Smart Investments in the Good Life

By Dan Gleason

Those who think that they cannot afford to live in a golf community because they can find a comparable home in a regular neighborhood need to look at the bigger picture. If they consider the long-term and even short-term value, they may decide that they can’t afford not to live in a golf community. No amenity gives home values a boost the way a golf course does. And in Arizona, new opportunities continue to knock, offering the good life and a prudent investment.
From Arizona’s northern mountains to its southern borders, a wide assortment of golf communities suit every whim and every price range up and down the entire ladder. Recently, for example, four new golf communities opened between Phoenix and historic Tombstone.
On a national average, a home in a golf community increases at about nine percent over a home in a neighborhood without amenities, according to Henry DeLozier, vice president of golf for Pulte Homes, which developed the Anthem and Sun City communities. “Our experience is that the evaluation of homes in a golf community is actually much higher than that national average,”DeLozier says. “Home values in golf communities escalate even more significantly if you’re on fairway or overlooking the golf course.”
Pulte Homes’ recently added two new golf communities to its Arizona roster: Sun City Festival, on Bell Road near Buckeye, just west of Sun City Grand, and Anthem Merrill Ranch in Florence, about midway between Tucson and Phoenix.
Sun City Festival’s Copper Canyon course is managed by Troon Golf and opened for play January 20. Designers Lee Schmidt and Brian Curley are acclaimed for many creative designs in America and abroad, among them local favorite Marriott’s Desert Ridge in Scottsdale with Nick Faldo.
DeLozier calls Copper Canyon “a beautiful course that’s enjoyable to play and right-sized to our customers.” By “right-sized” he means a course that won’t demand distance in the extreme, but will reward accuracy because of its strategic bunkering. Four sets of tees range from 5,200 to 6,800 yards. The public can play here for $55 in the summer up to $80 in peak season; however, residents pay just $25 to $45 and can buy an annual pass for $1,450 (includes golf, cart and range balls) plus an $18 upcharge for peak season rounds.
Set near the White Tank mountain range in the emerging west valley, Sun City Festival will cap at 7,200 homes, with a second golf course in the planning. Social activities revolve around the 31,000- square foot Community Recreation Center and will include everything from a wellness center, pool, spa and tennis courts, to bocce and basketball courts, a computer lab and an ASU Lifelong Learning Academy. The community will also provide restaurants, parks and biking and walking trails. The inventory for single-family homes ranges from 1,300 square feet up to 2,850 square feet, priced from $203,000 to $384,000.
Pulte’s other recent development is Anthem Merrill Ranch in Florence, almost equidistant between Phoenix and the north side of Tucson. It is the first of its kind in Arizona, featuring both an allages community and an age-restricted Sun City community. The centerpiece is Poston Butte Golf Club, designed by Gary Panks and managed by Troon Golf. Panks designed, among others, the Talon Course at Grayhawk, The Raven at South Mountain and Sedona Golf Resort.
The course opened for play New Year’s Day and has five sets of tees ranging from 5,300 to 7,300 yards, with Tif Dwarf Bermuda grass greens. “This is a very player-friendly course,” says head professional Sorrell Richman, who starred on the Baylor University women’s golf team and worked as a club professional in Texas for six years before
coming here. She points out that there are “a couple of really great signature holes, among them one with an island green.”
Poston Butte is open to daily fee play but residents get special rates and can bring their own golf cars out to the course.More than 250 residents have gotten in on the ground floor of this new community, which will cap at 9,000 homes.
“Anthem Merrill Ranch is a very good value that is attracting a lot of buyers who are perceptive about the growth,” DeLozier says. “These buyers are value driven rather than price or vacationhome driven.”
Pulte owns the course but, as is its policy, the course will be turned over to the homeowners and members once all homes are sold. Until then, the course will operate as a daily fee course with very reasonable
greens fees.
Courses in master-planned communities, in contrast to resort courses in areas like Scottsdale, can keep greens fees low because the cost of building and maintaining the course is absorbed by homeowners. The course doesn’t bear the burden of profit, explains Lon Grundy, Troon’s General Manager at Poston Butte. “The golf course is a selling tool to homeowners, and you end up in this case with 9,000 homeowners splitting up the cost of the amenities, over time.” Among those amenities will be a 43,000-square-foot community center, a big splash water park, soccer and baseball fields, and a catch-andrelease fishing lake. Residents will also enjoy an extensive trail system, parks and picnic areas, a 32-foot rock climbing wall, an aquatic and tennis center and, of course, the golf course. Residents can buy an unlimited annual golf pass for $2,100 (the public pays $2,600).
“Everyone who buys a home at Merrill Ranch also gets a free Troon Card,”Grundy says. “That’s a card that we sell to the public for $600, giving them half off at any Troon managed course (11 in the Valley and one in Tucson).
Homes here range from 1,300-square-foot cottages starting at $196,000, with a wide assortment of styles, sizes and prices up to 2,850-square-foot homes at $383,000. Another ground floor real estate opportunity between Phoenix and Tucson is the new Robson Ranch Arizona golf community. Near Casa Grande, two miles east of Eloy off I-10, this is one of four Robson Ranch golf communities in Arizona. Just a half hour southeast of Sun Lakes, the community is convenient to a bevy shops, stores, restaurants and services. The new golf course “is fun to play but still challenging,” says head golf professional Dave Marrandett. “The fairways are wide, but you’ll find the teeth of the course to be these large, undulating greens.” One of those greens measures 140 feet from one end to the other.
