Prime Time to Buy

By Dan Gleason
Okay, so if you can tell me any view in this world that wouldn’t be enhanced by a golf course—and I’m
including the Taj Mahal and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon—then please let me know. Because there is little else that can compare to the feeling most of us get when we peek out the window and see a rolling, green fairway.
You have likely heard the expression, “The great thing about golf is that every shot makes somebody happy.” I guess we could apply that to the current slowdown of home building and home buying, which has brought lower prices and an increase of available inventory. With homes not selling like the proverbial hotcakes right now, it’s an ideal situation for buyers to make that leap to live their dream in a golf community.
And face it: since real estate markets are cyclical, we can be sure that we’ll see another real estate spike in our state again—maybe not like the one in ’04-’05, where we timed how long a home would stay on the market with a stopwatch, and there were lotteries just to get a chance to even bid on a lot or a house. But inventory will eventually dwindle and prices will go up. Right now, though, in almost every golf community in the state, there are new homes and re-sales ripe for the picking.And unlike a few years ago, just about everything is negotiable.
Soaring with the ‘Eagle’
“There is no question that the nationwide slowdown in real estate sales has increased the days that homes are on the market,” says Bret Greenwood, General Manager at the OB-Sports managed Eagle Mountain Golf Club in Fountain Hills. “At the same time, it has created a tremendous opportunity for buyers who can now purchase resale properties in golf communities at a tremendous value.”
With price points below what they would have paid a year or two ago, Greenwood points out, “we have a lot of new people calling Eagle Mountain home.”
Because the course first opened in 1996, Eagle Mountain’s original new home inventory was depleted several years ago. Resale home inventories now offer a new opportunity in a variety of subdivisions and home styles and floor plans for outside-the-doorstep access to a scenic golf course that provides some of the more dramatic views in the entire Valley of the Sun. Located 7.5 miles east of Loop 101 in Fountain Hills, Eagle Mountain’s 18-hole course incorporates the property’s natural box canyons within the McDowell Mountain range and features some remarkable elevation changes as it winds its way through the native Sonoran desert scenery. On any clear day, from some of the higher elevations, golfers get a greatview of Camelback Mountain (you can even make out the Praying Monk).
The course was named “Best New Public Golf Course” by the Arizona Republic in 1996 and “Best of Phoenix Public Golf Courses” in 2006 by the Phoenix New Times.
Although the course is open to the public, many Eagle Mountain residents join the Mountain Club, which for a reasonable, one-time fee gives them golf for half of the rates that the public pays. Among the amenities, The Grille at Eagle Mountain serves breakfast and lunch and features allyou- can-eat buffets on Wednesdays from 4:30 PM to 7:30 PM. The club is just minutes from a wide assortment
of restaurants in Fountain Hills and bordering Scottsdale.
Saddling Up with The Duke
Just south of Phoenix is one of Arizona’s fastest-growing planned communities, the town of Maricopa, whose centerpiece subdivisions surround an 18-hole course called The Duke at Rancho El Dorado. Aptly named, the course is built over land once owned by John Wayne. The Old West theme is enhanced by a 20-foot bronze stallion that is reared up in front of a clubhouse; the clubhouse interior is bedecked with paraphernalia such as old wagon wheels, horseshoes, antique lanterns and branding irons. In keeping with the theme, the restaurant is called “The Silver Spur” (ranked in the top ten 19th holes in an AGA reader poll), the bag tags are shaped like spurs and golfers are not only permitted, but encouraged, to wear denim on the course. The tee markers are genuine road irons and western music is piped out to the practice range.
The scenic Duke at Eldorado Ranch golf course—also managed by OB Sports— meanders around natural desert terrain where the Santa Rosa Mountains loom in the backdrop. While it’s a top-notch course whose awards include TravelGolf ’s “Best New Course You Can Play in Arizona,” the award that interests most golfers is the one that The Duke garnered in 2006 from Golf Tips magazine: “The #1 Player Friendly Course in Phoenix/Scottsdale.”The fairways are truly wide open spaces—a shooting gallery for those who want to swing with the unharnessed fury of Arnold Palmer. Yet the course isn’t a pushover, by any means. From the tips, it’s a demanding 7,000 yards, with a 72.4 rating and a 120 slope.
Just 25 minutes from Sky Harbor Airport and 14 miles southwest of I-10 on Queen Creek Road, Maricopa offers a relatively easy commute into Phoenix while remaining worlds apart.
One of many reasons that Maricopa developed so quickly (somewhere around 7,000-8,000 homes were built and sold in the past five years)—is that as the Valley grew south toward Tucson, land was limited because the countryside is surrounded by Indian Reservations. Maricopa happened to be in the last pocket south before Casa Grande. Projections are that the current population of less than 10,000 will grow to very likely 50,000 in just three years. There the growth may end, because the town is bordered by Native American land.
The first master-planned community here has been a huge success. Called Rancho Eldorado, it includes several subdivisions and multiple builders, as well as The Duke golf course.Homes around The Duke sell from about $250,000 up to $500,000, but sales have slowed quite a bit lately, which means that, yes, it is a buyer’s market.
Across the street from the course, at Province at Estrella, sales are still going pretty strong, even though they have slowed down from the previous two years, says Karen Murray, vice president of sales and marketing for Engle Homes, the developer of the community.
Province at Estrella is a 55-and-up, age-restricted community that plans to cap at 2,100 homes and has now sold about half of those. Inventory ranges from 1,100-square-foot duplex villas priced from the $190’s, to 2,800 square-foot estates priced from the $350’s and offers an array of options. Although Maricopa hasn’t yet incorporated, it is now approaching the size of Casa Grande.
