It’s easier to cope with coronavirus lockdown when your backyard is thousands of acres of rolling hills, meadows and marshes.
So says Manhattanite Karyne Bazzano, who is hunkered down at her weekend home at The Preserve Club & Residences, a sprawling master-planned community in Rhode Island with lavish amenities that include hunting and shooting. Sons Casey, 13, and Christian, 16, are sheltering with her, virtually attending their private school in Providence, a 30-minute drive away.
During lunch, after school and on weekends, instead of piling on more screen time, the teens are outside practicing their golf swings and shooting at clay targets with supervision — and hardly another soul in sight.
“With 3,500 acres [5.4 square miles], we have the ATVs and the fishing gear and ponds and the rock wall, and I almost forget that I’m supposed to be afraid of the world outside the gate,” says Bazzano, a divorcee who usually operates a staffing service from her Upper East Side condo. “Imagine if we were in a 2,400-square-foot apartment somewhere? We would be crawling the walls.”
Steeply priced sporting communities — from South Carolina mainstay Palmetto Bluff to The Preserve, a relative newcomer — have cropped up along the Eastern Seaboard since the mid-1990s. While they have historically been playgrounds for second- or even third-home owners, they now double as rural refuges from COVID-19.
Developers offer buyers, members and sometimes renters thousands of acres of land, plenty of wildlife, stunning lodges, gourmet farm-to-table dining — and lavish houses. Amenities and activities for the active include fishing, archery, horseback riding and kayaking.
The Preserve, however, also boasts a 150-yard-long underground rifle range — the longest in the US. Places like The Preserve — where for-sale residences range from a $500,000 420-square-foot tiny home to a $4.5 million Hilltop Lodge co-op to be complete in July — prove revelatory for city dwellers.
“I’ve learned how to fly fish. I learned about shooting a shotgun,” says Bazzano. “I had never shot a gun before, and now I’ve shot pistols.”
Other outdoor aficionados, meanwhile, are spending lockdown at Palmetto Bluff. Larger than the island of Manhattan and situated between Savannah, Georgia, and Hilton Head, South Carolina, Palmetto Bluff boasts 22,000 acres (34 square miles) of residences and recreational preserve.
Former IBM executive Steve Sayer left Armonk, New York, for the greener pastures of Palmetto Bluff — as well as its sporting clays course, where he can shoot clay “birds.” Another prime pastime he enjoys with his wife is boating along the 32 miles of rivers and marsh coastline.
“We had a lovely cruise on our inland waterway on an electric boat with two friends,” says Sayer, as South Carolina reopened marinas on April 18. “We just wipe down surfaces and use caution about sharing food and drinks.”
Sayer’s four-bedroom home, built in 2014, has its own pool. Palmetto Bluff properties on the market now range from a $672,000, three-bedroom cottage with a screen porch to a $2.65 million, six-bedroom house with a high-end barbecue smoker called the Big Green Egg. Or buy land, which starts at $195,000 for 0.16 acres and tops out at $1.99 million for 22.2 acres.
Many residents are out riding bikes, walking and exercising, Sayer reports, while the tennis and pickleball courts are all open with modifications for social distancing per state and community rules. There is a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course and an equestrian center.
“Life at Palmetto Bluff is still wonderful, and we’re surviving social distancing,” Sayer says. “We’ve been getting together at the end of the day with neighbors for a glass of wine on the porch, staying 6 feet apart but catching up socially.”
Palmetto Bluff is perhaps best known for its elegant (though temporarily closed) on-site Montage hotel, where Justin Bieber and Hailey Baldwin held their second wedding.
Meanwhile, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas have spent time at The Preserve, with Zeta-Jones posting a photo of kids Dylan and Carys dancing in a cabin on Instagram, describing the visit as “wild, wacky and wonderful.”
Indeed, it’s “like living in the Four Seasons in the front and Montana in the back,” says Bazzano, who recently upgraded from a cabin to one of the 11 new Townhomes on the Green, listed from $1.2 million to $2.8 million. Even prior to quarantine, Bazzano adds, “I spent most of the time here, which I didn’t see coming.”
Coronavirus has led to new converts. When the stay-at-home orders shut New York City schools in March, a real estate industry veteran considered heading to the Hamptons or Montauk.
“I quickly realized it would become too crowded with many other Manhattanites,” says the 52-year-old CEO, who declined to share his name for privacy reasons.
Instead, he turned to The Preserve, where his family had previously vacationed. He, his wife and their two teenage sons opted for a townhome, which developer Paul Mihailides made available on a monthly basis to non-members for $750 per person per night.
Since cities and states instituted lockdowns, Mihailides adds, one townhome sold and the rest quickly filled up with “high-profile” renters.
When the CEO’s kids weren’t taking online lessons, they went hiking, played tennis, swung on ziplines and explored the property’s charming hobbit-y nooks, treehouse and yurt.
Space to roam is appealing, especially now. Pittsburgh native Cynthia Willett lives on 28 acres in a secluded area of Palmetto Bluff called the Headwaters.
But the recent widow has found community as well as quietude. A founding member of a gals-with-guns charity group called the Lowcountry Annie Oakleys, Willett hosts outings and fundraisers.
The grounds at Palmetto Bluff include shops and restaurants that — when open — offer a variety of local food and wine, designer duds and outdoor outfits. Groceries are plentiful, with food delivery and restaurant takeout still readily available.
“During this pandemic, you could not live in a better or safer place,” she says. “I felt very protected here and fortunate to live here during this unprecedented time.”
Here are three other outdoorsy compounds that draw buyers and renters seeking isolation in nature as well as adventurous extracurricular activities.
A helicopter from the Orlando and Palm Beach airports deposits guests at this 2,400-acre compound near Lake Okeechobee with hunting grounds, a pistol and rifle range and more. Cabins resell for $1 million and up, while 40-acre ranches go for more. Golf legend Jack Nicklaus is a founding member, while Manhattan real estate mogul Howard Lorber owns a ranch.
West Virginia’s Greenbrier resort, owned by Gov. Jim Justice, dates back to 1778. Residents and members enjoy shooting, hunting, fly fishing, golf, a spa, an equestrian center and a sports complex with a climbing wall and a pool. Winter brings an outdoor skating rink and horse-drawn carriage rides. Lots range from $75,000 to $1.7 million, resales from $1.1 million to $4.89 million.
English setters lead hunters through rolling fields, flushing tiny quail (i.e., making them take flight) as staff guides offer tips. A plantation inn and live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss add to the “Gone With the Wind” vibe. Just 325 lots ($160,000 to $825,000) are meted out over 5,500 acres (8.5 square miles) for privacy and conservation. Out of 250 already-built properties, available homes range from $895,000 to $3.7 million.