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Golf Getaways

Luxurious homes, spectacular spas and the privileges of a private sanctuary add spice to golf vacations
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
Francis Ford Coppola, Sept/Oct 03

The urge to escape, to retreat, to get away from it all comes upon us irresistibly. When the rigors of business and domestic life empty the psychic coffers of inspiration and energy, there is a longing to be somewhere else. For some, this may mean a vacation, a temporary distancing from the office, house and the all too familiar. Will it be the Caribbean this winter? Or the south of France? Disney World for the children? Sonoma vineyards for the adults? For many, though, only golf will do.

Golf is by its nature a retreat from the everyday routine, from carpeted hallways to grassy byways, from the confining desk to the expansive links. Golf is doing something for a few hours on the opposite side of the psyche. A golf retreat is being on the opposite side for days, even weeks. Hundreds of resorts around the United States, from Florida to California, Michigan to Texas, have lush courses and posh hotels. It's all very nice, very elegant, very away from it all.

But is it enough? For those with means and imagination, there are retreats that embrace the most elegant and refined leisure lifestyle, places that are for the few and select. They are for those who have amassed wealth, and are not for the masses. There are a number of retreats that stand head and shoulders above the rest. They have names like the Santa Lucia Preserve, The Promontory and Lajitas. They have grand golf courses by architects like Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio and Pete Dye. Beyond the golf courses, there are lakes for fishing and boating, equestrian centers, spas, tennis courts and shooting centers. In essence, they are the perfect escapes.

The Santa Lucia Preserve, Carmel, California

The Monterey Peninsula of California has for a century been one of the world's most desirable places for vacations, second homes and dreamy sunsets. The Lodge at Pebble Beach and its Pebble Beach Golf Links, legendary in the American game, hug the Pacific Ocean on the southern part of the peninsula. The artsy town of Carmel, with enough galleries to fill a major museum, has been a sanctuary to the privileged.

Just a few minutes' drive inland from the sea sits a vast property known as the Santa Lucia Preserve, an area encompassing 20,000 acres (some 31 square miles). When real estate executive Tom Gray came to look at the land in 1989 and saw its rolling hills, lush meadows, streams, redwood groves and ancient oaks dripping with lace lichen, he knew he had to have it.

"There is the old adage about real estate—location, location, location," says Gray. "Being near the ocean, Carmel, Monterey, Pebble Beach, Big Sur, what better location could you have? Plus the scale of the place, this amazing 20,000 acres, was all together."

Gray had been into California real estate for years as a partner in the Pacific Union Co., which had many diverse holdings. But this was a unique opportunity, one not to be squandered. "You are always told not to fall in love with your real estate," says Gray. "But when you come to this place, it's pretty difficult not to."

For $70 million, Gray obtained one of the finest pieces of land in the United States and certainly one of the most spectacular. From the outset he knew that land use issues would be paramount in being able to develop the property and sell real estate. What had long been a ranch would now become a development. Preservationists and environmentalists were continually asking developers to tread softly on the land, disturb as little as possible and maintain as much as possible in a pristine state. And that's what Gray and his partners set out to do, tread softly on the land as they stepped lightly through the mine fields of the permit process. It took four years.

Now, the Santa Lucia Preserve might be the ultimate development, because it doesn't seem like a development at all. Only 2,000 acres, one tenth of the total land, will be developed. A conservancy was funded with $25 million to maintain the rest of the land in perpetuity. Only 300 homesites were designated and 230 of them, at an average of 20 acres, have already been sold for prices starting at $1 million. They were sold in less than a year and a half.

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