Golf is a good walk spoiled,’ as the famous saying goes. And many people would agree, with campaigns here in Britain for golf courses to be used to build affordable housing.
Yet, despite the sport suffering from a decline in popularity for more than a decade, golf is so integral to super-prime real estate that the developers who build some of the world’s most expensive and ambitious homes are continuing to centre them around golf courses.
‘Super-prime is about exclusivity, and several of the great golf clubs are great private clubs, too,’ says Marcus Bradbury- Ross, head of the private office at CBRE UK. ‘The Covid pandemic spurred the second- home real-estate market. People with the means to do so realised they could buy second homes and work from anywhere.’
The pandemic also gave golf a much-needed boost. According to the latest data from the R&A and other various British and Irish golfing bodies, 4.8 million adult golfers played nine or 18 holes in 2021, below the peak of 5.2 million seen in 2020 but still well above pre-Covid numbers.
The home of golf
Homes overlooking the best British golf courses exert serious pulling power. The biggest homes in Surrey’s Wentworth Estate and St George’s Hill cost well into eight figures, while two resale apartments in Hamilton Grand in St Andrews, overlooking the world-famous Old Course, were snapped up last year, priced at offers over £1.3 million and £2.3 million.
‘One sold in a day. The other was slower – it took three days,’ says Jamie Macnab, head of the country house team in Savills’ Edinburgh office. ‘We had enquiries from all over the world from people saying they’d buy without seeing the property. For some people, playing the Old Course is almost like a religious experience.’
However, the unpredictable British weather can dampen the zeal of all but the most avid golfer – and means that most super-prime resorts are overseas.
‘You don’t really want a golf resort in a place that rains all the time – and that is part of the reason we chose Quinta do Lago in the Algarve,’ says Daniel Schneider, a co-founder and partner at SPX Capital, which, together with Portuguese real estate firm Green Jacket Partners, is behind the One Green Way development, where luxurious homes cost from €3.5 million.
Even though well-designed golf courses are hugely expensive to install and maintain – and many courses run at an operating loss – developers understand the appeal they can have in attracting buyers from all over the world.
‘Golf is an important feature to include in a super-prime resort,’ says Robert Green, managing director of Sphere Estates. ‘In addition to helping boost and maintain property prices, it can often extend the seasonality of a resort, continuing to attract visitors even during low periods of the year.’
Crucially, Green adds, a golf course also enhances and protects the views from the properties, adding a premium of 20–40 per cent compared to similar homes elsewhere.
The quality of the course and its designer also drive prices, says Bradbury-Ross. ‘For example, a home on a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course would have a higher premium than one designed by a course designer who is not as well-known.’
And one course is usually not enough, because you need a variety of styles and levels of difficulty. Many of the best resorts have two – these include Camiral (previously PGA Catalunya) on the Costa Brava and Dubai’s Jumeirah Golf Estates. Quinta do Lago has three courses, while Sotogrande, in Andalusia, has five.
More than a golf course
However, given that only about 30 per cent of homeowners within golf resorts actually tend to play the sport, according to Green, it’s imperative that these properties also appeal to those who don’t know their woods from their wedges.
Sotogrande – where plots on which buyers can create their own villas cost €2.7–7.6 million – boasts tennis courts, polo pitches, a marina and an international school with 1,200 pupils. At Quinta do Lago there’s a new sports centre, with padel, tennis and extensive wellness facilities. Sustainability is also becoming an increasingly important consideration, while a range of excellent dining options is non-negotiable.
High-profile new openings include the Peaks, in the Luštica Bay development on Montenegro’s Adriatic coast, with a golf course conceived by Gary Player Design. Luxury golf villas in the Peaks cost from €2.25 million. Owners at Heritage Villas Valriche, overlooking Le Château Golf Course in Bel Ombre, Mauritius, can now play the Indian Ocean’s first contemporary links course, La Réserve Golf Links, co-designed by former Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, after it opened in December. And Saudi Arabia has revealed ambitious plans to build between 16 and 23 new courses and host at least four professional tournaments by 2030.
Nevertheless, high interest rates mean most golf resort investors and developers are pressing pause for the moment. ‘We had super-low rates for almost 15 years and the cost of capital is now so much higher, while high inflation means building something is much more expensive,’ Schneider says. ‘Investment has declined substantially – but that’s not a bad thing, because it will separate the wheat from the chaff.’
Schneider is ultimately bullish on the union between golf and super-high-end real estate. ‘I’m not sure participation in golf really is declining – it’s impossible to book a tee time these days,’ he says. ‘Good opportunities will come along, but my goal is to buy at a discount. What’s not going to change is the fact that golf is gold.’
Glorious spots for golfing
Sotogrande, Andalusia, Spain
Sotogrande on the Costa del Sol is Spain’s largest private estate. Aside from five golf courses, residents can also enjoy horse riding, fishing on the nearby coast, and La Reserva Club, billed by developer Sotogrande SA as a ‘one-of-a-kind country club concept’.
One Green Way, Quinta do Lago, Portugal
One Green Way’s elegant white stone villas are situated beside modish outdoor swimming pools and ‘Mediterranean-style
private gardens’. The sun-drenched neighbourhood is within easy reach of three championship golf courses.
The Peaks, Luštica Bay, Montenegro
The 18-hole golf course at The Peaks offers awe-inspiring views, and the exquisite collection of one- to three-bed homes has been designed by international architects Block722, in partnership with local studio NRA Atelier, with ‘serenity at its heart’.