EASTON -- Construction hasn't even begun on Easton Club, a golf course community on the Eastern Shore. But two dozen golfing enthusiasts who put money down to reserve their lots already can picture the view from their backyards.
Bob Rauch of RWL Development Inc., the course designer, was able to show them their future view using computerized, three-dimensional modeling. "From every lot, we can generate the view the lot owner will see" over the course, Mr. Rauch said.
These 3-D pictures have allowed Mr. Rauch, who is also a partner in the development company, TECRO Joint Venture, to take reservations on $4 million in real estate before the first shovelful of dirt has been moved. That's quite an accomplishment at a time when bank financing is difficult to secure for any development.
Even without such computer aids, however, golf course lots are fast sellers. Across Maryland and throughout the United States, golf courses have become the hottest amenity to add to an upscale development.
Forty percent of the golf courses that will open this year are expected to have real estate developments associated with them, according to the National Golf Foundation in Jupiter, Fla., which tracks course construction.
In Maryland, 11 golf course communities have been started since 1990. At least three of the communities have completed golf courses. Most of them are selling lots or taking reservations or letters of commitment whether or not the course is finished.
"We sold 53 lots in 17 days without advertising," said Tom Ruark, developer of Nutters Crossing Golf Course, which opened near Salisbury in May.
Other developers have had similar success.
Easton Club, which won't get under way until next spring, had over 700 inquiries, including calls from Honduras and Belgium, after advertising in national publications.
Jim Matthews is the developer of Oakmont Green in Hamstead. "While we were processing the plot, we had over 40 people contact us," he said.
The Carroll County development just started selling lots last week, and Mr. Matthews, who has developed land since the early 1970s, said projects seldom generate more than one or two calls before the lots go on the market.
"I guess this is a trendy thing," he said.
Changing perspectives and the aging "baby boom" generation have helped spur interest in golf.
"More baby boomers are taking up golf," said Andrew Snook, a researcher with the golf foundation. "These people have discovered that golf is a very pleasant way to retain an active life."
Mr. Snook said people also are finding that golf "is not necessarily as expensive as initially perceived."
Foundation statistics, which showed Maryland near the bottom in serving golfers, also may have sparked the local increase in golf course communities. In its yearly facilities report, the foundation ranked the Baltimore region 311th out of 320 metropolitan areas in the nation -- indicating a need for more golf facilities.
Mr. Matthews, who heard about the foundation statistics as he was planning his Carroll County development in 1988, saw a golf course as a way to boost lot sales.
"The ability to buy a golf course home in a metropolitan area is limited," Mr. Matthews noted. "We're going to meet a need."
The 294-acre community will have 88 homesites, with lots ranging from three-quarters of an acre to 2 acres. For most buyers, the houses will be their primary home.
Most of the houses in the development will be built at a cost of $70 to $80 per square foot, Mr. Matthews predicted. A one-acre lot on the golf course will sell for about $95,000.
Mr. Ruark had never before included a major amenity in one of his developments.
But he made his decision to include a golf course in the Nutters Crossing project in Salisbury "just from reading literature on how would help the sale of homes, and on projections on the amount of golf play in the next 10 years. It was kind of exciting," he said.
After selling the first 53 lots to reduce debt on the project, Mr. Ruark, who also owns Thomas H. Ruark Construction Inc., is selling the remaining 87 lots as a house/lot package.
He already has 20 packages sold or under contract. The custom houses are selling for between $160,000 and $300,000, he said.
Buyers can choose their own house plan or pick from plans Mr. Ruark has on file.
"We were going to limit construction [at Nutters Crossing] to 15 houses a year," said Mr. Ruark, but he now expects to build 25 homes in the community over the next year.
"We're even getting people into the project that aren't interest in golf, but they feel their resale values will be high" because of the golf course, he said.
Developers of River Run Golf Club in Berlin, 10 miles west of Ocean City, designed their 18-hole Gary Player-signature golf course as the centerpiece of "a community you never had to leave," said Ben Ogle, real estate sales consultant and director of golf for the development.