A growing number of people are getting into the swing by buying a home at one of the nation's many new golf communities.

The National Golf Foundation reports that since 1986, the number of golfers in the United States has jumped 34 percent. During that time, the number of residential golf communities has also been on the rise. In fact, the NGF says about 45 percent of golf course construction today is part of a residential community.

Golf communities are alluring to golfers and non-golfers alike and appeal to a wide range of age groups. In addition to the golf course, many of the communities offer a host of other amenities, such as swimming pools, baseball and softball fields, basketball, volleyball and tennis courts, and hiking, biking and equestrian trails. Some also feature a community recreation center, club house, restaurant, and reception areas.

You don't have to be in the upper class to live near a golf course. Homes in these communities are available in a variety of styles and prices. You can find everything from townhomes to luxurious estate homes which can vary in price by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The NGF says 15 percent of all golfers are permanent residents of a golf course community. However, organization spokeswoman Judy Thompson says the golf lifestyle apparently is popular among those who never pick up a club. "I've seen information from developers like Arvida and others that state that as many as 70 to 80 percent of their residents do not play golf. But there are others where a larger proportion are golfers."

Thompson says, "Florida has the most real estate facilities by far -- 499. California, Texas, the Carolinas and Arizona also have more than 100 of these facilities." A quick search for "golf community" on the Internet turns up scores of listings around the country. To help narrow the field a bit, you can try a web site such as Golf Course Home which provides state-by-state listings of new golf communities.

If you're just beginning to think about moving to a golf community, consider signing up for Golf Course Home's "New Community Alert." The web site will notify you via email when new communities are added. It says that will allow you to "take advantage of pre-construction pricing and special promotions, which can save you thousands of dollars in initiation fees, club dues and customization costs."

Spurred by the boom in golf developments, Business Week and Golf Digest recently teamed up to report on hazards you might encounter when buying into such a community.

In their series of stories on "Finding Your Golf Home" they caution potential buyers to consider such important factors as whether buying a home in the community actually entitles you to play at the golf course. Their report found "in many cases, you must also apply for a golf membership." They advise that if you do plan on using the local golf course, "make your closing contingent upon club acceptance." If you plan to spend a lot of time on the course, you should also check out the availability of tee times.

When you are working out the financing for your new home, be sure to consider additional expenses that may come with the golf course lifestyle. The magazines advise you consider fees for such things as club membership and any dining-room minimum. And one last warning -- if the development isn't completed, read all the fine print and make sure you check into the developer's background to guarantee you'll actually have a place to tee off.

Carol Ochs is a Washington-based reporter who covers new home trends.

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