|By Matt Griswold, The Bradenton Herald, Fla.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Aug. 9, 2005 - Developers of three marquee golf projects under way in the two-county area are seeing green - and not just from their collective $1 billion investment.
In Sarasota, The Founders Club is already open for play. At the exclusive Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed course, club officials have filled 101 memberships. The club will limit its equity membership to 275.
Development and construction is under way on 262 home sites. Residents will likely be moving in by the end of the year.
A few miles north in Manatee County, both The Concession Golf Club & Residences and the Ritz-Carlton Members Golf Club are nearing completion for late 2005 openings.
"It's going extremely well," said Concession developer Kevin Daves, president of Core Development, based in Sarasota and Wichita, Kan. "It's really starting to take shape and look great."
Daves said the development crew for The Concession is shipping in bunker sand from Ohio, which is considered the industry's finest.
"People are saying I must be crazy," he said. "I'm one of the few people bringing sand to Florida."
The team has also relocated $800,000 worth of trees to incorporate in the course design.
The Tom Fazio-designed Ritz-Carlton course at Lakewood Ranch is grassed. Only some practice areas need turf.
At The Concession, the back nine is green. Course designer Jack Nicklaus is due to visit this weekend to tweak the front nine a bit.
It will take about four months under typical conditions for the planted turf to be ready for play, said Nicholas von Hofen, director of golf grounds at the Ritz-Carlton club.
Both The Concession, just east of Lakewood Ranch, and the Founders Club, east of Interstate 75 off Fruitville Road, are real-estate driven developments. Florida is the U.S. leader in golf-based residential communities, though both The Concession and Founders Club are designed so that home sites aren't directly adjacent to the course. The industry calls them "core golf" developments.
"It's a little bit of paradise out there," Daves said of The Concession property. "You can't see anything else but golf, and you can't hear anything else but nature. It's a spectacular environment."
Nicklaus, Fazio and Trent Jones Jr. are Nos. 1, 2 and 3 respectively, in terms of their monetary impact on golf course real estate. They typically deliver property and home values that are more than 300 percent above the average in their respective markets, according to data compiled by the Dallas-based Golf Research Group.
The Concession is a $600 million project. The 1,232-acre, 255-lot development offers home-site packages priced between $2 million and $15 million. Golf memberships will be in the $100,000 range. The golf course is scheduled to open in December.
Developers have carved out a 33-lot portion of Phase 1 for a special neighborhood they'll call Nicklaus Manor. Homes in Nicklaus Manor could be considered modest compared to some of the estates planned for The Concession, but full-maintenance service for homeowners living there will make the community "the ultimate in care-free, luxury living," officials say.
The golf course is about 540 acres. It is a Nicklaus Signature design in conjunction with Bradenton resident and European golfing great Tony Jacklin. Nicklaus won 18 major tournaments as a professional and is considered golf's all-time greatest player. Jacklin won the 1970 U.S. Open and the 1969 British Open.
The Founders Club
The Jones-designed Founders Club is a $300 million project on about 700 acres. Lot prices start in the $500,000 to $600,000 range.
The golf course opened in February - something that General Manager Ian Fetigan says gives the Founders Club a competitive advantage over the other two top-flight golf developments.
The Fazio-designed Ritz-Carlton Members Club is different - in that there's no attached residential real estate. Ritz-Carlton officials praise the design as "uncompromised" golf, and it offers another high-class amenity for residents and visitors of the Sarasota hotel.
The golf course is slated to open in the fall.
Lendl joins Founders Club
Concession officials announced in June that famed British actor Sean Connery has become an honorary member of the club. Connery is a longtime friend of Jacklin.
Fetigan told The Herald that tennis legend Ivan Lendl has become a Founders Club member.
"We typically do not share the identities of residents or members," Fetigan said. "He's been very gracious and said he'd be happy to be a visible member of the club if it helps us in any way.
"He's a terrific golfer - the caliber of golfer we encourage out here."
Officials at The Founders Club are proud of the fact that they've built the course and are preparing to open the new clubhouse Oct. 1, on time and on budget.
"We've done what we said we would do," Fetigan said. "There's three new clubs in town. Not only is our golf course open, but it's playable and challenging.
"This has been a very exciting project. The passion we feel for it grows dramatically every day."
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