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Affordable Sun Belt Cities Offer Plenty of Golf and Picture Perfect Weather

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

CHARLOTTE N.C. -- We can't all afford retire to a country club lifestyle in Florida or to a resort community in the Caribbean. But you would never know this from perusing the pages of this country's national golf and travel magazines.

They (who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty) diligently trot out these “second home” golf course living sections, replete with pictures of cushy cabins in the North Carolina mountains and palatial stucco castles perched on the sides of craggy desert mountain ranges in Scottsdale like we should be able to order one up like an omelet.

If most of us could just afford a first home that remotely resembled these bad boys, we wouldn't even need a second.

Thing is, plenty of affordable places to retire, relocate, or purchase a second home in this wonderful country exist in proximity to ridiculous amounts of quality daily fee golf. They just don't make the cover of the glossy magazines.

The pages of the Internet, however, need not be so hallowed.

Legions of diehard golfers are in search of a lifestyle choice that brings bang for the housing, shopping, and golfing buck. You know who you are. You with the atlas, the dreamy look on your face, and the cheap American pilsner beer in your hand. You with the not so custom set of knock-off clubs, a 15-pack of Pinnacles, and a pull cart in the trunk of your Ford Taurus.

Because you dare to dream, we dare to dish out these affordable golf rich regions where you can retire or relocate without winning the lottery or committing a felonious crime. The criteria used in our search were simple: lots of sunshine, plenty of affordable golf, and an overall cost of living that would make your tight-fisted grandparents jealous.

Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Flavor: It may sit a good piece away from the border, but Albuquerque is as southwestern a town as you'll find outside of Santa Fe. A blue-collar feel mixes with an unmistakable college town atmosphere (the University of New Mexico sits nearby) to produce a decidedly easy place to hang your hat, er sombrero. Albuquerque has one of the most enviable settings of any U.S. city, perched atop a 5,000 foot plateau overlooking the Rio Grande valley and the peaks of the Sandia Mountains.

Golf Scene: Multi-course facilities are the name of the game in the Duke City, and Albuquerque has some great ones. Isleta Eagle, the University of New Mexico and Santa Anna each sport 27-hole courses that are recognized as three of the best golf venues in the state. Albuquerque is also home to crop of good municipal courses, led by Arroyo del Oso and Ladera. But the most talked about course in the region, and with good reason, is the Ken Dye designed Paa-Ko Ridge (pictured below) in Sandia Park. Paa-Ko Ridge winds its way through the Sandia foothills, blending in with the surrounding high desert like green chiles in an enchilada. The course's conditioning and challenging design are upstaged only by its affordable green fees.

Bang for Your Buck: Thinking about giving up that daily grind in Detroit for the 330 annual sunny days available for public consumption in Albuquerque? An annual salary of $39,000 in the land of chile peppers and Lobos is equivalent to your $50,000 gig in the Motor City, and the average home price in Albquerque comes in around $188,000.

Also Playing: Historic Old Town is a good place to catch up on the history of the city, and sample some of Albuquerque's fine dining. The Kodak International Balloon Festival attracts hundreds of hot air balloonists every October, and is the most photographed event in the U.S.

Corpus Christi, Texas

The Flavor: Jimmy Buffet meets Sam Houston. A laid back city of over 250,000 residents forced to “deal” with 250-plus days of sunshine a year and winter temperatures that would make the mercury in south Florida envious. Corpus Christi is less pretentious than Austin and Dallas, and flip-flops and tee shirts will keep you in the good graces of most local eateries. A Texas A & M branch campus gives the town a collegiate feel, and a hopping downtown arts and entertainment district adds a touch of urbanity.

Golf Scene: Corpus Christi is an affordable, if not spectacular place to tee it up, with a smattering of tracks running the Gulf of Mexico from Padre Island south to Brownsville. There are a number of decent daily fee courses -- the best and newest being the South Padre Island Golf Club -- and some solid semi-private venues, like the Pharaohs Country Club. The Oso Beach Municipal Course will appeal to those on a golf shoestring budget.

