The best retirement destinations revealed

Two extensive lists reveal their picks for the best U.S. cities for senior living. So which ones are great for golf, too?
Retirees can enjoy year-round golf in Tennessee at fine clubs like Black Creek.

I've joked before that my career in golf media has been one continuous research project on where I should retire. Sure enough, pretty much everywhere I travel is promoting senior-focused amenities on some level.

I'm not even 40 years old yet. But I've already got a handful of golden-year destinations where I've staked out an empty lot in my mind (Bend, Oregon & Crystal Lake, Michigan, for starters). To get another perspective, I filled out the Golf Life Navigators ProGuide3 earlier this year and it matched me with True North in Harbor Springs.

But I've learned that a specific golf club is ultimately a very small part of the retirement equation. The biggies are quality health care, affordability on a fixed income, access to transportation, recreation and cultural opportunities.

Then there's the even bigger question of all: how much will I get to see my grandkids?

This month, two separate and extensively-researched lists on the best places to retire were revealed by Caring.com and U.S. News & World Report. The two methodologies used were very different, so the results vary wildly. There are very few cities that rank highly on both lists. For example, U.S. News & World Report's list is heavy in sunbelt destinations; Fort Myers is No. 1. Caring.com, however, ranks northern cities and especially California very highly. California's climate, activities and social safety net cause it to perform well in their "Quality of Life" metric, which accounts for 22% of their ratings.

U.S. News Top 10

1. Ft. Myers, Fla.
2. Sarasota, Fla.
3. Lancaster, Pa.
4. Asheville, N.C.
5. Port St. Lucie, Fla.
6. Jacksonville, Fla.
7. Winston-Salem, N.C.
8. Nashville, Tenn.
9. Grand Rapids, Mich.
10. Dallas-Fort Worth

Caring.com Top 10

1. San Francisco
2. Fredericksburg, Va.
3. Boston
4. Portland, Me.
5. Madison, Wisc.
6. Chapel Hill, N.C.
7. Washington, D.C.
8. Lancaster, Pa.
9. Boulder, Colo.
10. St. Paul, Minn.

Naturally, several cities that fared well in one or the other are particulary notable for people wanting a retirement full of golf.

Notable high-ranking retirement cities for seniors who love golf

This eastern Pennsylvania city about midway between Harrisburg and Philadelphia was the only one that made both lists' top 10, thanks in part to a balance of rural and commercial spaces and affordable housing. We wrote about some nearby golf earlier this spring. Two courses in particular, Royal Manchester and Wyncote, normally earn high marks in our annual best-of lists thanks to particularly high Value scores. Numerous private clubs also beckon if you'd prefer that experience.

North Carolina Triangle

College towns fare very highly as retirement destinations, generally a result of the access to medical services and culture. In Caring.com's Top 10, Madison, Chapel Hill, and Boulder all scored well. Boulder is more for triathletes than golfers, but North Carolina's Chapel Hill and Winston Salem (No. 7 in U.S. News) are noteworthy. For golf, UNC Finley is one of the most affordable Tom Fazio designs in the country, while there is a nice mix of public and private clubs from Durham to Winston-Salem.

From the Carolina Triangle you can not only access a larger city and airport in nearby Raleigh, but you're also within driving distance to Pinehurst. Sign us up!

While Naples is legendary for its wealth of exclusive private clubs catering to snowbirds, nearby Fort Myers is far more accessible to all classes and it placed No. 1 on U.S. News' list. It has retained much of its small-town vibe and it's an easy drive to beaches and fishing. Retirees on a budget will love the renovated town muni, Fort Myers Country Club, which can be played for less than $50. One of our most consistently highly-rated courses each year is Hideaway Country Club, a charming 18-hole, 5,100-yard course that opens its doors to the public in the off-season.

Fort Myers isn't the only Florida gulf coast destination in the U.S. News Top 10; Sarasota is No. 2.

Who says your retirement has to be quiet? In big cities, seniors enjoy cultural amenities as well as more hospital choices. Large metropolitan areas like Washington D.C., Houston, Boston and even New York City all made the U.S. News Top 50 and San Francisco was #1 according to Caring.com, apparently eschewing affordability concerns for the high quality of life and care scores (maybe they also appreciate the Golden Gate muni scene).

Among these major metros, Dallas-Fort Worth makes a lot of sense for golf-centric golden years. It's more affordable than Austin and there is an astonishing array of clubs in the DFW area, and perhaps the feather in its cap is that many of the varying municipalities are renovating and upgrading their golf courses. Affordable courses ranging from Rockwood Park and Stevens Park to Tierra Verde. There are also myriad ways to join a historic or modern private or affordable semi-private club, and Frisco's new PGA compound is sure to attract new residents as well.

Toss in the DFW airport, which has direct flights to great golf destinations all over the world - even Australia - and the Metroplex is quite a home base.

Golf Advisor Podcast: Trends in golf course real estate

This top golf vacation spot made the U.S. News Top 50. I used to live in Myrtle Beach and while the epicenter of the destination can get rowdy, I would be very keen on retiring to the quiet south strand, somewhere between Murrells Inlet and Pawleys Island. There are golf courses galore, great fishing, restaurants and a charming local vibe. The courses can get crowded, but I learned that like a lot of tourist destinations, the staffs at the courses take great care of their locals. If you'd prefer quieter tee sheets, there are a handful of private clubs like Wachesaw Plantation, The Reserve and DeBordieu. Additional culture is just down Highway 17 in Charleston.

