A home on the links

`Lifestyle': Many baby boomers on the verge of retirement find that golf course communities fit their needs.

October 31, 2004|By Scott Waldman | Scott Waldman,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Gopal Ahluwalia Around the country, more golf course communities are being built to accommodate the needs of residents looking to spend less time cutting grass and more time on improving their swing and socializing with friends.

Many new residents of golf course communities are baby boomers on the verge of retirement, said Clark Turner, a developing partner and builder at Bulle Rock in Havre de Grace, one of Maryland's newest golf communities.

"It's a lifestyle," said Gopal Ahluwalia, vice president for research at the National Association of Home Builders.

And demand for such housing is expected to keep rising as more people retire and cash in on the growing appreciation of their homes. The costly housing, some of which sits on the open areas near green fairways, provides a status symbol to many buyers who look to such communities for quiet and scenic surroundings.

"They're popular, they're in demand, people are willing to pay," Ahluwalia said.

An increased interest has been shown in golf communities because more people can afford them, said Ron Benfield, an appraiser with Everett Benfield Realty Advisers in Bel Air. Such communities are popular places to live because a limited number of homes are available, Benfield said.

While the greatest number of golf course communities are in places with a temperate climate year-round such as Florida, California and Arizona, they increasingly can be found in many states. Michigan has about 110 of about 2,950 golf course communities in the country, according to the National Golf Foundation. Maryland has at least 34.

About half of all golf course facilities opening this year include real estate near the course, the foundation said. That number is up from about a third in the early 1990s.

Turner said Bulle Rock and other retirement communities throughout the region have become more popular because so many retirees prefer to stay closer to family as opposed to moving to Florida or Arizona. Builders have worked to include features like golf courses, clubhouses, fitness centers and other attractions to satisfy retirees who can afford the prices but want to stay close to grandchildren and others.

"By providing the amenities here, we can attract a lot of people to stay in the area," Turner said.

The price of such a lifestyle comes at a premium. Homes in the Residences at Bulle Rock will be priced from the lower $300,000s. Most of these communities also include monthly homeowners association fees. At Bulle Rock, it's $235 a month.

Luxury is practically a requirement in a golf course community. Many of the homes in Bulle Rock, which is named for a thoroughbred horse brought from Europe in the 18th century, will have a view of the golf course or a rolling hillside that descends to the Chesapeake Bay. Many of the community's roads and neighborhoods will be named for legendary racetracks and horses.

In addition to the golf course, which was ranked as the third-finest public course in the country by the Zagat Survey, Bulle Rock will have a 37,000-square- foot community center with an indoor pool, a bocce court, a media room and other amenities. It also will have nature trails winding through about 500 acres that will remain undeveloped. A marina recently was purchased for residents to use.

With so many extras, even people with no interest in golf are attracted to the communities. Many who live there will never set foot on the greens.

"Half the people who live in these communities don't play golf," Ahluwalia said.

Golf was not a motivating factor for David and Elizabeth Truitt when they decided to move into the Bulle Rock community last spring from Bel Air. Neither plans on spending their approaching retirement golfing.

"We didn't want to cut grass any more," said David Truitt, a banker.

When Laura Nichols moved into the Penn National golf community in Fayetteville, Pa., two years ago, she was not a golfer. Today, Nichols, who lives near the 14th hole of one of the courses, is working with one of the resident golf pros to improve her skills. Being surrounded by so much golf made her feel as if she should take it up, she said.

Nichols is marketing director at Penn National, where new-home sites cost from $100,000 to $300,000. Although about three-quarters of the people who live at Penn National are retired, younger families are buying homes in the community.

"We're seeing a lot of people invest in real estate to get their foot in the door, to make sure they're not priced out of the market," Nichols said.

"It's like living on vacation," said Shelly Schaefer, a staff member at the Welcome Center at Bulle Rock.

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