This time last year, Maria Bueno was living with her husband and two children in a small apartment in Manhattan. Now, thanks to Covid-19, they are full-time residents of the Quechee Club, a golf club community in Vermont.
The family would never have made such a gesture if it had not been for the pandemic. “I never thought I would end up with this kind of life,” she said. “If you had asked me two years ago if this was going to be the case, I would have told you that you are crazy.”
After years of slow sales and stagnant prices, homes in residential golf club communities across the country are seeing a surge in demand amid the pandemic. But for many homebuyers, golf is only part of the attraction. Shoppers like Ms Bueno say they are drawn to these communities because they offer myriad options for outdoor sports, dining and socializing as Covid has curtailed many other forms of entertainment. The ability of clubs to limit access to their facilities allows residents to feel isolated from the virus.
Golf is making a comeback
Around the grounds of three golf course communities in Arizona, California and Georgia.
An aerial view of the Cochise Golf Course at Desert Mountain in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Steve Craft for the Wall Street Journal
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“Covid may have affected consumers’ outlook on where they want to reside, likely due to the safety and security of the club and the fact that it is in a controlled environment,” Jason Becker said. from Golf Life Navigators, a company that helps shoppers find golf clubs. . The fact that many private clubs this summer were not allowing guests, for example, was “very appealing to someone in their 60s who is scared of Covid”. A November survey by Golf Life Navigators of people wanting to join golf clubs found that 63% of respondents said they wanted to live in a gated golf community rather than outside, up from 51% before the pandemic. . It remains to be seen whether the upsurge in demand for golf homes is temporary or reflects a permanent shift in buyer preferences.
After overdevelopment in the 1980s and 1990s, golf communities have struggled in recent years as participation in the expensive and time-consuming sport has declined, forcing many courses to close. Participation in golf peaked in 2001 with around 30 million people; by 2017, it had fallen to around 24 million, according to the National Golf Foundation.
But experts agree that golf – an outdoor activity practiced in large spaces – carries relatively little risk of spreading Covid-19. As a result, golfers have returned to the links in droves since the start of the pandemic. Americans played 10 million more rounds of golf in August than the same month last year, a jump of 20.6%, according to data from Golf Datatech and the National Golf Foundation.
This increase in demand is also reflected in home sales. In Jupiter, Fla., the Admirals Cove golf community saw 84 home sales from January 2020 to the end of October, up from 57 at the same time last year, according to local realtor Jeff Lichtenstein. He said shoppers are drawn to the safety precautions clubs are taking to prevent Covid, as well as services such as outdoor exercise classes and free clubhouse meal delivery. “There are a lot of conveniences in a pandemic that you never see outside of there,” he said.
on the green
Larry and Heather Feldman bought and remodeled this Scottsdale, Arizona home overlooking the golf course.
Larry Feldman at one of seven Desert Mountain golf courses in Scottsdale, Arizona, with his home in the background.
Steve Craft for the Wall Street Journal
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The Cliffs, a set of seven residential golf communities in the Carolinas, said it saw a 161% increase in sales volume in the third quarter compared to the same period last year. In Desert Mountain, a golf club community in Scottsdale, Ariz., 77 homes have signed up since Sept. 1, up from 41 at the same time last year, according to realtor Davis Driver.
New owners of Desert Mountain include Larry and Heather Feldman of Park City, Utah, who paid $890,000 in July for a three-bedroom home overlooking the golf course. Mr Feldman, 61, is an avid golfer but has never been a member of a country club before because he has always found them to be ‘a bit highfalutin’ for my tastes’.
But when the couple began looking for a second home amid the pandemic, they loved Desert Mountain’s seven golf courses and multiple restaurants. “With the Covid thing, other than going to the store, you don’t have to leave,” said Mr Feldman, a specialist property developer. “I can go to five or six restaurants inside the gates. If I go to Phoenix and walk into a bar, I expose myself more.
Covid was also a consideration for Marc Vorkapich, who moved his family in July from Vero Beach, Fla., to Reynolds Lake Oconee, a gated community in rural Georgia with six golf courses. “The people who run this place have definitely kind of isolated us in a little bubble,” he said. “You feel very safe.”
