The boom may be over, but the phenomenon of residential golf estates continues to grow.
Donald Horne described Australia as ‘The Lucky Country’, although the origin of the phrase was negative in saying that our prosperity was achieved more through luck than enterprise.
In that context, Australian golfers should look back at the turn of the century as a very fortunate, prosperous time. We’ve literally sat back and witnessed a golden age of golf course construction that has given us some wonderful new amenities and facilities.
Australia underwent a golf boom in the 1980s/1990s fuelled by Asian (mostly Japanese) investment that saw the creation of a number of resort-style courses in Queensland (Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and Cairns) and Perth.
However, Sanctuary Cove on the Gold Coast was the first genuine attempt at a master-planned residential community. Opening to much fanfare in 1989, it featured a golf course designed by Arnold Palmer at the epicentre of a development that included a marina and commercial village.
Golf communities began to spring up in southeast Queensland during the 1990s. Hope Island (1993), Lakelands (1997) and Noosa Springs (1999) opened as we began to witness an unprecedented surge in residential golf developments.
They were the tip of the iceberg. More than 40 golf courses were built with some sort of residential component attached to them between 2000 and 2012. This ‘boom’ in residential golf communities occurred because the “stars aligned”, according to Jeff Blunden, managing director of Golf Business Advisory Services.
“There were sites that were in good locations (growing demand corridors), which also had land suitable for golf. There wasn’t a lot of recently built product in those markets. The stars aligned,” Blunden says.
“It was a boom we were going to have but it’s not something that’s necessarily going to repeat. It’s not cyclical because there simply aren’t the sites now available in locations that make economic sense.”
The most active player in the market was Medallist Developments, a joint venture between Macquarie Bank and Greg Norman’s Great White Shark Enterprises. It built residential communities at Glades (2000), Pelican Waters (2000) and Brookwater (2002) in southeast Queensland, The Vintage (2003) in NSW’s Hunter Valley, and Sanctuary Lakes (2000) and Settlers Run (2007) in Victoria. Medallist’s most recent development at Stonecutters Ridge (2012) near Blacktown in Sydney’s west has been a phenomenal success – both in terms of selling real estate and creating a sustainable golf product. Medallist negotiated a land swap deal with Ashlar Golf Club, whose members relocated to a modern facility with a Norman layout most recently ranked at No.67 on Australian Golf Digest’s Top 100 Courses. With a full membership, it enabled Medallist to develop the site without the burden of leaking money from an unsustainable golf asset. (Many developers have suffered from the financial pain of owning/managing a golf course losing millions of dollars a year.)
Elsewhere, some of the most successful developments have been North Lakes (designed by Graham Marsh, 2002) on Brisbane’s northern outskirts, Macquarie Links (Robin Nelson, 2002) in Sydney’s southwest and Thirteenth Beach (Tony Cashmore, 2001) on Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula.
Historically, golf courses in real estate communities have been built on land that was unsuitable for housing (for instance, flood plains). So when there is no “bad land” the recreational green space is usually provided on a lesser scale (such as parks and gardens rather than golf courses). Hence, the driving factor for building golf courses as part of residential developments was land not suitable for real estate.
Today, the reason for the market shrinking in size is because there are fewer sites that work from an economic perspective. Developers need to a) find a large piece of land, b) with the appropriate zoning approvals, c) in a demand corridor for the future. Those sites are increasingly rare. The bigger sites cost a lot of money and are therefore only viable for the bigger developers.
A noticeable trend in recent years has seen clubs sell off part of their golf course for housing in order to secure their long-term viability and fund course improvements or clubhouse refurbishments. Clubs see this as a desirable option in lieu of not being able to raise alternative capital from operational profits, levies or entrance fees. Examples include Portsea Golf Club on the Mornington Peninsula and Patterson River Golf Club in Melbourne’s southeast, which sold land to the developer Australand to fund a course redesign.
A Positive Legacy
Yet the number of residential golf developments hasn’t completely dried up. There are up to a dozen projects in the pipeline on the east coast. Each of them has got their own unique challenges – basically it’s all about sales pace and land prices.
“If you can’t sell turf at ‘X’ lots per year at ‘X’ price then you’ve got a problem. Because these things have got time lines on them and you need to get in and get out,” Blunden says.
