Golf course real estate is a "What have we done for you lately?" business. With every groundbreaking comes a new wrinkle on how golf communities should be designed and managed. But the gated-golf industry is now a couple of generations old, and it has produced its share of classics. These are places where the trees have matured and the pop of nail guns no longer fills the air. Likewise, the (sometimes dicey) transfer of management responsibility from developer to homeowners has been safely accomplished. Especially for buyers who have already had the pleasure and pain of custom-building a home, these blue-chip communities, which enjoyed first pick of the prime sites, are definitely worth a look. —David Gould
Long Cove Club
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
You’d think the lone course of a 569-member community would be overwhelmed, but that’s not the case at Long Cove. Thanks to the beaches, the boating, the tennis and everything else, the first tee is seldom crowded. Additionally, "people here do unusual things—like work," observes property agent John McKenzie, wryly. The homes, luxurious but generally compact, predate the show-off era. Initiation fees are assessed at closing: fifteen thousand dollars for lot buyers and twenty thousand for home buyers. The famed Pete Dye course, loaded with brainy playing angles, moseys along through a landscape of oak and marsh. Visit longcoveclub.org.
Like Desert Highlands, Lake Nona was built on a hinterland site and watched as development streamed toward it over the years. (In Lake Nona’s case, a medical center is being constructed nearby, spurring other projects.) The six-hundred-acre Lake Nona Golf & Country Club is still studded with pine, oak and cypress trees through which Tom Fazio brushstroked a difficult but dreamlike eighteen. On alternate years, the club and its cast of Tour players (Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, et al) host the Tavistock Cup, taking on Tiger Woods, Mark O’Meara and their Isleworth brethren. Homes run from one million to five million dollars. Visit lakenona.com.
Desert Highlands, which will mark its twenty-fifth anniversary next year, attracts sophisticated buyers who appreciate ever-improving amenities and a dearth of sales hype. Its course hosted the first two Skins Games telecasts, but that was long enough ago (1983 and ’84) that residents who kept the programs treat them as collectibles. Of the 560 homesites, about forty-five are still undeveloped, and resale homes range in price from one million to eleven million dollars. Membership has no tiers: Homeowners get all-inclusive privileges for $75,000. The clubhouse was renovated in 2000, adding a seven-thousand-square-foot fitness center. The average age of new members is fifty-five. Visit deserthighlandsscottsdale.com.