from Houston, we stopped for the weekend in Kay's hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana, and decided to buy a lot in a new golf course community (Stonebridge) which we had been keeping an eye on. Compared to golf course communities in Texas we had seen, Stonebridge offered larger lots for the money and was very convenient to major stores and malls.
However, the first day in Hot Springs Village, we were sold. By the time we took the Cooper tour on the second day, it was just a question of where we would buy. We cancelled the lot purchase at Stonebridge, went back to Houston, luckily caught a hot housing market and sold our house right away and moved to HSV in August.
(Since we moved here, development of the 26,000 acre HSV by Cooper has been completed, so the free tours by Cooper such as we came on are no longer offered. Although no more new sections are being opened in HSV, there are a great many lots and homes for sale. Check with local real estate companies.)
The attraction of HSV is a combination of many things (in no particular order):
Many, if not most, retirement communities (such as the Villages in Florida) make you choose from a limited number of floor plans which are built by the company owning the community. In HSV, you can have a builder of your choice build from virtually any floor plan you come up with (as long as it conforms to usual building standards). Our home was built from plans that I drew up on a computer and when one of Kay's sisters moved to HSV, I also drew up a floor plan for her. (See Building A Home in HSV for details.)
Several companies build lovely houses "on spec" to put up for sale and they usually go quickly. There are also townhouses and garden homes available. Another of Kay's sisters bought a town house close to Lake DeSoto to use before they retired and bought another house on Isabella golf course to live in when they retired, keeping the townhouse and renting it to vacationers, which has been very successful for them.
Residents who want to simplify their living arrangements or who need various degrees of assisted living have their choice of two large assisted living complexes.
There are so many activities and organizations in HSV, we have found it impossible to do everything we would like to do. Most retired people have a problem with nothing to do. In HSV, this could never be a problem for anyone willing to get out of their house. (HSV is not an age-restricted community, but the vast majority of residents are retired.)
Examples of the activity in HSV:
Shortly after we moved here, we got into a beginning line dancing class. It was split into two classes because over 120 people signed up. In addition to these, there were intermediate, introduction to advanced, and advanced classes. There are also classes for square dancing, two-steppers, tap, clogging, and ballroom dancing.
If you like bowling, there are several regular 10-pin leagues, lawn bowling, and bocce. A bowling alley opened not far from the West gate in the year 2000. Eight-ball leagues are also held at this bowling alley.
Tennis is also big in the Village. There are courts near Lake DeSoto and by the Coronado Center, where new clay courts were just put in.
|The Coronado Fitness Center has a large room with weight machines, treadmills, elliptical trainers, steppers, etc., plus a large variety of free weights and pulley machines, all surrounded by an indoor 3-lane track. The Fitness Center is attached to an indoor swimming pool where water aerobics classes are held. The natatorium also has a large whirlpool, two saunas, and a kiddie pool. Between the nat and the weight room are men's and women's locker rooms, massage rooms, and rooms for aerobics and spin cycles. Both the natatorium and the fitness center overlook beautiful Lake Coronado.|
The Village Card Club is one of the largest duplicate bridge clubs in the country. It holds duplicate games for players of all levels. In addition to VCC, there are several other duplicate bridge and rubber bridge clubs as well as card clubs/groups for other types of games.
And of course, golf is a big deal in HSV. Several men and women's golf organizations offer 18-hole and 9-hole leagues for novices to experts.
For entertainment, HSV even has its own 600-seat auditorium (see picture above) with frequent plays, musicals, and concerts put on by talented residents as well as by visiting troupes, bands, singers, orchestras, etc. Hot Springs has a convention center with attached sports arena where many concerts are held. In addition, many residents subscribe to Little Rock's symphony and theaters.
In the woods across a side street from the auditorium parking lot is Grove Park which hosts a Farmers' Market and free outdoor concerts.
Probably more than 95% of the residents of HSV moved here from outside of Arkansas. That means they come here looking for new friends and for things to do with their new friends. This results in a community which, in general, is more active and friendlier than others. It's like living in Mayberry, but with a lot more to do.
Within the gates of HSV are eight resort-quality golf courses for use by HSV residents and their guests: DeSoto, Cortez, Coronado, Balboa, Ponce, Magellan, Isabella, and Granda, A nine-hole course was the last one completed and was added to Isabella, which now rotates three 9's. A 10th course, Diamante, is a private membership course within HSV, but all the other courses can be played by all residents for a relatively low fee.
When we first got Cooper's ad about playing golf on eight different courses, we assumed they meant public courses in the general area. We could not imagine that many courses (as well as a half-dozen lakes) within a gated community. This place is BIG -- over 26,000 acres and over 13,000 full-time residents. (See the map on the HSV-Life home page.)