With regard to the proliferation of residential golf developments, Blunden says there has been two really positive outcomes. Firstly, while the rapid increase hasn’t grown a demand for the game – playing numbers have declined around Australia over the past 15 years – it has given the consumer access to newly developed golf facilities. And these wouldn’t have been fundable as stand-alone courses in their own markets.
“We have been blessed with new amenities: you can go and play at a $20 million Greg Norman design in Blacktown for $50. Well, that’s just madness. It should cost you way more than that, but you can,” Blunden says.
Secondly, in the community’s eyes, golf still has value – not necessarily in terms of the sport but in what else it provides – which is manicured green space. “So in some ways, golf is protecting against further urban development and keeping green where green should be,” adds Blunden.
So while the boom may have come to an end, a number of residential golf developments are making progress. The Vintage in NSW’s Hunter Valley is about to enter an exciting growth phase. The Stevens Group, which was the original partner with Medallist, has plans to add a six-acre village centre to tie together the masterplan on what is a truly integrated residential and tourist development around a championship layout designed by The Shark (2003). The Vintage is a multi award-winning development, having won the UDIA award for the Subdivision of the Year as well as the Top Luxury Hotel in NSW twice (Chateau Elan).
Subject to the pending DA approval, the village centre will be the hub of The Vintage community. It will have shops, a doctor’s surgery, delicatessen, three or four restaurants, wine bars, a barrel room for major functions and weddings, as well as a new chapel and space for kids’ entertainment.
Another new hotel is planned, with an additional 40 rooms proposed for the Grand Mercure (currently 43 twin apartments). Paul Burns, who was part of the design team for the Sanctuary Cove village, will be brought back to oversee the project, which is anticipated for completion at the end of 2016.
Also as part of the masterplan for the balance of the estate, the Stevens Group is seeking to rezone another 400 acres of land for golf, residential and tourism uses. Options for development of this land include up to 12 golf holes and approximately 300-plus residential lots interconnected with bicycle paths and park areas. The same architectural and landscaping guidelines would be continued to maintain the Hunter/Vintage feel about these extensions to The Vintage masterplan.
Just over two thirds (about 330 blocks) of the existing land in the 482-lot residential development has been sold. Meanwhile, the Sunshine Group, new owner of the golf course, is spending a significant amount of money on capital works and upgrades on the existing golf-course facilities and clubhouse.
Twenty minutes away back in Cessnock, the Hunter Valley’s newest golf course offers a slightly more affordable introduction to golf course living. Stonebridge is proving popular for retirees looking to spend their more active twilight years playing golf as well as young professionals and families seeking a lifestyle with an attractive outlook without exorbitant ongoing costs.
The old Cessnock Golf Club, affectionately known as The Oaks, formed a joint venture partnership with Daracon Property to redevelop the golf course. After obtaining some extra land from the NSW Government, local golf identity Jack Newton was commissioned to redesign the layout with the balance to be subdivided for housing. Daracon carried out all the civil works and the site was rebranded as Stonebridge.
Situated only 3.1km from Cessnock CBD, Stonebridge is a Torrens title subdivision with freehold ownership (whereas The Vintage is Community title estate, broken into precincts and heavily regulated). Blocks at Stonebridge range from 615sqm to 1,130sqm with prices between $215,000 and $259,000. To date, 97 of 153 residential lots remain to be sold.
“It’s a very affordable high-end estate,” says Bryce Gibson of LJ Hooker Cessnock, who owns a property in Stonebridge.
“I think the reason why the take-up rate has been positive is that you get the best of both worlds. You get high-end living, backing directly onto the golf course with beautiful views and 15 acres of private recreational land (golf course) at the rear of your property. It doesn’t cost you any more to live there than it would anywhere else in Cessnock.”
Magenta Shores is a premier residential and private estate on NSW’s Central Coast, 80 minutes from Sydney’s CBD. It combines an 18-hole links-style golf course (Ross Watson, 2006), a 5-star Pullman Accor Resort; the private Magenta Shores Golf and Country Club and 210-plus on-course golf, beach home residences and poolside villas. There is also room for expansion to the masterplan complementing the existing community. Each dwelling has been designed and constructed to ensure real privacy, solar access and the cooling summer breezes off the Pacific Ocean. The architecturally designed homes are set on a 100-hectare beachfront site. It adjoins almost 2.3km of pristine beach to the east and is surrounded by the Wyrrabalong National Park to the north and south.
