BY: JAMES A. FRANK
In 2014, Jason Becker was a PGA teaching professional and a graduate student at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers. Having left his native Michigan, he fell in love with southern Florida, and when he needed to write a research paper he began wondering how golfers moving south chose which golf community to live in. After interviewing both the people doing the looking and staffs at clubs they were looking at, Becker realized that his thesis was the basis for a business. And so Golf Life Navigators was born. GLN is staffed by PGA professionals who interview potential re-locaters about their likes and dislikes regarding much more than just golf. GLN also maintains a database of information on clubs and communities, some of which pay a small fee to the company for their research and referrals. Clients pay a consultation fee—fully refundable, satisfaction guaranteed—to receive three or four recommendations of clubs that seem to align with their preferences. But otherwise Becker says the company stays neutral, “like Switzerland,” in offering its advice. GLN has expanded its service to other parts of Florida, and is looking at Scottsdale, Ariz., and Palm Springs, Calif. We talked to Becker about what he has learned from both relocating golfers and communities, and what potential movers/buyers should know about the process, whether or not they use his company.
WHAT ARE THE BIG MISTAKES PEOPLE MAKE WHEN LOOKING TO MOVE TO A GOLF COMMUNITY?
Generally people come to an area and spend a lot of time going to different golf clubs and communities. Sometimes they know some clubs they want to talk to because they’ve received recommendations from friends. But we’ve found that a lot of these people moving down to Florida don’t want to live where their friends from up north live. They might not want the same things, they might not want to be with the same people. When it comes to the process, people don’t necessarily know what to ask club officials. What’s the resignation strategy when buying into an equity club? When was the last assessment?
How DO PEOPLE USUALLY GET CLUB RECOMMENDATIONS?
Along with friends and financial advisors, they talk to the pro at their home clubs. I’m a PGA pro and my members come to me about everything, especially to help them get on courses when they travel. Which is one of the reasons all of our consultants are PGA pros and why we have gone to great lengths to be in touch with pros at clubs up north about our company. Other than that, private club members don’t have anyone else to ask besides friends who live in a particular area. But they might not want to be in the same club or area, or they have a different budget.
CAN’T POTENTIAL BUYERS WORK WITH LOCAL REALTORS?
Buyers don’t know who to trust. They hope the realtor they’re working with knows the nuances of different golf communities. But realtors aren’t golf experts or club experts, they are experts at selling houses. A client came in last year, literally in tears. She and her husband live for golf. They’d come to Naples and worked with a realtor who claimed to know the communities and golf. She put them into a bundled community, which is one where owning a home comes with a membership. So if there are 600 houses in the community, there are automatically 1,200 members, every husband and wife. This couple couldn’t play the six or seven times a week they wanted to, the course was too busy, they could only play three or four times a week. And now they were stuck. HOW DO YOU
AVOID MAKING THAT KIND OF MISTAKE FOR YOUR CLIENTS?
We try to get inside the mind of the client. We talk about hobbies, what’s most important to them, find out what “lifestyle” means to them, and so on through the software, called the “ProGuide,” that we’ve developed internally. Our success has come because we ask open-ended questions and let them talk. We start with the factors that motivate someone to relocate. We’ve learned that the key factors include the weather where they’re coming from, where the rest of their family is, the location they’re going to, the tax situation in the new area, the ease of traveling from their new home, and how the club brands itself. Those are the six key factors. Notice what’s missing? Golf.
SO GOLF ISN’T AN IMPORTANT CONSIDERATION WHEN CHOOSING A GOLF COMMUNITY?
Of course it is, but not as important as you might think, and different for the husband and wife. For the man, what he wants most from a golf community is camaraderie, having a beer or smoking a cigar after the round. That’s why men are loyal to a club. Second most important is the quality of the food and beverage at the club. Then comes fitness—having a gym and other amenities for a healthy lifestyle. According to our research, golf is number six on the man’s list. For women, socializing and camaraderie are also very important. But the single most important factor is a club’s aesthetics: They want to be able to say it’s pretty where they are, that they love the scenery, how the fountain looks. Security is a close second. Then health and fitness. Golf, even for those women who consider themselves avid players, is eighth on the list. Now part of this, of course, is that they know they are going to have golf, and good golf, simply by moving down to an area like southern Florida. But it’s all the other stuff that comes with it, and mostly the social scene, that’s what really puts these clients and members into a situation where they are really happy.