2006: The Peak of the mountain lifestyle

If you arrive on the practice range at 3 Creek Ranch at just the right time of the morning, you might find the staff doing something odd: using a tape measure to ensure that each hitting stall is precisely the same size. Eyeballing it simply won’t do.

Watching this, 3 Creek’s director of golf, Billy Cleveland, an Alabaman who bears more than a passing resemblance to Ben Crenshaw, gives an aw-shucks shrug. When asking your property owners – including recent purchaser Tiger Woods – to make at least mid-seven figures investments in land, homes and club memberships, you have to take care of the little things.

Mother Nature already took care of the big things here. Jackson Hole and surrounding Teton County are defined by the area’s natural wonders: the Snake River, Bridger-Teton and Targhee national forests and, of course, Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, the latter named for the peak that towers over the valley and serves as this region’s North Star. The attractions not only create an extraordinary landscape, but also serve as a natural barrier to the supply of housing, helping drive up prices.

Sotheby’s, the area’s leading realty firm, reports that its average sale price during the first quarter of this year was $1.14 million, up from $956,000 in 2005. Clayton Andrews, executive vice president of Sotheby’s, can name the reasons (see box, page 19) for the state’s robust housing market. But one statistic supersedes all others: 97 percent. That’s how much land is publicly owned in Teton County, and the remaining limited supply contributed mightily to the run-up in housing prices. During the 1990s, the county’s median single-family home price grew 174 percent, the fourth-highest increase in the country. The top 10 gainers on that list were all from the mountainous, western states of Montana, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

For many second-home buyers, Andrews believes, such areas are replacing built-out beach towns as refuges from big cities.

“Now, in order to get that small-town atmosphere, people are going to mountain communities,” says Andrews, who oversees all of Sotheby’s western markets, except California, from his office here.

Enter developments like 3 Creek Ranch, located on the outskirts of Jackson, and Snake River Sporting Club, about 14 miles south of town, near Hoback Junction. Both aim to deliver the western experience to their well-heeled residents, and golf is a part of that. The Rees Jones design at 3 Creek affords spectacular views of the Tetons, while the Tom Weiskopf course at Snake River is bracketed by

the namesake river on one side and the Bridger-Teton Forest on the other.

But golf is only the most visible of a long list of amenities at both properties. A strong course closes a lot of real estate sales, but golf is a six-month sport here, and there’s no shortage of other outdoor activities.

“We understand the golf course is the most important thing to build,” says Neal Vohr, general manager of Snake River Sporting Club. “We care about a first-class golf course, but I’ll never get in that discussion of who has the best golf course. I don’t care. We have a great golf course, but that’s not why we’re here.”

At Snake River, where home construction recently began, Vohr says residents eventually will have the chance to put in boats along the 61⁄2 miles of river that border the property and fish for the region’s signature cutthroat trout, ride horses along the trails near the river, or, during the winter ski season, take a helicopter from the property to fresh powder nearby.

Residents at 3 Creek have private fishing on site in the Spring, Cody and Blue Crane creeks. In addition, fishing coordinator Jim Brungardt is on staff to lead expeditions to exotic locales. Roger Smith, the resident naturalist who holds a masters degree in wildlife biology, leads regular seminars, runs a raptor rehabilitation program for wounded birds of prey and helps residents gain a better appreciation of the region’s natural wonders.

Suffice it to say, if you’re only interested in playing 36 holes a day and sipping martinis on the clubhouse balcony, you’re probably not going to buy at 3 Creek or Snake River.

Nor will you buy there without a fair amount of discretionary cash. Todd Domenico, 3 Creek’s sales and marketing director, notes that about two-thirds of buyers pay cash. At 3 Creek, cabin lots of less than an acre easily exceed $1 million, and larger estate lots can approach $5.5 million. Sales are brisk; about half of the 136 homesites on the 710-acre property have been purchased.

“To be able to couple the private golf with the private fishing so close to Jackson has been an absolute home run,” Domenico said.

Twenty of Snake River Sporting Club’s 130 sites have been sold, according to Vohr, with prices beginning at $1.25 million.

The demand for these sorts of luxury properties reflects, in part, the region’s changing economy.

A study prepared by the Charture Institute, based in Jackson, notes that Teton County’s tourism numbers were flat from 1991 to 2004, at about 2.5 million visitors.

But during that time, the county’s per-capita income grew 150 percent and the population increased 63 percent. Andrews points to the influx of financial-services and law firms, along with others who have more mobility because of the Internet.

“We’re no longer a tourist economy,” Andrews says. “Our money was driven by skiers in the winter and park visitors in the summer. That still is a portion of our economy, but we’re more of a year-round economy.”

Others are looking to capitalize on this. John Resor, a longtime resident, won final approval last month to build a Tom Fazio golf course on a 510-acre development about 11 miles north of town near Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, one of the nation’s top skiing destinations.

Resor, who previously built the Granite Ridge townhomes adjacent to the resort, plans to build many of the homes near the ski resort, creating more of a bustling village, with the density lessening as you move outward toward the golf course. He hopes to open the course by August 2008, and he expects single-family lots to be priced at $2 million.

Members of the Resor family, who still operate a 5,000-acre cattle ranch here, have lived in Jackson since 1930, the year after John’s grandfather bought 200 acres sight unseen on the recommendation

of his son, John’s father, who was then only 12 years old and staying at a Jackson dude ranch.

Resor tells the story of his grandfather building the first two-story log cabin west of the Snake River, complete with the area’s first flush toilet, drawing in the curious from the county road to see that technological wonder.

“His neighbor said, ‘Stanley, you’ve ruined the valley by putting in a flush toilet,’ ” Resor said.

“ ‘We’re going to be overwhelmed by tourists.’ ”

Tourists always have come to Jackson.

Now many affluent visitors want to call the area home.

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