Jacksonville earns high marks from U.S. News on weather, commuting and activities. Golf is everywhere, from Amelia Island to Ponte Vedra Beach. PGA Tour HQ and the World Golf Hall of Fame are in the spotlight but there are scores of affordable public and private clubs to join. Just south, St. Augustine is a charming and historic town, while Jacksonville Beach is a fun beach town with a newly renovated muni course. Get a beachfront spot and the grandkids will visit often.

Grand Rapids is nationally known for great value golf, like affordable and friendly Pilgrim's Run in nearby Pierson.

Many mid-size markets like Portland (OR), Nashville, Pittsburgh & Austin fare well in these lists. These medium-large markets are all growing thanks to booming local economies and are attracting lots of young talent to tech jobs, etc. Naturally, where young adults go, their parents are keen to join them later as grandchildren enter the picture.

On Michigan's west side, Grand Rapids has enjoyed prosperity in the last decade or so and that has included a new medical campus for Michigan State University. The golf scene is loaded with interesting affordable courses like The Mines, Pilgrim's Run, Diamond Springs, Grand Valley State's Meadows course and L.E. Kaufman. That means you can save some money for a winter home or golf vacation farther south.

I just returned from a brief trip to Tennessee, which placed three cities in the U.S. News Top 21 (Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville). I can see the allure as I was feeling the relaxed vibes there. I was in the Chattanooga area, and this small and gorgeous Tennessee mountain town makes a tremendous first impression. It's a healthy city (maybe it seemed that way because it was also hosting an Ironman that weekend) on the banks of the river with plenty of recreation opportunities. It's also a Seth Raynor hotbed thanks to Lookout Mountain and the Raynor-inspired Black Creek (which is a pretty affordable membership). Pretty much all the public courses in the state are affordable, including four state park courses designed by Jack Nicklaus' firm. The state also boasts two of the country's best public 9-hole courses: Sewanee and Sweetens Cove.

Where are you planning to retire? Let us know in the comments below.

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Brandon Tucker is the Sr. Managing Editor for GolfPass and was the founding editor of Golf Advisor in 2014, he was the managing editor for Golf Channel Digital's Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and nearly 600 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at @btuck34.
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Caring.com, are you kidding me?? Who's you Doctor El Choppo ? Do you light your cigars with $100.00 bills?? There is not one single place on your list that is either desirable or affordable. The absolute best place to retire that won't burn a whole in your wallet is Tennessee . Great people, great environment, and great golf. As well as the most beautiful state on Gods' Green earth. And I live in OHIO.

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The only way you are going to find the best retirement locations are to find 2 locations! Let's face it, there is no "ONE" best location. I think we can all agree (unless we are filthy rich, then it doesn't matter much anyway) that there is not a "BEST" location. Most of us should agree on the basic wants and needs in our retirement years. Here are some important ones on my list: Weather, Cost of Living, Proximity to Good Health Care, Transportation Cost -particularly a larger airport that has value fares, Nearby Activities, Cultural and Social Life, Taxes, Friendliness of People/Community (some people just don't like or accept "outsiders"), Traffic, Air Quality, Terrain and Scenery. Obviously there are more but these are important to me. The Coachella Valley (Palm Springs area) and the Greater Phoenix Area meet most of these needs November thru March, and it's hard to beat the selection of golfing options. And if you enjoy liquor, California has some of the cheapest booze in the country! Yes there is an income tax but if you are retired, there are legal ways to avoid that as long as you don't live there more 180 days out of the year, i.e. November through March. Now for the other 7 months of the year. Buy a nice motorhome and go wherever you can! Pick out a nice cheap place that fits the criteria and purchase a modest home with an RV parking garage/carport and make that your legal residence for tax purpose. NW Arkansas comes to mid, also SW Washington State.

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No mention of Hilton Head Island?

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Ah...retirement in northern cities?
States like Michigan and Pennsylvania?
Not if you love to pay golf!
Winters last a solid 4-5 months long and if you get a cool, wet spring/fall, you're outta luck!
I can think of 100 better locations for a golf focused retirement than any of the northern climes mentioned here!
And if you're a senior homeowner on a fixed income - high tax northern states are definitely out!!!
Get this - we pay over $6,000 school/property taxes on a house that is assessed under $140,000!!!
The difference between that and what someone would pay in low tax states - for a senior on a fixed income - will pay for a lot of golf!!!

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Ray, what are you talking about? You must consider 50 degrees a winter day! Granted, the taxes can be high in some areas but reasonable in others. I've lived in southeast Pennsylvania all my life and I can tell you, I can play golf all year long. The worst part of winter is January and February and we still can get days upwards of 50 degrees once in a while. Between Lancaster and Philadelphia their must be 100 courses, public and private and I've played on most of them. Also, you can drive a couple hours south and get weather 10 degrees warmer. Some of the best golf in the US if you ask me and I've played from New York to Florida. I was surprised to see Lancaster on both list! I'm soon to retire, I may check that area out better.

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if you love golf try hot springs village in AR.

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Can’t agree with either list but surely not the caring.com list. Perhaps they are compensated for their opinions. They obviously never lived as a senior in San Francisco. Course they may have a drug problem or a dealer. That would explain a lot.

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You can't beat the Monterey Peninsula (Pebble Beach) with lots of outstanding courses but bring lots of $$$

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We selected Sun City West (a Del Webb community) northwest of Phoenix. Not only lots of golf, but activities galore.

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Hi Brandon. Good article. However, check out the golf living around New Zealand and Australia. Some of them are sensational, with a 12 month playing season in shorts and tee shirt

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Having lived in Alabama, on the Timbercreek golf course, I would warn anyone about the heat you will experience there. If you are from a western state you will find it very different living there. I am now back in San Diego, thankful that we were able to return.

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The best retirement destinations revealed