Bang for Your Buck: If you live in the greater Philadelphia area, and make $50,000 a year, an annual salary of $32,500 will tide you over in Corpus Christi. Average home costs are well below the national average of $184,000, while your everyday Chalet de Philly will run you close to $220,000. There is no shortage of inexpensive restaurants, and the strong blue-collar work force keeps the overall cost of living beyond reasonable.

Also Playing: Padre Island is the largest barrier island in the U.S. and home to the Padre Island National Seashore. Sailing is a favorite pastime of the locals, bolstered by balmy year-around temperatures and the bath water warm waters of the Gulf. The Texas State Aquarium and the U.S.S. Lexington are also key attractions.

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

The Flavor: Atlantic City meets Branson, Missouri, all in a Low Country setting. Environs run the gamut from cheesy tourist shops to bucolic plantation golf communities. Myrtle Beach's old reputation as the golfing K-Mart by the sea is long gone. Plenty of upscale golf courses and posh residences dot the 60-mile stretch of beach known as the Grand Strand. The smaller beach communities, like Surfside Beach, Garden City Beach and Murrells Inlet stay loyal to their roots: numerous hole in the wall bars, mom and pop seafood joints, and affordable roadside motels are the norm.

The Golf Scene: Pound for pound, the best in the world. The Grand Strand is unrivaled in its variety of golf courses, a good many of which are affordable tracks that cater to those on fixed incomes. High-end golf abounds as well, with nationally recognized tracks like the Caledonia Golf and Fish Club, Tidewater, the Dunes Golf and Beach Club, and Grande Dunes. A generous supply of midrange courses, like the Thistle, Crows Creek, Carolina National, and Prestwick provide excellent conditions and memorable layouts.

Bang for the Buck: Sure, Barefoot Resort (at right) is rolling out some million dollar homes on the Intracoastal Waterway, but Myrtle Beach still maintains its position as one of the most affordable beach communities on the east coast by offering an ample supply of golf villas, condos and patio homes priced below $120,000.

Thousands of New Yorkers and New Englanders have made the Grand Strand their second home, and its little wonder why: If you make $50,000 a year in New York City, you'll need only make $17,000 in Myrtle Beach to maintain your present lifestyle. If you make $50,000 a year in Boston, $23,000 will get you by in the Grand Strand.

Also Playing: Ripley's Sea Aquarium is a must-see freak show of creatures from the murky depths of the sea. The shops at Barefoot Landing are perfect for killing time (and money) on a warm, sunny afternoon when the courses get too crowded. Murrells Inlet oozes with Low Country flavor – literally and figuratively – with one of the East Coast's highest concentration of seafood restaurants.

Greensboro, North Carolina

The Flavor: Working class North Carolina Piedmont town rooted in textiles and manufacturing. Serviceable downtown and affordable suburbs blend together to create the state's third largest metropolitan area. Greensboro offers prime access to the mountains (approximate two hour drive), and the beach (three and a half hours). Not a bad sports town either, with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro representing, Wake Forest University just a 45-minutes away, and a visit from the PGA Tour (Greater Greensboro Chrysler Classic) on the docket every year.

The Golf Scene: Affordable daily fee golf, to the tune of all you can handle. Courses like Greensboro National are a budget-minded golfer's dream, while the Grandover Resort and Tanglewood flirt with being upscale. Innovative tracks, like Mike Strantz's Tot Hill Farm, are just a firm putt away. All told, the Triad (Greensboro, Winston-Salem, High Point) is home to over 80 golf courses, most of which are open to the public.

Bang for the Buck: Greensboro doesn't exactly come to mind as the traditional retirement town, and simply put, its not. There's no beach, no social center with basket weaving and bridge tournaments, and no abundance of early bird specials. However, a fully functional urban area with and ideal climate that allows for year-around golf. Because the demand for second homes is low, the cost of living remains reasonable. If Ohio winters have left you and your game in a funk, a $45,000 gig in Greensboro would more than compensate for your annual $50,000 salary in Cleveland or Cincinnati.

Also Playing: For hoops fans, Greensboro is typically the site of an NCAA college basketball regional. Professional sports aficionados can also get their fill by driving an hour south on Interstate 85 to Charlotte, where the NFL's Carolina Panthers take to the gridiron in the fall, or an hour east on I-40 to Raleigh, where the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes play hockey half the year.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.

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