Calgary Herald New Condos - - Recreation & Investment Properties -

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.

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