The DeSoto golf course was the first. Nine holes were built in 1971 and nine more a year later. There were no golf fees at that time. The course was paid for by Cooper Development out of lot sales and turned over to the Property Owners Association.
The second course was Cortez in 1979. It was also paid for by Cooper. Not only is there greater demand for golf course lots than for plain wooded lots, and a higher price can be charged for them, making the building of a golf course a good investment for Cooper. The completed course was again turned over to the POA, as have been all courses except Diamante.
In 1982, the Coronado course became the third course, and in 1988, the Balboa golf course was added. It was the last to be built by Cooper. The Ponce de Leon course (1991), Magellan (1996), Isabella (2000), and Granada course were/are built with money raised by a surcharge on golf fees plus interest-free loans from Cooper.
Unlike most other retirement/resort communities, the golf courses are owned by the residents, not some distant corporation. I've only heard of one other development which has nearly as many courses as HSV, and that is the Villages in Florida, but most of their (corporation-owned) courses are shorter "executive" courses , while only one of HSV's is an executive course (Coronado). So HSV has more full-sized courses than any other development in the U.S. (probably in the world).
It should also be noted that the Villages in Florida advertises "free" golf, but that is only on the executive courses (and nothing is "free" -- you pay one way or another). Their full-sized courses cost several times more for residents to play than the courses in HSV.
Home lots, golf and other amenities in HSV are cheaper and better than other communities which we visited.
Unlimited golf on the 8+ POA golf courses is around $100 per month, or you can pay by the round -- around $10. Some golf communities advertise "free" golf, but they have high monthly property owners assessments. The assessment in HSV, which goes for the upkeep of all the roads and common property in HSV, is under $35 per month for unimproved lots and $65 for improved lots.
Golf course lots in HSV are much cheaper than similar communities we visited in Texas and Louisiana. Because of the terrain, they also have much better views and are more heavily wooded.
In talking to residents from around the U.S., it is clear that HSV is the best value in the country for a community of its type.
Within its gates HSV has gas stations, food stores, many restaurants, drug stores, doctors and dentists offices and on and on. Many more businesses, eating places, and stores are located just outside the gates of HSV.
In addition, the city of Hot Springs is only 20 minutes South. Benton is 20 minutes East with Little Rock another 20 minutes beyond that.
None of the golf course communities and retirement communities we visited in other places had any shopping, movies, restaurants, etc., within their gates, and since most were located on lake fronts away from towns, they really felt isolated.
HSV is a gated community with its own police force, fire stations, and ambulance service.
"Crime Reports" in the paper often include such things as "A man's wallet was found in the parking lot of the DeSoto Golf Course and was returned to him." (Update: In March 2010, I dropped my wallet on the ground outside of Cranford's and the Dollar Store just outside the East Gate. Someone took it into the Dollar Store. A store employee called me before I even realized it was missing and I picked it up. About $150 cash, a Wal-Mart cash/gas card with $60 on it, and my credit card were all still there. The person who turned it in didn't even leave his name. So "Village living" even extends outside the gates!)
Because drive-through traffic by non-residents is not allowed in HSV, you see very little litter on the roads, picnic areas, and lakes, and traffic throughout the Village is very light. On "Village Pride" days, residents pitch in and pick up what relatively little litter there is.
Within the gates of HSV, you are surrounded by forests, mountains, lakes, and golf courses. (Residential property takes up less than half of the acerage in HSV.) Amazingly enough, the picture above of a mountain view of a beautiful lake is all within the gates of HSV.
If that's not enough, HSV itself is surrounded by state and national parks with even larger lakes, mountains, and forests. (See pictures.)
One of the largest lakes in Arkansas, Lake Ouachita, is less than a 15 minute drive from the main entrance to HSV. And of course the city of Hot Springs is located in and around the Hot Springs National Park and the beautiful Lake Hamilton.
In HSV, a main road (DeSoto) runs the length of the community. Green belts run most of the way on both sides of the road, so when you make the 20-minute drive across HSV on DeSoto, you feel like you are driving through undeveloped forest.
The trees and brush also serve as an effective sound barrier for the houses on the other side of the trees.
Weather is relatively mild in HSV. The lows in the Winter are mostly in the 20s and highs in the Summer are mostly in the 90s. As a result, golf can be played year-round here.
Leaving Houston, we were happy to put the threats of hurricanes and flooding behind us. Street and house flooding happens frequently in Houston. In the hills of HSV, flooding really isn't possible.
