Kenny Walker is an SC golf icon whose pace challenges all golfers, no matter their age.
The ancient Greek poet Hesiod is credited with first observing that “moderation is best in all things.” For one member of Long Cove Club on Hilton Head Island in the South Carolina Lowcountry, that sage advice rings true—about everything but golf.
Kenny Walker was born in Massachusetts in 1936 but spent much of his youth in the textile town of Anniston, AL. Always a good student with an interest in the sciences, he earned a degree from Harvard. A new job in the growing plastics industry brought him to Greenville, SC, where he met a local girl who would become his wife.
“Hila and I got married in Greenville in 1960,” Walker says, “and after a stint in the military, we were living there when a neighbor’s boss very graciously let us use his new house in Sea Pines. Back then, you knew you were in the Lowcountry from about an hour out, driving on the narrow roads with the big, mossy oaks hanging over them. Even after you crossed over to the island on the old two-lane bridge, it was like that all the way to Coligny Circle on the south end. It was just beautiful.
“So we started vacationing on Hilton Head almost every summer,” he continues. “We’d stay at the William Hilton Inn, which was a very classy oceanfront hotel where you had to dress for dinner—jacket and tie required. One year, probably in the early 1980s, the club pro at Harbour Town, John Farrell, told me that I should check out Pete Dye’s new private course at Long Cove Club. After a friend invited me to play it, I told myself, ‘that’s where I want to live one day.’”
But, taking care of business came first, and Walker found that his growing passion for golf would play a significant role in both the journey and the ultimate destination of his life.
“I took up the game in my late 20s,” he says, “because I saw that it would be a big asset to take prospects out for a round of golf. In fact, with thousands of manufacturers in the plastics business, I made a decision early on to focus on the companies run by people who were also golfers. It worked out very well.
Do What You Love
“I started my own company in 1982,” he points out. “We were living up north, and when it reached the point that we could live anywhere we wanted to live, we first went to Atlanta. We also visited Aiken [South Carolina] frequently because our daughter lived there at the time and we liked it very much. But, we kept getting drawn back to Hilton Head Island.”
Kenny and Hila Walker moved into their new home in the Long Cove Club residential community in February 1991. Then, as now, the initial fee for club membership was built into the purchase price, so he was at the clubhouse and ready to play within days.
Play it Fast
“I couldn’t have been more warmly welcomed that first day,” Walker recalls, “and I got paired up with some guys who quickly became great friends. Since then, I’ve tried to be just as welcoming to new members. We form our own golf groups at Long Cove Club—my current group has about 40 people—and I’ve always thought it was important to include players of different ages and skill levels. The only thing I ask is ‘don’t be slow.’”
But Walker’s vigorous pace of play isn’t the reason for his status as a local golf icon; it’s his Iron Man durability: He’s the acknowledged (if unofficial) all-time record holder on Long Cove Club course with more than 6,000 rounds played and counting.
“Back in the ‘90s,” he says, “I played over 300 rounds a year—five or six, even seven days a week sometimes—and for most of those I’d walk the course and carry my own clubs. When you walk the entire 18 holes, it’s about five miles, plus the weight of the bag. Now that’s a good workout.”
Lead with a Club
Over the years, Walker also got involved with club leadership by serving on the golf committee, then being elected club president in 1996-97. He introduced player-friendly changes in course operation—allowing walking rounds any time of the day and carts on the fairways for the benefit of older members—and other improvements that have kept Long Cove Club among the nation’s top-rated private clubs. He also developed a friendship with Pete Dye (“he’s a treasure”) during the course architect’s annual visits to the club and supported investment in a complete restoration of the golf course that was completed in October 2018. “They did an excellent job,” according to Walker.
All the while, he’s continued to set course records: On December 5, 2016—at age 80— Walker shot his fourth hole-in-one on the Long Cove Club course, his seventh ace overall during a half-century of play. “I tell people these days that I don’t really play golf anymore, I play at it,” he muses. “But that was a pretty good shot.”