Although the course will eventually be members-only when all the real estate is sold, for the foreseeable future it remains open to public play. Greens fees are enticingly priced; for example, in January, peak season, the golf/golf car rate was just $35.50 on weekdays and weekends. In the summer, golf with golf car runs just $25. The course is also women friendly—4,900 yards from the forward tees, with only one par four more than 300 yards from the women’s tees. From the tips, however, it stretches to 6,850 yards.
Robson Ranch CFO Steve Soriano explains why golf courses have increased home values. “A golf course is a preserved open space that the homeowners don’t have to maintain. It’s pretty to look at and homeowners are willing to pay for that privilege and those views.” He says that people living in golf communities are also able to escape urban sprawl. “Residents at Robson Ranch can live in a non-congested area and do not have to say ‘bless you’ whenever their neighbor sneezes.”
Residents of the new Robson Ranch Arizona community enjoy a variety of amenities at the newly opened Sports Club: indoor and outdoor pools, whirlpools, stadium tennis courts, fitness center, yoga/aerobics room and multi-purpose activity rooms.
Single-family homes range from 1,200 square feet up to 3,500 square feet. Soriano explains, “In an active adult community you cannot correlate the size of the home to its value. People might buy a small home and doll it up with upgrades, while others might buy a larger home with fewer upgrades because they entertain a lot and have a lot of family and friends who escape the winters to visit them.” Prices and values are also determined by the view and proximity to a golf course, a clubhouse and amenities like dining, fitness and restaurants, something
to consider when gauging the long-term value of a home.“We offer some spectacular views,” Soriano says, “with homes priced to fit just about every prospective resident’s pocketbook and need—from $150,000 all the way up to $776,000 for our largest floor plan with our most spectacularly appointed amenities.”
At press time, more than 300 homes had been sold at Robson Ranch Arizona. Soriano says that typically, some Robson residents are second-home buyers who are there only about half the year. Because Robson communities draw buyers from out or state as well as in state, the Robson “Preferred Guest” vacation program has been an extremely successful sales tool. “It’s one of the most successful preview programs in the history of homebuilding,” Soriano says. “When people stay at one of our communities on these vacation packages for a few days, a lot of them buy from us.”
Heading south to the San Pedro River Valley near historic Tombstone, we find a brand new, very upscale private/resort golf community called Bachmann Springs. The emerging community is offering home sites and memberships at the first Tom Fazio course in southern Arizona.Homes in the golf and equestrian community should increase in value at a far greater rate than the national average, says its president, Jay Boland. “According to statistics, a luxury community that contains a Fazio course realizes a dramatic increase in the value of the homes, and is also easier to sell and resell. A home in Bachmann Springs should increase by a minimum of 15 percent per year over a similar home in a neighborhood.”
The Fazio course here should open for play this fall. Both nines have been seeded and sodded—with tee boxes, fairways, bunkers, irrigation system and cart paths already in place. The entire course will be bentgrass, tee through green. The course will eventually be exclusively for property owner/members and hotel guests, but it will
be initially open to daily fee play. Boland expects Bachmann Springs to be primarily a second- and third-home community that will attract families who want to escape the summer heat in Phoenix and Tucson, but will also draw buyers from the United Kingdom and Germany, who consider Tombstone to be “the most legendary town of the Wild West.”He believes that the Midwest, Northeast, Northwest and nearby California will also be strong markets, due not only to the great golf but also to the horseback riding—where people can ride for miles and miles in open country surrounded by magnificent views.
“Our project site ranges from 5,000 feet in the north, trailing gently down toward the valley at 4,200 feet,” Boland says. “The 60- to 70-mile vistas are spectacular.And because we’re at those elevations, the high temperatures in the summers will be generally in the low to mid 90’s, rarely cracking 100 and always cooling off nicely in the evenings.”
The hotel will initially open in early 2008, with several hotel villas to be built by the developer, who will also construct a permanent clubhouse with a spa and wellness component. A freestanding hotel will be added later, Boland says. To accommodate visitors before the hotel is open, Bachmann Springs offers unique tentlike structures for the reception area and overnight guests. Purchased from South Africa, these elegantly furnished tents are airconditioned and heated and offer king beds, bidets and even satellite radio.
His company is in the business of selling land, not building homes, Boland points out. However, he expects the initial villas to be priced “at about $1.2 million.” The Phase I lots range from 1/3 to 2.5 acres and are priced from $500,000 up to $4 million, based on location, size and view. “We are not interested in creating any uniformity in the homes here, so home builders can be creative, subject, of course, to an architectural review board.”
Historic Tombstone is the site of the legendary Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. It is documented that its most famous participant,Wyatt Earp, tried his hand at golf a few times in his later years, when he was a movie consultant in Hollywood. Perhaps if there had been a golf course here way back in the day, the Earps and Doc Holliday could have settled their score with the Clantons in a $20 Nassau match instead of a deadly shootout. Then they could have built homes overlooking the golf course and lived in harmony as they watched their profits grow even faster than the mining claims that brought them out to this beautiful part of America.