The country-club lifestyle in America is waning. The reason is simple: It's too expensive. According to the National Golf Foundation, elite golf clubs in the East, Midwest and Southeast have all shown significant declines in new membership over the past five years.
The only factor that keeps the private sector in the Southwest from falling into that category is far fewer memberships are available.
And then there is Arizona, where some of the most expensive private golf in the world exists. Desert Mountain sits at the top of the list with a $275,000 fee (plus property that starts at $650,000), but at least four other clubs are $200,000 or more, with another dozen in the $100,000-plus range.
Golfers who want to belong to a private club in the East Valley — provided it's not north Scottsdale — are some of the lucky ones. Superstition Mountain in Gold Canyon, Red Mountain Ranch and Las Sendas in Mesa, Trilogy at Power Ranch in Gilbert and Ancala in Scottsdale are all under $50,000 (in most cases ownership of property is required).
But the best deal of all, when it comes to the quality of golf course, elegance of clubhouse and all the amenities that go with a country club — from swimming pools to fitness facilities to restaurants to family-oriented programs — has got to be Seville Golf & Country Club in Gilbert.
There are three reasons 1) the price is right at $22,500 plus ownership of property; 2) the property, which includes the home, ranges from $125,000 to $750,000; and 3) modest dues of $297 per month.
Seville, which is located at Riggs and Power Roads along the southern border of Gilbert, is being developed by Shea Homes of Arizona. It is a 1,300-acre, Mediterranean-style project that will have 3,000 homes.
The golf course, designed by Gary Panks, is managed by Scottsdale-based Intrawest Golf. It currently has 150 members, although that number will rise to 450 by the time the community is finished in the next five years.
Panks knows a good thing when he sees it. Having built 35 golf courses during his career, of which approximately 20 are in Arizona, he has the pulse of the market.
"If you could pick up the whole facility and put it in north Scottsdale, you'd get $150,000 (for membership) easily," Panks said. "And this clubhouse? It's outstanding."
Panks did not mention his work, but it's top-notch. The course, which is built on what once was orange groves and watermelon patches, is fairly wide-open and fun to play. The closing stretch, which includes a driveable par-4 at No. 16, and island green at the par-3 17th, and a great risk-reward opportunity at the par-5 18th, is its calling card.
"Our approach was, we knew there would be a lot of young families here, and we wanted it to be playable for everyone," Panks said. "But you play it all the way back, tuck those pins, and it's a championship-caliber golf course."
Obviously this is true, as the U.S. Open local qualifying will take place May 17 at Seville. That's when some of the state's best golfers will get their first glimpse at the new digs. So new that members just recently celebrated the grand opening of the 30,000-square-foot, Spanish-inspired retreat with a dinner party catered by the Bolero's at Seville restaurant. And even though the clubhouse cost $8 million to build, the price tag seems modest considering the posh feel.
The tour begins with members and guests entering through a regal archway that includes enormous palms growing through the roof, which is accented by 50-foot bell towers. The pro shop is large and well-done, and the men's and women's locker rooms — equal in size — resemble Scottsdale's finest, with mahogany lockers, marble showers and travertine-tiled floors.
The restaurant, graced with numerous fireplaces, tapestries and outdoor patios that offer spectacular views of the nearby San Tan Mountains, serves Spanish cuisine prepared by chef Julio Lucero. Among the a la carte menu are matador pasta, cilantro-chile-glazed salmon, filet of beef with Gorgonzola and veal scallopini, ranging from $17 to $29. And, at least for now, Bolero's is open to the public.
The tapas/wine bar might be even better. It is classic yet comfortable, which is a must for golfers. Bring your buddies, or bring your dinner party, both will feel like they're special while kicking back in Bolero's bar. Included in the rich, dark, steakhouse-like ambience is a portrait of the club's signature 17th hole, above the bar centered between a pair of flat-screen TVs.
Todd Weiand, director of golf at Seville, said the early reviews on the clubhouse and restaurant have been very positive.
"The members think it's awesome, and to be honest, the food is incredible," said Weiand, who held a similar position at Ocotillo in Chandler for 13 years. "But I think that's pretty much the opinion on everything that's been done around here."
It's not finished, as a 22,000-square-foot sports club and aquatic center is under construction. It will feature four swimming pools, three tennis courts, two volleyball courts, a basketball court and the latest fitness equipment.
"I am so happy my family moved out here," Weiand said. "You're close to the city yet you still have that country feel. And the people who have joined the club, they're so down-to-earth and very cool.
"The golf course is great. Gary really did a superb job."
If you haven't been to Seville lately (the golf course still is open to the public on a limited basis), you won't recognize it from a year and a half ago when it first opened. The course has matured and is quite colorful. The presence of the clubhouse is second in the East Valley only to the elegance of Tuscany-themed Superstition Mountain.
Seville costs about one fourth of what it would require in start-up costs to live and play at Superstition Mountain. Therein lies the secret to what will be Seville's success.