Now in his 82nd year, Walker has cut back his golf schedule to just two or three rounds a week, but enjoys the game and his playing companions just as much. Has that been his key to a healthy lifestyle?
Keys to the Good Life
“Well, I was blessed with great genes, and I watch what I eat. We have a lot of seafood and fresh vegetables,” he says. “And I do enjoy a cocktail, not every night, but I’ll have one when I want one.
“It’s no secret that I enjoy golf and being around people who make me laugh. I think that makes for a long and happy life,” Walker notes. “It’s important to do as much as you can to fill your life with the things you like to do and do them with people you enjoy. Being married to Hila is my greatest joy.” The Walkers recently celebrated their 58th anniversary and cherish time with their son and his family when they’re visiting from North Carolina, and their daughter and two grandchildren who now also live on Hilton Head Island.
That choice of location seems to have played a role in his happy longevity as well.
“Obviously, there’s been growth and a lot of changes since we moved here in 1991,” he says. “One new thing is that they’ve finally extended the runway at the Hilton Head Airport, so regional jets can fly in directly from Charlotte, and eventually Atlanta and other places. I think that will help to keep the island as a top retirement and vacation destination. But, one thing that hasn’t really changed that much is the natural character of the island. Hilton Head has done a magnificent job of maintaining the beauty of this place,” he concludes.
“And, the same is true of Long Cove Club—it looks great, the people have been so friendly, we have lots of good neighbors, and we share all these great amenities. We really have been blessed.”
Gracious and affable. Generous and polite. The folks at Long Cove Club will tell you that Kenny Walker is the kind of member who has made their community such a special place for so long. There was only one reason that he’d kindly point out that the hour allotted for this interview was up.
With 26,000 total acres—the equivalent of 40 square miles or nearly twice the land area of Manhattan—Hot Springs Village in Arkansas is America’s largest gated community.
Established in 1970 by Little Rock businessman John Cooper Sr. and developed by his family-owned Cooper Communities Inc. (CCI), Hot Springs Village was envisioned to be a major retirement community and golf destination in a central Arkansas area that had neither. But Cooper was also an environmentalist who wrote into the original Village covenants that at least 40% of the development had to remain forever as common areas or otherwise undeveloped land. And by 1975, as the first few hundred lots were sold and retirement homes were built, CCI helped to create the Hot Springs Village Property Owners Association (HSVPOA) and a unique partnership began.
Over the next three decades, the Village grew steadily with retirees from neighboring states and Midwestern cities like Chicago and Detroit. Between 1979 and 2004, nine golf courses were built at scattered locations among the community’s meadows and woodlands, each with its own clubhouse and restaurant. The 11 on-site recreational lakes covering more than 2,000 acres and nearly 30 miles of internal nature trails proved to be equally popular recreational amenities. And, serious anglers and hikers soon discovered a paradise right next door in the pristine 1.8 million-acre Ouachita National Forest and its huge centerpiece lake with waters among the cleanest in America.
Additional facilities were built as the Village prospered: the 654-seat Woodlands Auditorium performing-arts venue, an anchor of an activity center that includes the new Grove Park Amphitheater and Casa de Carta, home to one of the nation’s largest bridge clubs; The Coronado Community Center with its own 300-seat auditorium, a lending library, and meeting space for what would become more than 100 community clubs and organizations; a fitness center with indoor pool and workout facilities; a tennis center with additional pickleball and bocce ball courts; two full-service marinas; and 25 churches serving 15 denominations. Residents also participate in dozens of volunteer organizations with an outreach well beyond the community gates.
Village infrastructure grew with its population. There are 501 miles of roads maintained by the HSV public works department, which also operates the recently expanded freshwater plant at a 12th community lake reserved for drinking water, plus two wastewater-treatment facilities. The Village also has its own police and fire departments located in four community substations, contracts for ambulance services with on-site paramedics, handles its own permitting and inspections, and even runs an on-site animal shelter. For all of these amenities and services, the annual assessment set by a vote of the Hot Springs Village property owners is currently around $780.
