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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkPuerto Vallarta Real Estate | January 2008 

Golf Without Borders
email this pageprint this pageemail usSallie Brady - NYTimes
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Located an hour north of Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific coast of Mexico, Punta Mita is the perfect destination for golfers who prefer their swings to be taken seaside. (Punta Mita Discovery Center)
 
Manuel Mehos was surfing one of Mexico’s best-known breaks when he looked up from his paddling in the Pacific. “I said to myself,” he recalled, “‘Wouldn’t it be great if there were a development here someday?’”

That was in 1999, and less than a decade later Mr. Mehos, a 53-year-old Houston banker, was moving into an 11,000-square-foot home overlooking the paddle channel of his surf break and the 16th hole of the Punta Mita resort’s second Jack Nicklaus course. “I always thought golf would be a good second sport for me,” said Mr. Mehos, the chairman of Green Bank, who makes the two-hour commute twice a month with his wife, Lisa, 32. “I plan on playing more when I retire.”

Punta Mita, a $2 billion resort just north of Puerto Vallarta, is one of dozens of luxury golf communities leading Americans to buy abroad. From the Bahamas to Bermuda to the Caribbean and Mexico, courses are springing up along combed beaches as developers seek to draw more buyers from the usual golf getaways within the United States, especially Florida and Arizona.

“Golf is a very important component of a development, especially for selling homes,” said Paul Kanavos, chief executive of Flag Luxury Properties, which is developing the Baccarat Hotel and Residences at Temenos, a 286-acre resort on Anguilla. “The Caribbean has grown in the past few years. After 9/11, wealthy Americans who used to fly other places are headed to the Caribbean. The proliferation of private jet travel has also kept our sales strong.”

Whether they are buying for personal use, investment or a rental opportunity, plenty of wealthy American golfers are being lured by exotic settings, lower construction costs and resort communities that offer hotel-like amenities.

While construction costs can be relatively modest at these new sites — perhaps as low at $100 a square foot — there can be complications buying overseas. Veteran buyers say their new neighbors should prepare for a few hurdles, from title issues and taxes to import duties on cars and furnishings.

Bermuda, less than two hours by plane from the East Coast, is no exception. Owning there can take more effort than on other islands: buyers must be approved by the government after submitting references; non-Bermudians pay a 10 to 25 percent tax on their home purchase; all imported goods, including furniture are taxed up to 30 percent; and only homeowners, not condo-owners, can have cars, but they must pass a Bermudian license test and pay 100 percent tax on an auto import.

Still, the island retains its allure for American buyers.

“We bought preconstruction, and our property value has doubled,” said Michelle Boggs, 48, who owns a four-bedroom home with her husband, Ron Roys, 54, in Tucker’s Point Club in Tucker’s Town.

“I never thought you could buy here,” said Mr. Roys, a builder from Alexandria, Va.

Tucker’s Point, a 200-acre golf community, is entering its final phase with a luxury hotel and spa. It is an anomaly for an island that tightly controls development. Because Castle Harbour Ltd., the developer of Tucker’s Point, is majority-held by a family that has owned the property since the 1950s, the project was given special development rights.

Waterfront two-bedroom condos in Tucker’s Point start at $3.2 million. The club has a rather exclusive members list, including Michael Bloomberg, Ross Perot, and Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

In the Bahamas, the Abaco Club on Winding Bay on Abaco island has its own celebrity factor. Two weeks before Christmas, Nick Faldo, the winner of six majors and a Golf Channel commentator, could be seen playing boules on the beach. Donald Steel’s Irish links-style course, where an errant wave can interfere with a putt on 18, has attracted the likes of Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood as homeowners. Developed in 2004 by Peter de Savary as a private sporting club, the property was bought earlier this year by Ritz-Carlton Clubs.

“I was not in the market for a second home, but I fell in love with the casual, rustic nature of the place,” said Scott Andrews, 49, a co-founder of Harvest Equity Partners, a private investment firm in Middleburg, Va., who visits with his wife, Jennifer, 45, and two children. “If you want to go to dinner in shorts, you can.”

Home sites at the Abaco Club start at $1 million, and cottages at $600,000.

Buyers seeking high-end golf getaways in the Caribbean have been heading to the Dominican Republic for years; in fact, ever since Casa de Campo opened its Teeth of the Dog course in 1971 in La Romana, the island has been a significant destination for golfers. These days, expansions and new projects are pulling in more prospective buyers.

Casa de Campo itself now has four Pete Dye courses, a new spa, a restaurant by Le Cirque, and new residences that range from $275,000 to $1.3 million.

Elsewhere on the island, the Punta Cana Resort & Club is offering two new options. Corales, a 123-villa seaside community, which already counts Oscar de la Renta, Julio Iglesias, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Bunny Williams as residents, has a Tom Fazio course that is scheduled to open this summer. Home sites at Corales start at $1.8 million for an acre. Away from the shore at Hacienda, 503 home sites will surround the resort’s second course by P. B. Dye, Pete’s son, which is scheduled to open in 2009; Hacienda sites start at $412,000 for a half-acre.

“The golf here is probably the best in the Caribbean,” said Robert Diamond, 69, who owns a 4,200-square-foot house with his wife, Roberta Finestone, 64, in La Cana, the resort’s first community. Retired from New York’s garment industry, they spend 10 months of the year on the island running Home Expressions, a new interior design business, returning to Manhattan for medical check-ups.

