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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

(continued from page 2)

Lajitas was an old family resort town that was put out to auction in 2000, all 25,000 acres of it. Excel Communications multimillionaire Stephen Smith bought this arid expanse for $4.25 million and then poured in about another $50 million to transform the area into an upscale resort and second-home retreat. The old resort hotel was completely redone to five-star standards; well-known chef Jeff Blank, renowned for his Texas Hill Country cuisine, was brought it to modernize and energize the menu; a spa was added; and a hunt club and bird sanctuary were created. The airport will include a community for fliers who will have their own hangars. About 400 homesites have been designated. About 80 percent of the 25,000 acres will remain as part of the wild, wild West.

Golf has played a central role in Lajitas's transformation. The Ambush Course by Roy Bechtol and Randy Russell is an oasis in the middle of a starkly beautiful desert landscape. Lajitas is set between the mountain ridges of Big Bend National Park and Big Bend State Park, and borders Mexico at the Rio Grande. Bechtol and Russell even built an international par 3 as a 19th hole: No. 11A is a 99-yard shot across the Rio Grande; players hit only the tee shot for a chance at a hole in one. The course has been critically acclaimed, not only for its design but also for its use of bent grass instead of the more traditional Bermuda grass used in hot climates.

The Ambush Course is open to resort guests, though members get preferential tee times. A second course is under construction and will be for members only. Golf membership stands at $50,000.

"This is not meant to be a place that's filled with people," says president and managing director Daniel Hostettler. "This place is very remote and by its nature it will never become a huge destination. That's the whole idea. We want people who really want to get away from it all, and that goes for aircraft owners especially. We give them very rich amenities when they get here. We have wonderful golf courses, great dining. But Lajitas is really about just being here in a completely casual, unhurried place."

Briar's Creek, near Charleston, South Carolina

If Lajitas is at the far end of the road, Briar's Creek couldn't be more convenient, yet still hold a certain mystique of remoteness. Briar's Creek is on John's Island, 25 minutes from the lively heart of downtown Charleston and 10 minutes from an airport for private planes. You can get there efficiently, and disappear in a heartbeat.

Briar's Creek, at 915 acres, isn't nearly as vast as the Santa Lucia Preserve and Lajitas. Golf is the central focus here. The Rees Jonesñdesigned course was voted best new private course in 2002 by Golf Digest magazine and sprawls over 300 acres.

On the other side of the namesake creek that borders the property to the south is Kiawah Island, famous for its Ocean Course and other inviting links. When Briar's Creek developer Steve Koenig set about doing a deal for the land in South Carolina, he had in mind those people on Kiawah Island who coveted just a little more privacy. "I wanted something that would take advantage of the people who had invested in Kiawah," says Koenig. "They have wonderful courses over there and Kiawah is a great place, but I thought about doing something that would be strictly for members only, giving them a very high-class course and pristine site."

Founder member Mike Martin, an owner of property on Kiawah, saw the appeal immediately. "When you drive down this long dirt and gravel road through these really beautiful old oaks, you know that this is a special place," says Martin. "I'm a member of the Kiawah Island Club and we have two wonderful courses, the River Course and Cassique. But there is more play there and they have tee times. Briar's Creek is completely unhurried and relaxing. We don't have tee times. And it's very much a family place."

The course is low-country ideal, winding around marshes and lagoons and through stands of oaks. There will be 62 homes at Briar's Creek, some of them near the course but discreetly sited. Most of the housing will be across a lake that is stocked with fish. Lots sell from $350,000 to more than $1 million. Golf club membership stands at $110,000.

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