Today, there are more than 31,000 HSV property owners, about 14,000 of whom live in the Village year-round in 9,000 mostly single-family homes. It’s large enough to qualify as its own Census Enumerated District and could be an incorporated municipality, but it’s not. Hot Springs Village is a different kind of democracy. Over the years, the working relationship between the original CCI developers and the HSV Property Owners Association evolved, with the latter taking on more and more responsibility. And, in recent years, CCI has turned over all operational control and ownership of most of the common areas and facilities to the POA—meaning that the property owners are in charge at Hot Springs Village, a huge benefit and responsibility in equal measure.
On April 20, 2020, Hot Springs Village will celebrate its 50th year in business and is already at work planning the festivities. For many communities, giving itself a big pat on the back for a half-century of growth and success would be sufficient. But, the seven-member HSVPOA Board of Directors, elected by the property owners to three-year staggered terms, had a different idea: Let’s take stock of where we are, preserve and enhance what we like, make changes where necessary, and get started on a new direction for the Village before we throw ourselves a big 50th birthday party.
Thus began a community-wide engagement with the property owners resulting in the 2018 Hot Springs Village Comprehensive Master Plan. During a year-long process that included outside consultants like DPZ and Crafton Tull, a 22-member volunteer POA committee and the Village planning staff, three surveys were sent out, and community meetings were organized to get as much input as possible. More than 4,000 completed surveys were returned, and hundreds turned out for a series of workshops, supplemented by personal conversations, phone calls, and emails to directors, committee members, and staffers.
The final Comprehensive Master Plan sets three major priorities consistent with an overwhelming consensus of Village property owners:
Protect long-term financial sustainability,
Enhance the community’s natural character, and
Offer new housing options for retirees and working families.
Because POA members set their own annual assessments to pay for Village operations, they have a vested interest in keeping costs down and generating new revenue. One option to achieve the latter—supported by 80% of survey respondents—is to establish an enhanced Town Center in the existing Woodlands Auditorium area. There is relatively little commercial development within the Village gates, but the central location of the Woodlands Town Center makes it an ideal place for a grocery store, specialty shops, professional-service offices, restaurants, and even a hotel. Lease revenue from those businesses could make a significant contribution to the Village balance sheet, as would sales or rental income from more urban-style townhomes, condominiums, or apartments for retirees looking to downsize, as well as younger workers.
Being America’s premier active lifestyle community is who we are, and our Comprehensive Master Plan is focused on preserving that value for our property owners for years to come. – Board of Directors Chairman Tom Weiss of the Hot Springs Village Property Owners Association
But, the plan doesn’t call for putting those eggs in a single basket: areas around the Coronado Center and Carmona Center could be similarly developed, albeit on a smaller scale, with clustered housing, neighborhood markets, cafés, and shops. All three areas would be walkable by design and connected by extended leisure paths, with choice areas reserved for parks and open space.
The Comprehensive Master Plan also focuses on future residential development in Hot Springs Village, with an eye toward both preserving existing property values and attracting new residents. Areas near the three primary activity centers already substantially developed should be prioritized for home site sales, while new pocket neighborhoods with smaller homes should be encouraged, thereby enhancing future housing options for new buyers. At the same time, some platted lots could be combined to create larger home sites, while others could be taken off the market to create pocket parks in keeping with the established natural character of the Village. Perhaps most remarkably, the plan advocates suspending sales of more than 5,000 lots (about 17% of the total) not only in perimeter areas with little existing development but also in large areas of partially-built neighborhoods, especially those lots in existing drainageways or on steep topography. This proposal would reduce the current oversupply of properties, while significantly expanding dedicated natural areas.
Among the other property owners’ desires reflected in the plan are the establishment of a consolidated medical complex within the Village with corresponding shuttle service and expansion of the Lifelong Learning Institute programs. New marketing initiatives are also recommended and one is already in place: the new website at Explore TheVillage.com includes overviews of community real estate and amenities, information about new Discovery Tour packages, and a link to the 2018 HSV Comprehensive Master Plan.
Maybe life really does begin at 50. The folks at Hot Springs Village certainly think so.
