Singer James Taylor put Carolina in the minds of many when he wrote his 1968 classic song. In many respects, the song reflected Taylor’s longing for his childhood North Carolina roots.
The tune became an unofficial anthem for the Tar Heel State, specifically namesake University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where Taylor’s father was a professor. A few years after Taylor wrote his Tar Heel tribute, North Carolina native Homer Wright discovered the little coastal Carolina town of Southport, and realized he had a real estate hit in the making.
Indeed, 35 years after purchasing several hundred acres of lush woodlands with a couple of business partners and breaking ground on a private residential golf club community then called St. James Plantation, Southport has been nothing short of sweet-sounding music for the thousands of residents that now call this place home.
NO PLACE LIKE HOME
How else can one describe a distinctive master-planned development that now features 81 holes of championship-caliber golf, four clubhouses, four pools, three fitness centers, biking and walking trails, tennis courts in four different locations, a growing pickleball following, and six restaurants. For boaters and folks that just love being on the water, St. James also features Tommy Thompson’s Grille and Market at the popular 475-slip marina on the intracoastal waterway and a private beach club and oceanfront pool just a short drive from this sensational, now-6,000-acre slice of the good life.
Throw in the development’s attractive year-round weather and great coastal location, situated along the Cape Fear River just 35 minutes from the medium-sized city of Wilmington, and that explains why St. James has been the No. 1-selling community in the Coastal Carolinas since 1995.
The private club community has grown so much in the last 20 years, in fact, that it actually became an incorporated town in 1999 with its own mayor, fire department, emergency medical services, and property owners association that now services some 4,500 total property owners. According to General Manager Kent Silhanek of Troon, which manages the courses and club amenities after purchasing the assets from Wright’s development team three years ago, the newly branded Clubs at St. James now numbers some 3,500 memberships or approximately 6,500-6,800 total members when spouses are included. Silhanek, who took over three years ago, says one of the more remarkable aspects of being a part of St. James is the value of the lifestyle one realizes from both the club membership and real estate/home options.
“There’s not a whole lot you’re not getting when you move into the community,” Silhanek said. “Especially from a club standpoint.”
Mary Barclay, 64, and her husband, Dennis, were two of the original resident members when they invested in a homesite in 1992. They moved to St. James permanently about 20 years ago after retiring from the federal government in Northern Virginia.
“We’re very lucky we found it,” Mary Barclay shared.
The Barclays discovered Southport as a vacation spot one year and, much like Wright, fell in love with the location. They bought their first St. James condo in 2000. The Barclays later moved into a larger single-family home and as avid golfers they couldn’t be more thrilled with their decision.
“First, because we’re big golfers, having access to four golf courses that are entirely different is just great,” Barclay said, referring to St. James’ original 18-hole Founders Club designed by P.B. Dye in 1991, the 27-hole Hale Irwin-designed Members Club that debuted in 1996, an 18-hole layout designed by Tim Cate a year later, and the newest Reserve Club opened by Nicklaus Design in 2006.
“Second, what makes St. James so attractive is access to the beach,” she said. “We just go out the back gate, drive a couple miles and we’re at the beach. Plus, the (developers) did everything they said they would do, and then some.”
In fact, even during the financial crisis of 2008, St. James’ well-capitalized owners continued to pour millions into the community, adding a 24,000-square-foot Reserve clubhouse in 2011 and the popular SeaSide Club, a family-oriented resort-style pool complex situated just minutes from the Atlantic Ocean.
HOW SWEET IT IS
All told, St. James’ growing footprint features an estimated $100 million in world-class amenities and infrastructure, not the least of which is 80-plus miles of paved roads and the ever-popular HarborSide Marketplace and marina, where sunset cocktails are often standing-room affairs. There’s also the annual Memorial Day weekend shrimp and beer festival at SeaSide Club that draws fun-loving crowds.
On the home front, St. James offers something for everyone. Among the various real estate offerings are newer maintenance-free marina condos to a variety of other low-maintenance single-family cottage homes, large custom homes and an array of homesites with natural preserve, water, and/or golf views. Prices start in the mid-to-high $100,000s.
“There’s so much to do here, you’re never bored,” added Barclay, a former chairperson of the club’s advisory committee. “People who’ve never been belonged to a private club before have no idea the bang they’re getting for their St. James membership. And the job Troon is doing with their golf team’s overall service and food and beverage is just phenomenal.”
Besides significant value for the cost of membership — which ranges from $300 per month for a social membership (golf, tennis, and pickleball not included) to $650 for full golf privileges and all the aforementioned amenities— the fact that St. James is a “mature community” is another major plus.
“We’re pretty well built out so you’re not going to have any surprises,” said assistant general manager David Finchbaugh, who started working at St. James 15 years ago. “You’re not going in hoping they’re going to deliver what they promised. They already have. I think that’s a huge contributing factor, along with our coastal location.”
The ocean and great golf options were two of the main criteria when Barry Barnett, 72, and his wife, Alison, started looking for a retirement home about 13 years ago. A former professional with one of the big accounting firms based out of New York City, Barnett says the avid golfers liked the geographic location of North Carolina and looked at several coastal communities.
But St. James “had it all,” Barnett said, while all the others were “promising they were going to build it or in a few years this was going to be the thing.”
After the Barnetts crunched the numbers on the golf club membership, St. James was a slam dunk for the New Jersey transplants, considering their membership at their previous club was more than double per year in dues. And that was “before you put a tee in the ground,” Barnett noted.
But all of the amenities and the relative value at St. James notwithstanding, what really makes their new North Carolina home so rewarding is the “lifestyle” Barnett and his wife now enjoy.
“It’s Disney World for adults,” Barnett said. An avid wine collector and current club advisory committee chairperson, he added, “St. James has all the amenities and activities you’d ever
want. Plus, there’s a wine club, beer club, and dozens of others. You name it, we’ve got it. So in that respect, it’s all encompassing.
In the words of another hit song from James Taylor, ‘How sweet it is,’ to be living in St. James.