One of the things that makes Champion Hills unlike any other place—even more than the fairways—are the friendships. This is a place that welcomes you with open arms.
“Often, when we go to dinner by ourselves, it turns into a night out with a bunch of people chatting, or getting invited to someone else’s table at the last minute.” Tom and Pat Van Laar have only recently joined Champion Hills, but already they feel right at home.
Says Tom, “Other clubs you have to break in. It’s not like that here.” He and Pat have been members at a number of different places, Tom’s career having taken them up and down the eastern seaboard. He continues, “At other clubs, when you go to the tee sheet you have to get invited to that group. Here, groups are open to anyone. You just sign up.”
From HH to CH
Pat and Tom moved a lot over the decades – Long Island, New Jersey, Georgia, Chicago and Massachusetts as well as Switzerland. When they moved in to Hilton Head, they truly believed this was their last move. However, Western North Carolina ultimately called out to them. After a visit to Champion Hills, they knew they were in the perfect spot: cooler summer weather and breathtaking peaks, just a few hours away from the ocean. Though they still process their love of the island, Champion Hills is their perfect oasis.
Says Pat, “Our only reluctance of picking up and moving to Champion Hills was the idea of starting the process of creating a new history. Do we really want one more move?” Having lived on Hilton Head Island, those were some pretty big flip flops to fill.
In hindsight, they had nothing to worry about. Pat recalls, “I found making friends so easy and so comfortable. It made the whole transition so much better than it might’ve been if we’d gone somewhere else.”
So how did they meet people when they first got to Champion Hills? For Tom, it was at Thirsty Thursday, a member meet and greet. He remembers talking to Jim Petillo. “He’d been a member here for a while and invited me to play golf. I didn’t even have my clubs with me at the time, but he had a second set. And I just fell in love with the course. We joined right after that. We’re still good friends.”
Says Pat, “Our first few months, we met people we’re still friends with today. We’d go to the club and people would just come up and say, Oh, I’m so and so. We would tell our stories. They’d tell theirs.”
She’s quick to add, “You can be as involved or uninvolved as you choose to be. If you’re interested in getting involved in playing golf, tennis, bridge, canasta, you can find that group. Then there are people who have their nice house in the mountains, like to hike and bike, and have a limited social life. You can do that here.”
Not Standing Still
While they both play tennis and golf now, Pat didn’t consider herself a golfer until 2015 when she came to Champion Hills. “I think it’s unique that they encourage and support women to play golf. Whether you’re new or a seasoned golfer, there’s always someone you can play with. They didn’t even care that I didn’t know all the rules.” She added that almost all the women she knows knew nothing about golf when they arrived and only got interested after they joined.
Tom goes on to explain that at their old club in Hilton Head, they had 700 golf members. And when they had their Labor Day couples golf tournament, they’d only get about 70 to 80 couples.
“At the same event here, we have about 225 golf members and we’ll average 120 players. I think it’s because women are so comfortable here. There are so many couples and women golfers here.”
Pat mentions that Champion Hills is also great for people who don’t play golf or tennis. She notes that some of her non-golfing friends, “play canasta, mahjong. We see them at dinner groups and book clubs. Honestly, if you can’t find a friend here, you’re not trying.”
The Social Network
Tom and Pat refer to Champion Hills as “Camp Champ.” “It’s like an adult summer camp only it’s all year long. There are so many things to do and so many people to do them with that we haven’t been down to visit our daughter in Charleston since we moved. We just haven’t had a free weekend. You’d think retired people would have lots of free time to just—you know—be retired.”
Tom and Pat to Friends: “Take a hike!”
Some mornings Tom and Pat hit the tennis court early or have a 9 am tee time, but more often than not, they see what new thing they haven’t yet discovered on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Tom adds, “It’s an amazing idea to create a national park that’s a road! The way it’s built is so beautiful. It’s a nice jumping-off place.” He’s quick to note the abundance of waterfalls. “There are more of them in this area than anywhere in the eastern half of the country—very impressive!” They have a hiking group every Monday. It’s not uncommon for them take a 5 hour hike to a nearby waterfall. 3-4 hours in to their hike they stop and take a break at a rock ledge of waterfalls. “It’s a postcard setting and there’s that kind of stuff all over the place.”
When asked how he’d describe Champion Hills in one word, Tom opts for three. “Paradise—big time.” He explains what it’s like living in an area that’s a tourist destination. “People come to this area just for vacations. It has the physical beauty. With all the friends we’ve made, it all adds up to feeling like you’re on vacation every day, which to me is paradise.”