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April 2019

Bucking the Trend

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Desert Mountain’s Seven defies private club decline

By Scott Kauffman

To build a new, upscale private club these days is a rare feat. The fact this is Desert Mountain’s seventh exclusive private golf club is flat out extraordinary.

The club’s newest layout, simply named Seven, belies how special this place truly is. Originally developed by high-end desert golf pioneer Lyle Anderson in the mid-1980s, Desert Mountain was perhaps best known in its heyday for playing host to The Tradition, the Senior PGA Tour event that started in 1989.

Within a decade, Desert Mountain in north Scottsdale, Arizona, had the distinction of being the only place in the world with six Signature Jack Nicklaus-designed private courses, all of which are surrounded by some of the priciest golf-related real estate in the country. While Desert Mountain’s newest private course won’t have the signature Nicklaus Design team imprint when it opens this month, the layout lays claim to yet another distinction: the par-54 course is one of only two private, par-54-rated courses in the United States.

The course was designed by Bill Brownlee of M3 Companies and Wendell Pickett of Greey|Pickett, both of whom are Desert Mountain Club members. And the design duo is no stranger to fun, unique short courses in the Arizona desert.

They also collaborated on the critically acclaimed “Li’l Wick” nine-hole short game course at Wickenburg Ranch in Wickenburg, Arizona. The latest course was created to be inclusive and challenging for golfers of all skill levels, featuring extensive fairways, ample greens and a lighted 18-hole practice putting complex. Along with Desert Mountain’s Renegade course, the club will be the only one in golf-rich Phoenix-Scottsdale that features year-round plush Bentgrass playing surfaces that don’t require overseeding from October-November.

“Not only does No. 7 maintain the high standards of golf we embrace throughout Desert Mountain, it provides even more experiences enabling golfers to reimagine how they play the sport,” says Desert Mountain Club CEO Damon DiOrio. “Each course has its own set of special nuances and elevation differences. In planning for No. 7, it was very clear that we wanted something different and unique. The course will provide fun and memorable 6-, 12- or 18-hole par 3 golf experiences all within 2.5 hours (max).”

For those keeping score and active handicaps, DiOrio points out Desert Mountain Seven can also offer a championship/USGA-rated Par 54 experience from 3,075 yards. But make no mistake, the new No. 7 is exceptionally suited for families and new golfers seeking a manageable 18-hole golf experience with a total length of just 1,455 yards.

“We want the course to be fun, social and touching the lives of every family member, regardless of skill,” DiOrio says. “No. 7 is all that and much more!”

Beyond the 18-hole course, No. 7 will also feature a sleek new modern clubhouse that will serve as a central, family-centric gathering space with an indoor-outdoor gastropub, state-of-the-art sound system, and two bocce ball courts. Set against the picturesque high Sonoran Desert with expansive, collapsible glass walls for indoor-outdoor enjoyment, the clubhouse will be ideal for year-round events with its heated patio floors, indoor and outdoor bars, several fire pits and fireplaces.

The 90-acre enclave that comprises the new Seven course will have its own private entrance and plans for up to 190 custom homes ranging in size from 2,300-6,500-plus square feet.  All but three of the homes will sit directly on the course with prices starting at $1 million. Overall, Desert Mountain spans some 8,000 acres with plans for less than 2,700 homes.

Desert Mountain’s latest development defies conventional wisdom about private clubs and luxury golf course real estate projects. For instance, the number of private club facilities, many of which are associated with high-end real estate development, has steadily declined in America over the last 20 years, according to data from the National Golf Foundation.

Based on the 2018 Golf Industry Report, NGF counted 14,794 overall golf facilities with 25 percent of them or 3,698.5 being private. That’s a 13 percent decline from the 4,251 private facilities in 1998.

With 75 percent of U.S. courses open to all players, it equals the highest public-to-private ratio of facilities in the game’s history. At Desert Mountain, on the other hand, the private life is still thriving to say the least.

“Without divulging specific numbers, I can say that Desert Mountain is experiencing unprecedented interest from potential new members and residents,” says DiOrio, who was the CEO at Charlotte Country Club for nearly 27 years prior to leading Desert Mountain Club. “We’re seeing great traction at all price levels for homes and all our categories of membership. Like many other luxury clubs, we’re being helped by a healthy economy and the fact that people of all ages want to engage in an active lifestyle each and every day, whether they’re still raising a family, working, or in any stage of semi- or full-time retirement.” 

Scott Kauffman is a golf business writer and the managing director of Aloha Media Group.

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