If you live close to one of metro Phoenix’s golf courses, a duffer’s ball might occasionally land in your yard, plop into the pool or shatter a window.
With 200 golf courses surrounded by tens of thousands of homes across the Valley, it's not an uncommon hazard.
Like the popularity of links in Arizona, the trend of errant golf balls isn’t going away anytime soon.
But some of the Valley’s golf courses are looking a little rough, and a few others are losing holes or completely being torn up to make way for new houses.
That trend, particularly in Ahwatukee Foothills, spurred a column I wrote last August, “Golf courses no longer scoring as well with Phoenix-area homebuyers.”
And that column led to a lot of emails, some from angry avid golfers and many others from homeowners who complained about stray balls breaking windows, golfers in their backyards and tunneling gophers taking over links.
The column also led to a panel on buying and selling homes in golf courses last week in north Scottsdale, its organizer, Susan Sweetow of the Southwestern School of Real Estate, told me.
Golf has been a big part of metro Phoenix living since the area started to grow in the 1960s.
Just look at the many courses around the Sun Cities and other retirement communities across the Valley. The beautiful desert-style links built in Scottsdale’s Desert Highlands and Desert Mountain communities draw golfers from around the world. And then there's the annual Waste Management Phoenix Open that kicks off at the end of this month.
So, of course, I went to hear the panel talk about the future of golf in Arizona.
Due to problems with some unkempt local links, the demise of a few older courses and a homebuilder survey showing golf doesn’t rank as a top amenity anymore, I questioned whether golf was still a big draw for metro Phoenix homebuyers in that column last summer .
The experts on the panel agreed many things are changing about the sport, from the size of courses to membership fees, but believe the popularity of golf-course communities in Arizona is still high.
“Golf pumps almost $4 billion into the state’s economy,” said panelist Jim Murphy, general manager of Scottsdale’s Gainey Ranch Golf Club, citing a recently released study done by the University of Arizona with the golf industry.
About 11.6 million rounds of golf were played across Arizona in 2014, the year the report studied.
That’s a lot of tees.
Golf courses add to the values of homes, and housing prices in golf course communities are a bit less volatile in booms and busts, Tom Colceri of Camelot Homes and former director of sales for Scottsdale’s Silverleaf and Desert Mountain golf clubs, told the group.
I don’t have data to back that up, but it has long been the belief in the Valley’s housing market that golf courses add value to homes, particularly if the links are private, high end and designed by someone like Tom Fazio or Jack Nicklaus.
High-priced memberships can be a bit tricky to sell quickly.
And real-estate agents, as well as the communities, need to be vigilant about telling buyers what living in a house near a golf course involves.
Houses in high-end Valley desert golf courses often come with million-dollar price tags and six-figure course memberships. Selling both a high-end house and a golf course membership can be more complicated.
“Disclosure to buyers in golf courses communities is key,” said Kelly Zitlow, vice president of Cherry Creek Mortgage.
Can kids play on the course? Will there be fireworks shows at the course? What about golfers trying to retrieve balls from backyards?
Buyers need to know answers to those questions, as well as their financial and legal obligations to a community’s course, before they sign on the dotted line.
Many neighbors of the former Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Club fumed after it shut down, turned brown and was fenced off a few years ago.
To redevelop most courses, homeowners in the community have to give their consent. It’s in the documents they sign to buy. The process can be slow, and a course like the one in Ahwatukee Foothills can remain an eyesore for a years.
Back to those errant golf balls.
This one surprised me: it’s the homeowner, and not the golfer, who is usually left holding the bag.
“In most cases, a golfer isn’t liable for breaking a home’s window,” Patrick MacQueen, a real-estate attorney at MacQueen & Gottlieb, told the group of real-estate agents. “Homeowners insurance covers most of those mishaps.”
So sometimes when homeowners living near links hear “fore,” it can end up costing them. But many are willing to trade an occasional broken window to be next to the open space and often well-maintained landscape of a golf course.