A little slice of paradise in Arkansas
By Gregg Dewalt, Tee Times editor
Chuck Miller offers up a friendly bit of advice when talking about Hot Springs Village, Ark.
“I tell people to come here for a visit but be careful, you might buy a lot or a home and decide to stay,” said Miller, author of the self-published ‘Golfing the U.S. – Reflections on a 50-week, 50-state Golf Odyssey.
Miller, aka “The Traveling Guy” speaks from experience. He visited Hot Springs Village while on his 11-month country-wide golf extravaganza and eventually moved there.
Miller, who is 82, said it is not uncommon for visitors to Hot Springs Village to return as permanent residents to what is commonly referred to the largest gated community in the country that is spread over 26,000 acres.
“That’s what happens a lot because Hot Springs Village is really not a well-known location,” Miller said of Hot Springs Village. “It’s why we are trying to get the word out.”
Don’t confuse Hot Springs Village with its similarly named Hot Springs just 30 minutes down the road. That Hot Springs is known for horse racing and its natural hot springs.
This Hot Springs Village, on the other hand, is known for its serene setting among the Ouachita Mountains about an hour west of Little Rock.
It features nine golf courses, 12 lakes, three beaches, two marinas and countless other amenities such as tennis courts, pickleball courts, a 650-seat performing arts center and walking, biking and hiking trails.
Approximately 14,000 residents call Hot Springs Village home, and approximately 35,000 people own vacation homes or are property owners.
The drawing card for golfers is obvious – eight quality public courses and one outstanding private course. What’s even better is that the public offerings are equally as affordable as they are challenging. And although they were all designed by one architectural firm, – Ault, Clark & Associates – the only thing they have in common is the hill-laden topography. No two holes are exactly alike and each course is distinct from the others.
One public facility – Isabella – offers 27 holes. All of the rest of the courses are 18 holes.The crown jewel of Hot Springs Village is Diamante, the property’s lone private course. In Diamante, designers Brian Ault and Tom Clark crafted a fun but rugged 18 holes that is ranked No. 3 in the state. Diamante has hosted numerous professional and college tournaments, and the stretch of holes from No. 14 through No. 16 is affectionately known as “Los Tres Diablos (The Three Devils)”. Make it through those three holes unscathed and you’ll enjoy a sense of relief and accomplishment, although the best hole on the course might be No. 2, a 432-yard beast from the white tees with a green guarded in front by a large bunker.
Diamante features seven sets of tees, so players don’t have to beat themselves up from the Gold (7,560 yards). They can find friendlier tees ranging from 4,602 to 6,935 yards. Regardless of the tees, though, Diamante is picturesque, playable and challenging wrapped into 18 holes.
The public offerings at Hot Springs Village are good as well. Isabella is the 27-hole facility (Nina, Pinta, Santa Maria), while Balboa, Coronado, Cortez, DeSoto, Granada, Isabella, Magellan and Ponce de Leon are the 18-hole courses. Granada and Ponce de Leon are consistently ranked among the best public courses in Arkansas, while Balboa is walker-friendly and Coronado is a par 62 executive course.
All of the courses are quality tracks, retired PGA of America member Joel Gafford said after a recent visit. Gafford played four of the courses – Isabella, Cortez, Granada and Diamante.“They are good golf courses,” Gafford said. “What I look for when I am playing on a trip are courses that are well maintained, offer a good value and are fun and challenging. The courses I played had all of those qualities. What surprised me is that even though one designer did all of the courses, there wasn’t a template for the holes. I don’t think we played one hole that was like another. That tells me he did a good job.”
Aside from Diamante, Isabella, Cortex and Diamante are excellent courses. Clark and his associates did an admirable job of using the topography to create a series of courses that incorporate elevation changes, hardwood trees, water and bunkering but are distinct.
For example, Cortez features a series of sharp doglegs with several tight driving holes. The 10th hole is a dogleg right to an elevated green that plays longer than its 376 yards as indicated on the scorecard.
Granada features the most drastic elevation changes, including the No. 4, a 372-yard downhill par 4 with water on the left and a long, narrow green.
At Isabella, the Pinta nine eases players in with a comfortable par 5 followed by a 284-yard par 4 before things toughen. It’s a good chance to build some confidence heading into a more difficult stretch.
While golf is Miller’s primary diversion and an obvious draw for visitors, he is quick to point out what else Hot Springs Village has to offer.
“People who come here don’t realize what is here,” he said. “I came here totally on a lark because I was doing a 50-week, 50-state driving tour and they told me about this place. Six months later I moved here. It is really a golfer’s paradise because we have nine golf courses for 14,000 people. But golf isn’t the only thing. We have wonderful lakes for fishing and kayaking, we’ve got trails for people to walk and really friendly people. We have people from all 50 states here because they want to be here.”
One thing that sets Hot Springs Village apart from other gated communities is the secluded nature of its layout. Built among the hardwood forest, visitors are barely aware that houses are even present as you drive down the main road that bisects the property from east to west. There is an overwhelming sense of privacy among homeowners, who range span all age groups.
According to Clara Nicolosi, who owns the local Re/Max real estate agency in Hot Springs Village, the village residents run the gamut between retirees to younger couples who work from home with children. She said there are nearly 1,000 children in Hot Springs Village who attend one of the area’s two school districts.
Miller notes that Hot Springs Village has residents from all 50 states, while Nicolosi said much of the target market is regional – Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Oklahoma.
Recently, though, she said there has been an influx of interest from markets such as Chicago and California in addition to Florida, New York and New Jersey.
Much of that has to do with the low cost of living, Nicolosi said. But she also realizes the golf scene is a major draw for visitors and potential future residents.
“I’m marketing for the whole village experience because there might be the non-golfer included in that package,” Nicolosi said. “But I am also partnering with golftrip.com and places like that to help bring in golfers in that direction. I do a lot of targeting in Plano and Dallas and Houston. I attended the Chicago Golf Show for the second time this year. We do target market but we also cross market because we don’t want people to think that is all we offer.”
There’s also word of mouth marketing where somebody comes for a visit and then spreads the gospel of Hot Springs Village when they return home.
Miller and Nicolosi tout the community’s popular junior golf program as a drawing card, as well. The program has been around for some 30 years and there are scholarships available for longtime attendees.
Inside the gates at Hot Springs Village, visitors and residents can find just about anything they want or need from churches to banks to everyday necessities. Dining options are abundant, but a few of the best include Xplore Lakeside, the BeeHive, Artfully Baked and Brewed, and the DeSoto Club.
More options are available just outside the gates.
Miller said that Hot Springs Village has more than 150 clubs and organizations for just about every imaginable hobby, as well.
“Hot Springs Village is an amazing place,” Miller said. “Whatever you want to do, you can do it here. The village has a relaxed yet active lifestyle.”
For more information about Hot Springs Village and its discovery packages, go to explorethevillage.com
Check it out for yourself
Established in 1991 Tee Times is published 8 months per year (March-November). Reaching golfers throughout the southeast with the printed, and digital issues. Distributed to golf courses, driving ranges, golf retail shops, and sports bars.