HOT SPRINGS VILLAGE GOLF
Hot Springs Village was designed from the start to be both a retirement community and a golf destination. The plan was that residents and visitors could share the cost of creating an unrivaled family of Arkansas championship courses. It worked.
Legend has it that Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto traversed the a
rea in 1541, so the first Village golf course to open in 1972 was named for him. A theme was thus established and the Cortez (1979), Coronado (1982), Balboa (1987), Ponce de Leon (1991), Magellan (1996), Isabella (2000), and Granada (2004) followed. All eight golf courses are 18-hole layouts, except the 27-hole Isabella with her Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria nines. All were designed by the acclaimed architects at Ault, Clark & Associates. Each was built on a distinctive tract of pristine land, some featuring multiple lakefront holes, others offering sweeping views of the Ouachita Mountains. Many have been ranked among the state’s best courses by leading golf publications and have hosted numerous tournament events. All have been consistently refurbished over the years and are maintained to the highest playability and environmental-impact standards.
The ninth HSV course—Diamante—opened in 1995 as a private country club. It’s separately owned by its members, managed by Kemper Golf, and has been ranked among Arkansas’ top private courses since its debut.
The other eight Village courses are owned and operated by the HSV Property Owners Association. Director of Golf Tom Heffer, Director of Agronomy Gary Myers, and their staffs manage day-to-day operations, while a standing committee makes policy and budget recommendations. Visiting players from around the region and nearby Hot Springs vacation destinations pay an average greens fee of $65, which is quite reasonable for a top-flight resort course and contributes to the Village’s golf bottom line.
So much so, in fact, that Hot Springs Village property owners enjoy unlimited play on all eight courses for a single annual fee of just $2,190. (That’s not a misprint: $2,190!) It’s hard to imagine a better value in American golf and unsurprising that HSV residents take full advantage; they account for about 85% of the 243,000 annual rounds played, and up to a thousand are weekly tournament participants in the seven Village golf associations for men, women, couples, and juniors.
The daily fees paid by visiting golfers and the residents’ annual contributions combine to substantially fund operation of the Village courses. As a result, the 2018 HSV Comprehensive Master Plan recommends no changes to the current program. However, new resident golfers attracted by contemporary housing options, plus increased visitor play with on-site accommodations like a Woodlands Town Center hotel, could actually make golf a community profit center in the future. And, POA members will still own their eight Hot Springs Village golf courses—which makes that $2,190 a year an even sweeter deal.
“While our plan includes many beautiful physical elements, our people are the real story. The unsung heroes in its creation and implementation are our 500+ employees, thousands of volunteers, business owners, and residents who will work hand-in-hand to bring this plan to life.“ - Hot Springs Village POA Chief Executive Officer Lesley Nalley
The Cliffs at Glassy is a private residential community in upstate South Carolina with a spectacular centerpiece golf course. Set atop Glassy Mountain at elevations up to 3,200 feet, the panoramic views of Blue Ridge peaks and lush highland valleys are simply stunning. A little warmer in the winter sunshine and definitely even milder in summer than the surrounding protected woodlands, the red-and-gold autumn scenery up there is as cool as the crisp mountain air.
Insider tip: Bring your binoculars.
The Cliffs at Glassy layout isn’t just another pretty face. Course architect Tom Jackson designed it so that proud members and their awed guests could put up a good score from the forward tees, while scratch players find plenty of worthy challenges from the tournament tees on the flawless bentgrass fairways and greens. Afterward, everyone can enjoy socializing in the member clubhouse over a gourmet dinner following refreshments and another glorious sunset.
Once in a while, bursting out of our virtual cocoons and savoring the actual experience of a magical place can be a very healthy enterprise. The Cliffs at Glassy is inviting you to do just that with a Discovery Tour package this season that includes accommodations, dinner, and one unforgettable round of mountain golf. The details are available at GlassyLiving.com.
Golf Digest named these as ”America’s Most Scenic Golf Courses:” Pebble Beach, Augusta National, Cypress Point, and The Cliffs at Glassy.