Murray points out that a strategy of Engle Homes is to build near golf courses, but not within them, because it saves the buyer having to pay significant association dues and fees of maintaining a
course—the best of both worlds,Murray says. Province has a deal with The Duke for reduced greens fees and discounted prices on pro shop merchandise and dining. Amenities include a town hall, softball fields and a fitness center, pools, an amphitheater, walking trails and a 32,000-square foot Village Center that overlooks several large man-made lakes within the community.
If there is a message out in Maricopa, it is: Relax! Enjoy your life and the wide-open spaces and mountain views. The whole idea was to create a community that affords access to the city, but provides an escape from the booming, crowded, hectic pace of Phoenix.
Chilling in Show Low
Even farther from the maddening crowd is Show Low, in White Mountains on the Mogollon Rim of northeastern Arizona. A three hour drive from both Phoenix and Tucson, Show Low is a favorite retreat for Arizonans who come to snow ski in the winter and boat, fish and golf in the summer. Second-home real estate sales are brisk because Show Low offers an escape from the suffering summer heat.
One of the state’s most beautiful resorts is up here in a community called Torreon. The golf course is extremely well manicured and is designed like a links course—winding in a circle so that golfers get the breezes from all four directions along stands of hardwood trees and over rolling terrain.
Torreon’s upscale amenities are a big selling point—golf, swimming pools, catch-and-release fishing ponds, a fitness center, amphitheater, hiking trails, kids’ playground and a first-rate fireside dining room.
Although there is a slowdown in the housing market here, too, Bison Homes has a project that’s going strong—its new casitas in “six-plex” buildings around the golf course. The casitas provide a lower price point from the $500,000 to $1 million homes within Torreon, says Mike Savarino, director of sales and marketing for Bison, which developed about half of those homes in Torreon. “The location is excellent, and there’s a great demand for second homes in mountain resort in Arizona.” But perhaps the key reason the casitas are selling so well is that Bison has bought up a lot of Torreon golf memberships and includes a membership with the price of a home. Sold separately, the memberships are priced at $46,000.
“Instead of having to pay $46,000 up front,” says Bison’s Torreon sales agent Devon Day, “people who purchase our casitas finance that membership with their mortgage for up to 30 years—and the interest is tax deductible.” The price also includes the first year’s dues, an additional $3,120.
“Ranging from 1,200 to 1,500 square feet and priced from $249,000 up to $325,000, prices depend on the size and the location and various extras, ranging from hardwood floors, granite counter tops, custom cabinetry and upgraded carpet, to name some,” explains Day. Twelve “six-plex” buildings are in the works, for a total of 72 casitas.
“This is a great opportunity for people to get into a beautiful mountain location at a very reasonable price,” Savarino says.
‘Stone’ Gorgeous in Tucson
Communities with higher-end homes generally weather economic storms best. This has proven to be the case at Stone Canyon, in Oro Valley, on Tucson’s far northwest side. Stone Canyon is one of the more exclusive golf communities in the state, and one which the current credit crunch will not affect, explains Jason Wolfswinkel, director of sales for Stone Canyon Properties, Inc. “That’s because of the market we’re in. Most of our buyers are cash buyers, as opposed to the first-time home buyers that this credit crunch is impacting most.” In addition,Wolfswinkel says, his company has a lot of banks still willing to do lot loans and construction loans.
Wolfswinkel points out that most of Stone Canyon’s buyers are from the Midwest and Northwest—people looking to either retire to a warm climate or to escape dreary winters. “These people are ready
to make a move and are not going to let economic forecasts stop them.”
Stone Canyon has some spec homes and resale lots available. However, as Wolfswinkel says, “There are not a lot of resales simply because we’re a relatively young community.”Approximately 300 of the 750 lots and 200 of the 390 cap of memberships still remain.
Lots are priced from $450,000 to well over $2.5 million—yes, that’s just for the dirt. Designer homes start at $1.6 million, with some condominiums priced under $1 million.
The centerpiece of this gated community is its Jay Moorishdesigned golf course. Opened in 1999, the course has garnered several awards, among them Golf Digest’s Best New Course, and Golfweek’s Best Residential Desert Course. The views at 3,000 feet are magnificent, but even more magnificent is the conditioning and sheer beauty of a course that rolls through the Tortolita Mountains and trails along waterfalls, titanic cacti—and prehistoric looking boulders similar to what you see at The Boulders in Scottsdale, whose courses Moorish also designed.
Stone Canyon’s 1,500-acres include only 70 acres of turf and other areas that will remain forever undeveloped, to protect natural vegetation and historic Hohokam rock drawings.
Under construction is a 10,000-square foot clubhouse that will feature underground, climate controlled parking and will include a restaurant that overlooks the 18th hole, one the nation’s most scenic golf holes. In addition to the dazzling course, Stone Canyon’s members will enjoy amenities that will include a 10,000 square-foot health and fitness center, a 25-yard lap pool, tennis courts, treatment rooms, chiropractic services, yoga, Pilates, aerobics, water aerobics, personal trainers, massage therapist and weekend guided hikes on nearby trails. The sun rises over the Catalina Mountains just to
the east and sets over the Tucson Mountains just to the west. From what nature has provided to what man has sculpted, Stone Canyon residents are literally encircled in beauty.
Whether you want to build your own dream home from the ground up or take advantage of this current buyer’s market in resale homes, there may be no better time than now to make the good life in a golf community a reality for you and your family.