Up Close: Are golf course homes on par?

by Dan Lauck 

Real estate values for some homes hinge on whether their golf course remains open. Now, 30 years later, the trees are mature, the shade is deep and the course maybe even better.

"We re-grassed the greens with Tiff Eagle," says Quail Valley managing partner John Josephs. It has created picturesque and highly marketable views from hundreds of living room windows. Asked if the desire to live on a golf course has diminished, "No. I haven't seen that at all," he says. But Josephs says developers so overbuilt the Houston landscape with golf courses that they're now downing in red ink.

"This club has been losing money for several years. It was when we bought it," he says.

Suddenly, a sign like this sends shudders through a community. For 25 years, virtually every upscale housing development has been built around a golf course. They almost had to be to compete. But now the question is whether what was once a lure has become a trap.

"This happens to be the hole I live on, right over here," says resident Charlie Butera.

Butera's home backs up to a lake alongside the fifth fairway at Quail Valley. He's lived here 20 years and the thought of the course going under worries him. "Oh, we're joined at the hip. I don't think there's any question about that," he says. Butera's playing partner, Howard Hill, is a real estate appraiser.

"If something happens to this golf course, it's going to have a huge effect on property values," says Hill.

Quail Valley is hardly alone in this abyss of bogies.

The owners of Old Orchard Golf Club, one of the city's best courses, plan to rip out the greens and fairways and to build single family homes this fall. It's just one example from more than 150 courses in the Houston area.  "The majority of them are probably breaking even or losing money," says golf course appraiser Rick Zbranek.

He suspects the owners of some of the courses in financial trouble are golfers themselves who made an emotional purchase. "I've always believed that a golfer's perfect world is to own a golf course with a liquor license," Zbranek says.

Josephs has the golf course and liquor license, but his world is not so perfect. "Well, we're struggling for market share, that's for sure," he says. "Without the growth of golf, and too many courses, we're left with a big dilemma."

Some residents suspect the club is trying to siphon off money from the homeowners association. "A lot of people look at it like they'd be bailing the club out. What they'd be doing is bailing themselves out," Zbranek says.

No matter what happens he doubts the bank would ever let the course, itself, fail. "They're not going to allow the golf course to go to seed because those greens will be destroyed in weeks or months. They're gonna protect their investment."

Butera and Hill would like to protect their investment, as well. But about all they can do is play golf every afternoon at about 1 p.m.

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