Terry Lynn Holland, 55, has a longer commute. The president of Pyramid Precision Machining in San Diego, she returns monthly to her four-bedroom house on the 10th hole at La Cana, where, she says she is likely to see one of the resort’s more notable golfers. “Mikhail always pops in for a cold beer when it’s raining,” she said.

Six miles down the road from Punta Cana is Cap Cana, a 30,000-acre project — twice the size of Manhattan — with Ritz-Carlton and Donald Trump among the developers of a golf, hotel and marina community, with five courses and 1,000 slips.

“There was absolutely nothing here except a tiny palapa when we flew over by helicopter,” said Fathi Kurd, 62, a retired vascular surgeon, who is spending his first winter at Cap Cana, playing golf four times a week with his wife, Maria, 58, a retired pediatrician. Back in 2002, Mr. Kurd was in his Bedford, N.H., office when he saw an ad for the property in a boating magazine. A year later, he had bought a package for more than $1.6 million that included plans for an apartment, a home site, club memberships and a boat slip. “I thought it was a risky investment in the beginning, but the value has increased incredibly,” he said. Some of those lots sold early on are now selling for $3.2 million.

The project, which is expected to take a total of 15 years to complete, is now offering studio bungalows from $465,000 and villas from $3.2 million. Lots at Mr. Trump’s development, Farallon Estates at Cap Cana, on a bluff overlooking the sea, are $3.8 million to $24 million.

New buyers in the Dominican Republic are tax-exempt for 10 years, and the country allows a one-time tax-exempt shipment of two containers of imported goods, which can include automobiles.

Elsewhere in the Caribbean, the nation of St. Kitts and Nevis is expanding its luxury golf communities.

“At the time I bought in 2002, there weren’t many good golf courses in the Caribbean,” said Neil Austrian, 67, of Old Greenwich, Conn., who bought a villa with his wife, Nancy, 67, at the Four Seasons Resort Nevis. “We wanted a turnkey operation with a Good Housekeeping stamp of approval running it.” A retired president of the National Football League, he enjoys the weekly scrambles with hotel guests and the fact that Mulligan, his Norfolk terrier, is also welcome on the island.

Homes in the two new Four Seasons projects begin at $3.5 million.

On St. Kitts, Kiawah Development Partners has announced plans for Christophe Harbour, a 2,500-acre project with a Tom Fazio course, set to open on the south end of the island in 2011. Also, in the north, Kittitian Hill, an environmentally friendly golf community, is in the planning stages and scheduled for about 2010; each of the 300 villas will come with an electric car.

ON Anguilla, Mr. Kanavos has developed the island’s first golf course, designed by Greg Norman, in the Baccarat Hotels and Residences at Temenos, a 115-villa project with a spa and a David Bouley restaurant. Eager to appeal to high-end buyers, Mr. Kanavos successfully lobbied the government to extend the airport runway to accommodate private jets.

“I’ve been to almost every Caribbean island and this was Shangri-La” said Kenny Bergstol, 48, a New City, N.Y.,-based developer of golf courses and real estate, who bought a three-bedroom villa at Temenos, where furnished villas are priced from $1.4 million to $13.2 million. “While my home is being built, they’re letting me and my family stay at the resort for a week a year, they gave me hours on my Marquis Jet Card, they even threw a party in New York.”

On these islands, foreign buyers pay a 6 percent tax at closing, and property tax rates may be fixed for buyers in resort areas.

In Mexico, many share Mr. Mehos’s dream of building on the coast — a million Americans own homes south of the border and the golf community boom is just beginning.

“I had thought about buying a piece of property and putting a hacienda up on it, but there are issues in Mexico,” said Larry Harvey, 43, a wealth consultant in The Woodlands, Tex., who recently bought a two-bedroom town house at the Viceroy Mayakobá, part of a new 1,600-acre golf community along the Riviera Maya, 42 miles south of Cancún, that Viceroy is developing around a Greg Norman championship course with the Rosewood, Fairmont and Banyan Tree resort developers.

Mr. Harvey was referring to a Mexican law that puts limits on foreigners who seek to buy near the coast. Mexico employs a system that allows a Mexican bank to act as a trustee on behalf of a purchaser of this restricted land.

“I had stayed at the Viceroy Santa Monica and liked it,” said Mr. Harvey, noting the California hotel’s designer, Kelly Wearstler, is also designing the Mexico property. “I have four boys who are learning how to play golf, and my wife, Mari, and I like the fact that the FedEx Cup is here in February. We’ll be able to rent” Mr. Harvey said.

Furnished beach studios at the Viceroy Mayakobá begin at $1 million.

Prices are similarly high at Punta Mita, site of Mr. Mehos’s home, where a bad tee shot could possibly challenge a long-boarder when the resort expands this fall with a second seaside Nicklaus course, a St. Regis resort and spa and more home sites. Last year, the property reported a 40 percent rise in sales prices over 2006, with condos beginning at $900,000 and villas at $3.5 million.

“The community has a good mix. We do have as many surfers as we do golfers,” said Brock Squire, a sales executive with Punta Mita Properties. “Twenty years ago these guys were coming down here in their VW vans, and now they’re coming down on their Gulfstream Vs.”



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