Women’s golf associations add to quality of life for all
“Our team-play formats enhance our goals of fellowship and fun on the course,” Gail Wickstrom said, a member of one of Dataw Island’s Women’s Golf Associations, “and we’ve found that our flighted groups help to create a circle of friends.”
Ever since the popularity of golf spiked in the 1990s, there have been more women on the fairways and greens than ever before. Many women who took up the game then now find themselves enjoying the bliss of grandparenthood and a more relaxed schedule with full-time employment behind them.
Ever since the popularity of golf spiked in the 1990s, there have been more women on the fairways and greens than ever before. Many women who took up the game then now find themselves enjoying the bliss of grandparenthood and a more relaxed schedule with full-time employment behind them.
For many such women who retire to a community with one or more courses, joining an established women’s golf association is a natural portal to improving their games and making new friends. But, in addition to personal health benefits and social networking, being a member of their club’s all-female golf group also makes them a part of our nation’s gender equality movement.
It may be hard to imagine today, but there was once a time in the not-too-distant past when women golfers at both public courses and private clubs were limited to less desirable tee times and permitted to hold events only so long as they didn’t conflict with the men’s schedule. Women’s golf associations formed to pool their numbers and clout to do away with those “traditions,” thus putting the game on an equal footing for all. The result has been gender parity at nearly all private clubs and a legacy that future female players will hopefully appreciate.
Thus, in communities large and small across the nation, women’s golf associations continue to be an important quality-of-life asset, creating new connections and dispensing with outdated norms.
The Landings on Skidaway Island
The Landings is a sprawling Georgia retirement and residential community that covers much of the high ground on Skidaway Island, located just east of historic downtown Savannah. Among the more than 8,000 homeowners are young families just starting out, multi-generational households, and retirees from most states in the union, plus a number of foreign countries.
Golf is the featured recreational amenity at The Landings, as might be expected in a community with six on-site championship courses crafted by some of the game’s most gifted designers. The Landings Club is the membership association for community residents who play those scenic layouts and is home to the largest women’s golf association among all private country clubs in America.
Founded in 1974 and with a current membership of around 450, the Landings Women’s Golf Association (LWGA) has provided a model to be emulated by scores of similar groups, especially in establishing that all-important standard of equal course access.
Women’s golf at The Landings Club employs a three-tier approach. The informal “Farm Team” program is designed for women who are new to the game or maybe only played a few times a year before retiring. Staff professionals at the club offer instructional classes and players are grouped with those of similar skills for low-pressure rounds.
The Landings Nine-Hole Women’s Golf Association (L9GA) is the next step for former “Farm Team” players and new residents for whom a Thursday morning half-round of fun competition best suits their schedules. Members of the LWGA are lower-handicap golfers who often fill up two of the Landing’s courses for their Tuesday morning flighted tournaments, among other monthly competitive events. And a “buddy system” gets newbies at each level right into the swing of things.
Gail Wickstrom is a Chicago-area native who currently serves as Chair of the LWGA Board of Directors. “When you’re as large a group as we are,” she said, “you might arrive for your first event and there are 100 women milling about and you don’t know any of them. So we assign a ‘buddy’ who meets the new member at the course, introduces her around, and generally makes her more comfortable with the group’s various programs and benefits.”
And while LWGA members certainly look forward to the special tournaments where individuals vie for the lowest scores, weekly competitions and most other events emphasize camaraderie. “Our team-play formats enhance our goals of fellowship and fun on the course,” Wickstrom said, “and we’ve found that our flighted groups help to create a circle of friends.”
Katherine Crew came to The Landings from Atlanta and got involved about a year after moving in with the L9GA, which itself has around 170 members. They play as teams, too, and Katherine especially appreciated the overall health improvements for their members. “One of our trainers from our fitness center comes [over] before we tee off to lead a stretching class. Everyone loves it!” she said. “Getting out on the course on a beautiful Thursday morning, having fun with some great ladies, and playing a nine-hole game of golf does wonders for your health. It certainly does for your well being, as we all have fun and there are always lots of smiles when we’re done.”
