Golf Community: What Buyers Want Today?

Many buyers today purchase homes in a golf community for the security, the social atmosphere and the prestige of living in a luxury community – not necessarily for the golfing. Residential lots in golfing communities are general among the most valuable pieces of property in Florida. For example, at Burnt Pine, a private community in the Panhandle oceanfront resort of Sandesfin, home sites alone range up to $500,000, and completed homes are priced up to $1.3 million.

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Privacy, security, a waterfront setting on the Intracoastal and convenience to downtown Jacksonville are as important to Marsh Landing buyers as the 18-hole golf course or amenities like a tennis center, fitness center, clubhouse and beach club, according to Holland.

Another super-luxury community catering to primary home buyers is Isleworth in Windermere, in the southwest part of Orlando. Homes surrounding the 18-hole private course start at $1 million.

Buyers in general are more conservative, typically purchasing less than they can afford. At Lake Nona in southeastern Orlando, for example, buyers are opting for smaller homes with all the upgrades. Everyone wants to make sure they’ve made a good investment.

Other popular options include a home office, or private cottage, rather than a den, and fitness centers. In communities that cater to younger buyers, playgrounds, child care facilities or teen social programs are a must. Woodfield in Boca Raton has instituted a seven-day-a-week supervised children’s center.

Active social programs are also important to buyers. Clubs in residential communities have increasingly become the center of the family’s activities. People don’t have time to organize family-related activities because of the many demands upon their time.

Today’s Hot Markets

While the pace of golf community development has slowed, there is still a diversity of new projects. Buyers looking for a close-in urban location can choose communities like Deering Bay, a bayfront enclave in Coral Gables, or Marsh Landing in Jacksonville. Then there’s the super-luxurious Fisher Island off Miami Beach, which has attracted clients worldwide. Get-away-from-it-all locations include Amelia Island Plantation on a barrier island north of Jacksonville and The Villas at Harbor Links at ultra-private Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo.

Today, the Collier-Lee County area leads the state in new golf community development, although activity stretches northward to Sarasota and the rest of the “Golf Coast.” Projects like Gulf Harbour Yacht & Country Club in Fort Myers, Grey Oaks, Audubon and Collier’s Reserve in Naples focus primarily on second-home buyers and retirees.

Orlando is a fertile area for golf community development. The largest golf facility in Florida is the Walt Disney World Golf Complex in Lake Buena Vista with 99 holes, and Disney’s massive Celebration development includes golf amenities by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and Jr. In Longwood, Alaqua Country Club has sold all but 21 lots in the 213-home community. Remaining homes are priced from $600,000 to $1.8 million.

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Palm Coast, in Flagler County 50 miles south of Jacksonville, is another Mecca for golfers. Still, because home lot buyers are not required to build in a fixed period, the lavish club house and the picturesque Tom Fazio golf course are not heavily used. Indeed, it will be many years before Hammock Dunes fills up with residents.

Many golf communities are offering a variety of membership alternatives to meet the needs of all residents – not just the golf addicts. Tennis, social and reduced-rate golf memberships, which allow casual golfers to play during off-peak periods, are becoming more common.

In many communities, golf has become a family activity. The percentage of women golfers continues to increase, and couples golf is a rapidly growing segment of the industry, according to Hillier.

Developers handle the golf membership program in several ways. Homebuyers may purchase equity or non-equity memberships in a club, which is added to the value of their homes. Equity memberships can add $10,000 to $100,000 to the cost of owning a home in a community, with a typical equity membership running between $35,000 and $55,000.

In the future, more golf communities will open their golf courses to the public for daily play, or provide semi-private facilities that offer membership programs for residents while allowing non-members to play. One reason is simple economics. The other is that golfers enjoy exploring new courses. Many golfers would rather pay as they go than purchase an equity membership in one course. That trend may reduce the economic viability of a golf course for a developer offering it as an amenity.

Developments with a high ratio of golfing members may be able to reduce their membership fees but the trade-off may be longer waits for tee times. Some golf communities, like 286-unit Deering Bay, include provisions to sell a limited number of memberships to non-residents when needed to support the amenity program.

Pelican Bay in Naples, for instance, enjoyed a strong demand for memberships because the ratio of golf holes available was low for a community of its size and pricing.

A Recipe For Success?

One clear message from the market is that today’s buyers want more diversity than in the past. A community where everyone is 55 is less appealing than one with a broad age range – unless it is positioned as a retirement community. In addition, a narrow-age-range population limits the market for owners who want to resell their units in the future, as those 55-year-olds turn into 70-somethings.

To achieve that diversity theme, successful developers must appeal to primary home buyers, as well as the traditional second-home and retiree markets.

Like everything else in real estate, correct location is essential for a golfing community to succeed. A suburban golfing development near a major airport, employment center, cultural and social activities will enjoy a faster sales pace than a community in the hinterlands.

Golfing community developers must pay attention to all the nuances of the changing market. Newness in itself is no longer a compelling attraction – each development must satisfy the needs of its particular niche. A carefully conceived product mix and marketing program, along with a strong location and perceived value are the foundations for today’s successful golf course communities. The secret for developers is to outthink – not outspend – their competition.

Rather than chronic oversupply or a boom-and-bust cycle, the luxury golf course market now appears to be headed for sustainable growth over the long term.

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