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Once upon a time, in a faraway land, there was a luxurious golf and country club nestled against the desert mountain landscape.
Every evening, after a relaxing round of golf and refreshments at the cantina, families gathered to watch the setting sun glow golden over their peaceful little community.
Foreigners from the chilly North came to behold the beauty of this rich and warm setting, but few could afford to stay and play.
That is, until a series of planned and unplanned events last year created the tipping point for sales.
Tucked in the rolling hills of north Peoria, Ariz., about an hour’s drive northwest of the downtown Phoenix airport, is a stately but unassuming country club called Blackstone.
Opened in late 2006, this intimate, family-friendly community features a 30,000-square-foot clubhouse and a private and walkable 18-hole championship golf course that cost $9-million US.
Sandy Esmay, Blackstone’s marketing director, says Canadians are drawn to the gated community’s peaceful, natural setting.
“Second home buyers who come to Arizona are looking for a desert setting, and they find the quiet, understated elegance of Blackstone appealing.”
Since the U.S. housing crash in 2007, Esmay said they have been gradually lowering their prices.
But it wasn’t until they untied the golf membership from a home purchase, and the falling housing prices met a rising Canadian dollar in 2010, that Blackstone tipped.
“Last year was our best year in sales since the community opened in 2006,” says the marketing director. “People realized this was an opportunity to purchase a luxury home in a premium community at a very attractive price.”
The 228-hectare community in the award-winning master-planned Village of Vistancia is being developed jointly by Sunbelt Holdings and Shea Homes.
It calls for 550 homes when completed, of which 300 are semi-custom -including 50 lock-and-leave villas -and 250 are custom-built on lots at least 0.2 hectares in size.
Just before the real estate bust, homes at Blackstone were selling for upwards of $800,000, (all prices in U.S. dollars) with custom lots starting at $250,000.
Today, those same lots sell from the low $100,000s and semi-custom For more information on golf and social memberships, call 623707-8700. For real estate queries, call 623-476-2923 or visit homes are priced from $300,000 to more than $1 million.
Esmay says the sale of lots also increased substantially from the first quarter of 2010 to the first quarter 2011.
“Now is a great time to buy. The price is attractive and there is no longer a two-year build-time requirement.”
Edmontonian Cam Tish, 50, already owned a second home in the northwest valley of Phoenix when he bought his lot on the 18th tee in November 2009.
He looked southeast at property in Mesa, Scottsdale and Chandler, but preferred the west side of Phoenix and the shorter drive to San Diego, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
While prices have dropped since Tish purchased with a 90-cent-Canadian dollar, he said value, not price, was the primary reason he chose Blackstone.
“This is a first-class place out in the middle of the desert. I’ve not seen another clubhouse here that comes close to Blackstone’s.”
He likes the security of the 24/7 guarded gate, and says the spacious setting reminds him of Edmonton, “except there’s no snow and 330 days of sunshine a year.”
Still working and travelling for his business, Tish says he enjoys coming down whenever he can to meet with his designer and architect without the pressure of a deadline to build.
His two-storey home will offer a view of the golf course on one side and a scenic mountain sunset on the other.
“At Blackstone I feel totally at peace, and that’s what I want when I go down south. This community is a little oasis -your own little paradise.”
Melissa Barton, membership director at Blackstone, says the community brings together people of all ages who enjoy the private country club lifestyle.
“We have a blend of generations not found at more traditional private golf clubs, from young families to empty nesters and retirees,” she says.
In January 2007, just before the housing meltdown, the clubhouse opened between the ninth and 10th holes.
Built by architects Bing Hu and Jonathan Cowles, the two-storey Mediterranean-styled structure exudes an old-world casual elegance with textural elements of pebbles, stone, Saltillo tile, acid-etched concrete and wood.
Joined by a second-level walkway, the two buildings offer a recreation room for children, a 3,000-squarefoot fitness centre and yoga studio, meeting rooms or office space, restaurant facilities including three private dining rooms, a wine cellar, bar and outdoor cantina.
Nearby are three pools and four lighted tennis courts.
The Irish links-style golf course, designed by Jim Engh in 2005, incorporates the desert topography resulting in undulating fairways, cavernous bunkers and generous bowl greens.
It was designated a Certified Audubon Co-operative Sanctuary in 2009, the 10th in Arizona and 778th in the world.
“Don’t be surprised if you see a wild donkey or horse on the golf course,” says Barton., laughing.
The 7,089-length course includes a 2,171 yard short course for children so families can play together. Golfers have the option of walking the course, following shortcut paths between tee boxes.
Barton says to keep viable during the economic downturn, they introduced a non-equity golf and junior golf membership in February 2010.
The original $75,000 golf equity ini- tiation fee was reduced to $15,000 in January 2010.
The non-equity golf membership fee is $7,500.
A separate social membership covers scheduled activities and the use of clubhouse amenities.
“If you can’t afford a home here -or already have a vacation home in Phoenix -you can still belong to an exclusive, family-oriented country club as a social or golf member,” explains Barton.
Barton says the new golf and social incentive programs saw 50 new members last year bringing the total to 107 families.
Golf and social memberships include extended family privileges. The social membership cap is 350 and 500 for golf members.
The private clubhouse at Blackstone Country Club near Peoria, Ariz.