In addition to social events like luncheons and dinner dances, both of the women’s golf groups at The Landings serve as conduits to volunteer opportunities and fund raising for local charities. The L9GA sponsors a big tournament every October that’s open to all club members—even men—and raises money for the Kid’s Cafe, an after-school meal program for children in the Savannah area at risk of hunger. The LWGA has raised more than $700,000 in the past 13 years for cancer research with their annual Golfing for a Cure Tournament, while smaller events benefit local military families in need, the Second Harvest Food Pantry, and the holiday-season Empty Stocking Fund.
Making connections with new Landings friends and within the wider Savannah community are laudable accomplishments, but these groups take it one step further by breaking down barriers. “This is one of the most vibrant women’s golf associations that you can imagine, and very welcoming to all,” said Wickstrom of the LWGA. “No one here cares what you did for a living or how much money you made or what kind of house you live in.” And the L9GA’s Crew echoes that sentiment: “There’s no status quo with us.”
Located just up the coast in the South Carolina Lowcountry near the historic town of Beaufort, Dataw Island is a private residential and retirement community smaller in size than The Landings, but second to none in the quality of its golf. Both of the Dataw courses—Tom Fazio’s Cotton Dike and Arthur Hills’ Morgan River—are award-winning designs that have been recently renovated and have hosted numerous sanctioned amateur tournaments.
While Dataw Island Club members enjoy a variety of top-flight amenities, the Dataw Tennis Center was named in 2017 by the U.S. Tennis Association as one of the top four facilities in the country—golf is the most popular outdoor recreation.
“We have very active golf programs for both men and women,” said Director of Golf Dave Britton. “It is not uncommon for couples to move to Dataw Island where the husband is already a golfer and the wife is completely green, maybe even never having swung a club, and SHE ends up playing as often or even more than he does!”
The club’s flexible membership structure and access policies have certainly contributed to that growth in women’s golf participation. Dataw offers “al la carte” cafeteria-style membership plans that are renewable on an annual basis, allowing members to expand or change their choices as their lifestyles, interests, and schedules evolve. All members, regardless of plan, have access to the club’s golf practice facilities, can take part in free instructional clinics designed for new players, and may tee it up on the courses six times a year before joining a golf membership program. “This approach allows future golf members to get their feet wet before fully diving in,” Britton said.
Women golfers at Dataw Island Club, like their counterparts at The Landings Club, can then either move on after a learning period or jump right in to one of two golf groups. Or, like Celeste Nalwasky, a past president of the Dataw Island Women’s Golf Association (DIWGA), they can participate in both the 18-hole and nine-hole groups. She helps to coach new players and enjoys the casual fun of nine-hole outings but keeps her low-handicap skills sharp by playing in most of the competitive 18-hole tournaments.
“We were all beginners once,” said Nalwasky. “Golf is a fantastic way to get connected and to stay active.” Making a positive contribution to the local community is one way to establish those links: Among other charities it supports, the DIWGA recently raised more than $12,000 for cancer research at a single event.
Making new connections within the Dataw community and breaking down barriers are also major benefits of DIWGA membership. “One of the biggest drivers for golf participation is the social and welcoming climate that our members have for one another,” Britton said. “Making introductions and helping members get plugged into groups, whether you are seeking competitive play, a social group, or laughs and lagers, there are enough groups available that new members don’t have a hard time ‘fitting in’ as we hear sometimes can happen elsewhere. Perhaps most important to new members is that our existing members are very gracious and welcoming, regardless of your personal background or skill level on the course.”
The Landings on Skidaway Island is a private gated community known as much for its beauty as for its personality. Located on the Intracoastal Waterway and just 12 miles from the charming and historic city of Savannah, GA, The Landings celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2012.
There is a place off the South Carolina coast, near the charming town of Beaufort, where nature and luxury share center stage. Shaped by the Intracoastal Waterway and a rich Southern history, the gated golf community of Dataw Island is a pristine parcel of 870 acres waiting to be discovered.
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