The developer, Rich Sea International, has begun construction of the new house-and-land packages with golf-course frontage. Land sales start from $450,000, with resale homes and townhouses from $500,000. The next beach view precinct will boast luxury two-storey homes with direct ocean views, including rooftop terrace gardens and immediate golf view terraces overlooking the 18th green and fairway.
“There is nothing else like this development anywhere else on the coast. A great golf course by the beach surrounded by national park. You can’t help but fall in love with this seaside community” says Geoff Hallam from Magenta Realty.
In Sydney’s northwest, Cranbrook Residences is a luxurious retirement village on the boundary of Castle Hill Country Club. Currently under construction on what was once a 20,000sqm semi-rural property, it will comprise 53 luxurious apartments – many with golf course views over Castle Hill’s sixth and seventh fairways.
Tailored to a discerning retirement market, the apartments are fully maintained and have access to a whole range of services: on-site café, wellness centre, hydrotherapy pool, gymnasium, library and cinema. For peace of mind, an adjacent aged-care facility (operated by Cranbrook Residences’ parent company) caters for residents who can no longer live independently.
“If you’re wanting quality retirement accommodation and services, that’s where we operate,” says Cranbrook Residences’ executive director Campbell Meldrum.
“All of the buildings that face the golf course are very luxurious apartments. There is a mix of one, two and three-bedroom apartments.
“In a large three-bedroom apartment, the internal area is approximately 160sqm and the balcony is 50sqm. They’re large, beautiful – with oak/timber floors, Calacatta-style benchtops and Miele appliances.”
At Yarrawonga on the Murray River, Silverwoods is surging ahead since Lotus Living took ownership of the development in one of the country’s fastest growing regional towns. The 10,000 population of Yarrawonga/Mulwala is expected to double by 2020. Many will make their home in Silverwoods, which features 2km of lake frontage spread over 400 acres.
A major attraction of Silverwoods has been the Black Bull Golf Course designed by Thomson-Perrett, which recently opened its second nine in June to become the must-play layout on the Murray. A clubhouse is scheduled to open in 2018 as part of The Point, a $35 million recreational hub that will feature a 120-room Sebel Resort, 300-seat conference centre, swimming pools, health spa, gymnasium, tennis courts and boat-parking facilities.
“Think of a regional version of a Sanctuary Cove is what you’re seeing here,” says Black Bull’s head professional James McCully, whose father Glenn has the distinction of operating the longest running residential golf school in Australia for the past 32 years.
Record land sales have been achieved at Silverwoods this past winter so that almost one third of the 900 allotments have been sold. Traditional blocks (of 500-650sqm) are priced from $110,000, land with golf-course frontage from $150,000 and lots with lake views from $200,000. Three-bedroom townhouses are selling for $320-330,000. Thirty premium blocks on Lake Mulwala previously sold for $600-700,000.
Over in the West in the Swan Valley, 35km from Perth, a new precinct – Island Green – has been launched at The Reserve, The Vines, a private estate located in The Vines Resort & Country Club (Graham Marsh/Ross Watson, 1989). LWP Property Group will release 24 premium homesites over three stages on a small ‘island’ surrounded by the golf course and Champions’ Walk parkland.
Island Green is described as a “one-of-a-kind precinct” given that it represents the last available homesites with golf-course frontage in the Perth metropolitan area. Homesites at Island Green range in size from 450sqm to 830sqm and will be ready to be built on at the time of settlement. The reserve price is from $349,000.
Golf-course frontage is also available on Dunsborough Lakes at the ‘Gateway to the Margaret River Region’, two hours and 40 minutes south of Perth. PGA of Australia life member Alan Murray and Ken Wride designed the course that opened in 1993.
After the previous developer sold out last year, Wallis Property bought the remaining residential land, while the golf club bought the course, pro shop and tavern. More than 800 of the 1,500 allotments at Dunsborough Lakes have been sold. Of the remaining land, small cottage-style blocks start from $169,000, traditional lots begin from $208,000 while premium sites with golf-course frontage are selling from $260,000 (subject to availability).
“What we’re driving the marketing off is being able to live in a seaside residential town in Dunsborough,” says David Barham, project manager for Wallis Property.
“The estate is located a couple of hundred metres from the beach and it’s a short stroll into town. You’ve got a championship 18-hole golf course on your doorstep and it’s also surrounded by the wineries of the region with lots of parkland and walking trails. And it’s at an affordable price.”