Mr. Vorkapich and his wife Kathryn Vorkapich have three children. When the pandemic hit, “we kind of had a wake-up call saying we need a change,” Vorkapich said. After finding Reynolds Lake Oconee online, they paid $1.9 million for 3 acres of land on the lake, where they plan to begin construction on a new home. During this time, they rent a house in Reynolds and have become platinum members of the community’s golf club. Mr. Vorkapich, who is the CEO of Florida-based Watercrest Senior Living Group, commuted.
The Quechee Club clubhouse and pool in Vermont. Home sales here are up 30% over the past year.
One of the two Club courses. The desire for a safe living environment has fueled interest in residential golf communities.
The Club’s tennis courts.
The Quechee Club driving range.
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The family feels more protected from Covid in Reynolds than in Vero Beach, a coastal town that attracts tourists to local hotels. In Vero Beach, “you go to a restaurant, you don’t know who’s there and where they’re from,” Vorkapich said. At Reynolds, on the other hand, “I have a great peace of mind here that the population, the group of people who are here, are aware of the health of others.”
At the same time, he said, the community offers plenty of activities and multiple restaurants.
“You may feel like you’re in this peaceful, secluded little piece of nature, but you’re not totally sacrificing going out to dinner and having social activities,” Vorkapich said.
Ms Bueno said her family felt “stuck” in their small New York apartment when Covid hit in March. Her husband, Francisco Dopazo, general partner of the Humboldt Fund and founder of the consultancy Vega Group, “literally worked from the bathroom,” she said.
The Cole family purchased a second home at Santa Lucia Preserve in Carmel, California during the pandemic.
This summer, Rodger and Kathy Cole paid $3.45 million for a home at Santa Lucia Preserve in Carmel, Calif.
Travis Geske for The Wall Street Journal
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To take a break from the city, they accepted an invitation from Mrs. Bueno’s sister to the Quechee Club, a lakeside community with two golf courses, tennis, indoor and outdoor pools and even a small mountain of ski. The family now use the club’s pools and other facilities “every day”, Ms Bueno said.
A two-week stay turned into several months, and eventually the family moved permanently to the Quechee Club, enrolling their children in local schools. But finding a house to buy was not easy. Home sales in Quechee are up 30% from a year ago, according to club general manager Brian Kelley.
“The houses were on the market for two days and then they disappeared,” Ms Bueno said. “It was completely crazy.”
The couple made offers on several other homes before paying $309,000 in August for a four-bedroom home.
Rodger and Kathy Cole always knew they wanted a retirement home in a golf community; they just weren’t thinking of buying one for another 10 years. But when the pandemic hit, they were going crazy with their two daughters at their home in Los Altos, Silicon Valley. Also, “travelling and going to a shared space like a hotel or renting a place wasn’t as comfortable as it used to be,” said Mr. Cole, a 51-year-old lawyer. “It accelerated our desire to look for something.”
This summer, they paid $3.45 million for a home in Carmel, Calif., at Santa Lucia Preserve, a community with a golf course, horseback riding and a lake. Social distancing is easy on the 20,000-acre reserve, Mr. Cole said. “You don’t meet other people,” he said. The family splits their time between Los Altos and Carmel, where they plan to eventually retire.
It’s unclear whether golf clubs will see any long-term benefits from the pandemic. Despite an increase in golf and tennis attendance, revenue at many clubs is still down from last year due to spring closures and continued restrictions on indoor dining and events such as weddings said Jim Butler of analytics firm Club Benchmarking.
And no one knows if buyers will continue to seek residential golf communities once the pandemic has passed. Ms Bueno, for her part, said she always thought the family’s next stop after New York would be Florida. Although they may consider moving there after the pandemic, she said it was impossible to know what would come next for her family. “We are not making any plans at the moment,” she said. “We just play it by ear, one day at a time.”
Write to Candace Taylor at Candace.Taylor@wsj.com
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