In April of 2008, Arkansas was flooding all over. Several counties were declared disaster areas, including Garland County, which has most of HSV as well as Hot Springs itself. The Hot Springs paper headline declared: "County suffers worst flooding since '90".
Yet the paper also reported that HSV "got a lot of rain" but that "the higher elevations in the Village prevented neighborhood flooding as tributaries on common property poured water into the lakes."
Although tornado alerts are frequent in Arkansas, nobody I've talked to can remember a tornado actually touching down in the Village. If one has actually touched down, it has done relatively little damage. Certainly no tornado has ever cut a swath of destruction as often seen in other areas hit by tornadoes.
Since we do get some solid freezes during the winter, bugs are killed off during that time, unlike places like Florida where insects seem to thrive year round.
There are virtually no mosquitoes here. It might be because water finds it difficult to sit and stagnate in these hills. Creeks, lakes, and even golf course water hazards are all interconnected and the water is always moving.
|The worst insects are chiggers during the Summer months, but these can be easily controlled with insect repellant. Kay uses Avon Bug-Gard and has no problem hiking and working in the wilds in the middle of summer. Nelson uses Deep Woods Off and rarely gets a bug bite.|
The golf courses, lakes, and other common property in HSV are owned by the property owners through the POA. (Visit the POA's web site.)
At other similar communities we visited, these things are owned by the developer or some distant corporation, either of whom is free to raise golf course fees and property assessments at any time.
The first time we visited Bentwater on Lake Conroe, Texas, the golf dues were only $129 a month (which seemed cheap before we learned about HSV). We expressed concern about how dues could be raised at any time and we were assured by the sales people that the developer wanted to keep the dues low to attract more buyers.
Aside from the question of what would happen when all the lots were sold, the next time we visited Bentwater, less than a year later, dues had gone up to $165 a month. So much for assurances from sales people...
At Stonebridge in Bossier, Louisiana, where we had bought a lot before seeing HSV, not only was the course owned by a corporation, but the course was only "semi-private" (isn't that like being semi-pregnant?) and dues were to START at $195 a month plus a $3000 initiation fee, plus restrictions such as no privately owned carts.
Not only is the annual fee for unlimited golf on 8+ different courses at HSV less than $100 a month, property owners who golf less frequently (such as part-time residents or vacationers) can opt to pay by the round, which is only about $10! (Again, these are resort quality golf courses!)
HSV is now associated with Troon Golf and property owners can play on private golf courses around the country which are also associated with Troon.
Even worse than a corporate-owned golf course raising its dues is what can happen if the developer goes under. About the same time HSV opened in the very early 1970's, I bought a lot and built a house in a development on Lake Travis (outside Austin, Texas).
The developer went bankrupt. The golf course and club house were bought by Willie Nelson (!) and became his private property -- until the I.R.S. took it from him. The golf course changed hands a couple of times and is now being run as a public course, but only as public a 9-hole course and frisbee course.
Fortunately, I sold my house in the early 1970's before the developer went under, but the contrast between what that community looks like today compared to what HSV (which is nearly the same age) looks like is enough to illustrate how important it can be to have the property owners control the golf course and common properties.
A development between HSV and the town of Hot Springs was built around a private 18-hole course. That development fell on hard times and the course was opened to the public but eventually went under and is being converted to a 9-hole golf course and an 18-hole "footgolf" course, all open to the public.
There are hundreds of miles of roads in the Village, yet I do not recall ever seeing a pothole. Property assessment money here is well spent by the POA, and part of that is keeping the roads in perfect condition.
There are no traffic lights(!!) in the Village, and you will come across few stop signs in your typical drive in the Village.
DeSoto Boulevard is the main thoroughfare, going all the way across the Village from the West Gate to the East Gate with only one stop sign over the entire 15 mile drive to slow you down.
Major thoroughfares come off DeSoto and snake around through different sections of the Village with neighborhood streets. The majority of neighborhood streets end in cul de sacs, so naturally there is very little drive-by traffic on these streets. Meanwhile, you can drive down the major thoroughfares with very few stops.
As example, to get to the DeSoto golf club on the far West side of the Village from a house in the Isabella subdivision on the far East side, you will get a stop sign where the house's street meets Pizarro (the major thoroughfare for Isabella), another stop sign where Pizarro runs into DeSoto, and one other stop sign on DeSoto just before you get to the entrance to the golf club. That's three stop signs and no traffic lights for a drive of over 10 miles -- and with normally very light traffic along the whole route.
If you come from a congested urban area like we did, you probably used to spend more time than that crawling through traffic lights just to get to a freeway to start the long commute to your office.
Also see: Building A House for more information about choosing a lot in HSV.