On Course

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Without the neighboring homes, there’d be no Silver Creek Valley Country Club in bustling Silicon Valley. The same holds true at Grizzly Ranch, far off the beaten track in Portola, and at Gray’s Crossing, the newest upscale development in Truckee.

Golf courses—particularly golf courses the quality of those mentioned above—cost several million dollars to build. Developers cover the cost by building and selling lavish homes alongside the fairways. The setting had better be dazzling, or the whole blueprint crumbles.

The arrangement works when a young woman watches her dream home being built and says, “It takes my breath away.” Or when a Silicon Valley retiree gloats about the five-minute drive from his garage to the first tee.

Which is to say, it’s working at Silver Creek Valley, Grizzly Ranch and Gray’s Crossing. Golf is just one of the reasons why people buy homes in these high-rent neighborhoods. For starters, the value of a home built on a golf course is about 50 percent higher than it would be elsewhere. Then there’s the setting, the security, the wealth of recreational opportunities.

The golf industry is a bit flat at the moment, but as long as the overall economy remains strong, golf communities will continue to spring up in the loveliest locales.

“Is there a conflict between residential development and golf?” asks Bob Cupp, the architect who designed Grizzly Ranch. “The answer is no, unless you’re in Palm Springs. Golf courses in places like this, they go together well.”

Enough talk about supply and demand. It’s time to peek inside a few windows and see how golf courses and luxurious living coexist.

Grizzly Ranch

Bryan Draper is the chief financial officer of a mortgage company in the East Bay. He’s also a persistent salesman, though he did have Mother Nature working on his behalf.

Starting more than 10 years ago, he and some business acquaintances began taking late-summer retreats to the Graeagle area.

“I’d come back each time and tell my wife that we had to buy something up there,” Draper says. “She always talked me out of it. The kids were too young.”

He finally convinced her to move to a golf community—just not Graeagle exactly. They chose Grizzly Ranch, a private recreation and golf community outside Portola off Highway 70. Draper and his brother went in together on a second home that resembles a Lake Tahoe lodge.

“I don’t want to be right on the golf course,” Draper says. “My wife didn’t want to think she was at a golf course. It’s the perfect place for both of us. She plans to take the game up.”

Susan Draper has some catching up to do. Here’s how avid her husband is about the game: He bought into Grizzly Ranch before he ever saw the course. Cupp’s reputation as a first-rate designer sealed the deal. His portfolio includes a pair of widely acclaimed courses in Oregon: Pumpkin Ridge and Crosswater.

“It might have been foolish to buy before I had seen the course, but we knew Bob Cupp’s reputation,” Draper says. “It turned out fantastic.”

Grizzly Ranch GC opened for play in July 2005. It has the feel of a classic mountain course, surrounded by dense forests and wetlands. Grizzly Ranch looks narrower than it plays, and most holes feature the “false fronts” that make club selection difficult.

“The first time I saw the property, I immediately recognized it as Castle Pines,” Cupp says, referring to the Jack Nicklaus design outside of Denver that plays host to the PGA Tour’s International event. “This property has the exact same slopes, same soil, same trees, same altitude. It is Castle Pines.”

Grizzly Ranch’s clubhouse will feature a panoramic view of the surroundings.

“From the pro shop, you can see the ninth and 18th greens and the first and 18th tees,” Cupp says. “That’s very unusual. It’s so perfect, I can’t get over it.”

While residents wait for their homes to be completed, three cabins are available on a rental basis. Draper’s 4,300-square-foot residence will be one of the first homes to be completed.

The golf course, which is private, is open from May 1 to Thanksgiving. (Nonresident golf memberships are available.) Grizzly Ranch has 380 homesites, all set at least 150 yards from the golf course. Draper calls it “a poor man’s Lahontan,” referring to the ultra-exclusive Truckee course.

“The land is considerably cheaper than Truckee,” Draper said. “I like Tahoe and all, but I get a different feeling when I drive through Portola and come into Grizzly Ranch.”

Gray’s Crossing

Before getting started, a disclaimer is in order.

