THE RISE and rise in development of golf-side homes has been one of the truly remarkable phenomena of the property market in recent years.
The concept of arranging homes around the greens and fairways of a golf course originated in the US before becoming big in Europe, and has now been adopted throughout the world. Mediterranean countries such as Spain have been at the forefront on this side of the Atlantic, catering largely for a market from northern Europe that wants to combine golf with a more appealing climate.
The popularity of golf property is down to a number of factors. First there is the attraction of the game itself. According to KPMG's Golf Benchmark study, the number of players in Europe, Middle East and Africa has been growing at around 5 per cent every year for the last two decades, to around 6m players in total.
The fast-growing number of players has led to a booming demand for new courses, and real estate - which brings in €19bn a year - has bankrolled much of the development, becoming the golf industry's biggest earner.
From the owner's perspective, if you're a player, then the idea of having a house right next to a top-quality course in the sunshine is a formula hard to beat. Surprisingly, many of those who buy golf course properties don't even play the game though; they are attracted by the manicured environment, which can seem like having your own immense lawns to gaze out upon.
And there's a third dimension: from a financial perspective, a property on a golf course can be a very sound investment since people play the game throughout the year, and with the right property than can generate a year-round rental income that most holiday properties would be unable to match.
So what factors should you consider before teeing up for a golf property?
- Quality of the course. A championship-level course by a leading architect such as Cabbell Robinson or Robert Trent Jones Jr makes for a good investment. Former players such as Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player have also moved into the business of course design, and their name gives the course a much higher profile. A 'signature' course means the professional has had significant input into the layout of the course.
- Proximity and access. In some countries - Bulgaria springs to mind - a lot of property has been marketed as 'golf property' when it is reasonably close to golf courses, but doesn't actually overlook the fairways, and in some cases owners don't even have a right to play there. Most buyers do want to overlook the course - that's the reason for buying on a golf resort - and the most expensive or desirable property can sometimes be on the 18th, as it's where the maximum excitement is. Developers will often include club membership as well as reduced green fees for those buying a property.
- Critical mass. Golfers like to play a range of different courses, so the more choice close at hand, the better. Andalucia in Spain has more than 100 courses in total, including so-called Golf Valley in Nueva Andalucia.
- Other facilities. Golf resorts that offer a broader range of activities for non-golfers are likely to be more successful, particularly at attracting families. A spa seems to be the most winning combination, perhaps reflecting the fact that most golfers are still men; tennis, riding, and watersports also mean that you're buying more than just a dormitory for the golf course.
Alexander Garrett is a freelance property writer who contributes regularly to The Observer and British Airways' Business Life.
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