Golf, upscale homes unite in new projects

TIMNATH – Golf courses and luxury homes have always been wed in Northern Colorado, with examples of manicured fairways abutting posh back yards scattered throughout the region.

Along a two-mile stretch of Harmony Road that straddles the Weld-Larimer county line east of Interstate 25, that union of high-end golf and high-style homes is about to evolve in ways the region hasn’t seen before, with two project developers and two of the hottest golf architects in America competing with new developments.

One project has already teed off, and if the other gets under way Northern Colorado in short order will have 36 more holes added to its already extensive golf menu and another 1,200 homes joining the upper tier of the residential market.

All those holes and all those homes depend on one another in a symbiosis that plays out all over the region, from Windsor’s Water Valley to Erie’s Vista Ridge.

“Quite frankly, golf courses in this market now don’t exist without the homebuyer,´ said Byron Collins, the developer of Harmony, as Timnath’s new golf community is known.

The Harmony Club golf course, routed through a 643-acre square of land northwest of the junction of Harmony Road and Weld County Road 13, has already been meticulously sculpted by Castle Rock golf architect Jim Engh and is beginning to green up with new sod and seed. Just 400 homes are proposed for a project that was platted for 500, and about half the total acreage is devoted to Engh’s golf course and several large pockets of park land.

Moving mountains

Engh, anointed in 2003 by leading publication Golf Digest as the world’s No. 1 golf architect, has been working five years on the project. For the past year, more than 50 pieces of heavy equipment have moved about 2 million cubic yards of earth to make Engh’s vision real.

The neighbors are impressed.

“That is probably the nicest project that Northern Colorado has ever seen,´ said Dino DiTullio, co-developer of the Highland Meadows Golf Course and its wraparound residential community in Windsor. DiTullio and partner Jon Turner followed a familiar model in crafting Highland Meadows, beginning with the links-style, Scottish-inspired 18-hole golf course that has become a regional favorite since it opened in 2004.

“Understand that golf is nothing more than an amenity that adds value to the real estate,” DiTullio said. “People don’t do these developments to make money on golf. The golf course is a loss-leader. Community building is our focus, not necessarily golf profitability.”

Collins has already seen how powerful a draw Engh’s golf design can be. For a prospective homebuyer, one trip around the course in Collins’ Chevy Yukon is usually enough. Lot prices ranging from about $150,000 for patio-home space to more than $300,000 for single-family estate homes do not deter the buyers who want proximity to golf, whether they play the game or not.

“Of the 73 lots in our first phase, we have firm commitments on 67 of them,” Collins said. “Once people see this, they’re usually in.”

Big budgets

Collins will spend about $20 million on the golf course, clubhouse and tennis center, an amount that exceeds the budgets for most Northern Colorado golf projects. The amount includes $1.5 million for the Harmony Center, a building that will house the community offices and a new all-weather training venue for Colorado State University’s golf programs. (See story, Page 1.)

But Collins’ investment is half what his neighbor immediately to the east said he’ll spend on the Shiloh Creek Community and Golf Club, the other new golf complex proposed for the Harmony Road corridor.

Windsor developer Geoff Smith, using proceeds from successful real estate ventures in Eaton and Wellington, said he’ll invest $40 million to turn a 460-acre assemblage of three farms into what he says will be “the finest golf course in Colorado and comparable to anything else in the country.”

Smith has hired Evergreen golf architect Rick Phelps, son of the legendary golf course designer Dick Phelps who has forged a world-class reputation of his own, to build a park-style course that will stand in contrast to Engh’s Irish-flavored links.

“Think of the old classic clubs – Cherry Hills, the Denver Country Club,” Phelps said in an interview from his Evergreen studio. “That’s the style I’m going for with this. Lots of trees, large areas of maintained landscape, both grass and shrubbery.”

Phelps said his experience, and his father’s, have taught him what his role is in the economic equation that puts golf and high-end homes together.

“We do what we can to drive up the value of the real estate,” Phelps said. “Any golf course, whether it’s a stand-alone or part of a real estate project, is going to lose money in the first four to seven years of operation. Once you get past year seven, you hope the golf course would be self-sustaining.”

Will they build?

Other developers in the region have cast doubt on whether Smith’s project, dubbed Shiloh, with its record-setting budget, will break ground. But Smith said he’s already made multi-million-dollar investments in trees and water for the project, and he’ll move on the golf course construction later this year.

“Nobody is dumb enough to buy $3.5 million worth of trees, and $3 million worth of water, and not go through with this,” Smith said.

Both Harmony and Shiloh will be members-only clubs from the beginning, with Collins pricing Harmony full-golf memberships at $12,500, and Shiloh priced at “four or five times that much,” Smith said.

It’s a price, Collins said, that a growing number of full- and part-time Northern Colorado residents are willing to pay.

“You start with what people want, and what they’re willing to pay for it,” Collins said. “What is their preference? In this region, it’s the beauty of the area. Views are huge. Parks are huge. And golf courses are huge. That’s what we’ve put together.”