Anna Lambiotte is not an impartial observer when it comes to Gray’s Crossing, the much-anticipated golf community taking shape on the outskirts of Truckee. Lambiotte is sales manager for Gray’s Crossing. It’s her job to extol the virtues of a community where the lots start at $300,000 and climb as high as $700,000. The homes are in the $2 million neighborhood.

Biased or not, she sold herself on the place. Lambiotte and husband Jay are building a 3,500-square-foot home in The Bluffs, one of three neighborhoods within the Gray’s Crossing development. Their home should be finished this October.

Among other things, she’ll have a short commute to work. But Lambiotte, 31, prefers to talk about the other things.

“The design guidelines are very important to me,” she says. “The developer has found the right balance between freedom of design while also having controls that maintain the dignity of the community. The Bluffs feels like a neighborhood to its own.”

Gray’s Crossing joins the nearby Old Greenwood and Coyote Moon golf courses in an expanding mountain community being developed by East West Partners under the banner of Tahoe Mountain Resorts. Designed by Peter Jacobsen and Jim Hardy, The Golf Club at Gray’s Crossing is scheduled to open in 2007. It will be a private club, capped at 400 members. Lambiotte says she and her husband plan to join.

“We didn’t want to live on the golf course, but we love the game,” Lambiotte says. “If you want to live right on the golf course, you can. You can also live back in the woods, high on the bluffs. You feel like the forest is your backyard. The setting takes my breath away.”

Truckee has undergone a transformation in the last decade, in part due to East West’s luxurious designs. Locals complain that the old railroad town will become another Aspen or South Lake Tahoe. Lambiotte, who grew up in Aspen, believes Truckee will retain its rugged, artistic charm.

“A lot of people complain that’s changing, but I think it will change for the better,” she says.

Silver Creek Valley

Jim Williams grew up in Berkeley and made his money in Silicon Valley, serving as chief financial officer for several companies. He’s a big-city guy, in other words.

But he had reached a point in his life when he wanted to play more golf and get away from the hustle and bustle of Silicon Valley. He bought a home at Silver Creek Valley Country Club in 1993 and has been there ever since.

“I moved here primarily for the golf course,” Williams says. “I’d never lived in a golf course community or been a member of a country club. It’s been a phenomenal club and a good investment.”

He’s currently president of the club’s board of directors. The Silver Creek Valley community features 1,150 homes. Shea Homes sold the course to Silver Creek Valley’s 1,100 members in 2000, at which point the club commissioned Mike Strantz, one of the game’s most creative golf designers, to renovate the course.

The club has 450 “premier,” or golfing, members. The course has five sets of tee boxes, allowing the par-72 course to play anywhere from 5,200 to nearly 7,000 yards. Strantz, who died last year at 50 following a battle with cancer, left behind a masterpiece at Silver Creek Valley CC.

In an interview following the Silver Creek Valley renovation, Strantz explained his design philosophy.

“When you go to Disney World or any of the other amusement parks, you don’t see long lines at the merry-go-round,” Strantz said. “You see long lines at the roller coaster. That’s what people want—they want excitement. Why can’t you have excitement when you play golf?”

Williams calls himself a bogey golfer, but it’s a good bet that his handicap travels well, given Silver Creek Valley’s steep slope rating (135 slope rating from the back tees). Not that he feels any great need to drive outside the gates. He and his wife, Cynthia, take full advantage of a sports pavilion that features an Olympic-sized swimming pool, six tennis courts and state-of-the-art fitness facilities.

The 40,000-square-foot clubhouse resembles an Italian villa. Silver Valley Creek holds about 40 weddings each year. Williams looks out on the 14th and 15th tees from his living room.

“I enjoy the ambiance and the view,” Williams says. “Some people are worried about golf balls landing in their yard, but I’ve never been concerned about it.”

When he moved in, Williams originally planned to walk the hilly course. It didn’t work out that way.

“I’ve gotten spoiled,” he says. “I have my own golf cart, and I can drive from my home to the course in about five minutes.”

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