2002: Mirabel: High end of the High End

By Brian Hewitt

Scottsdale, Ariz.

If you are looking for a “second home”; if you like Arizona, golf and Tom Fazio-designed courses; if you are willing to spend between $1 million and $7 million for a house with up to 5,600 square feet; and if you like loads of amenities, keep reading.

Keep reading because you likely will be interested in Mirabel, a “private golf community” in north Scottsdale that was born in controversy; weaned while so much of the milk of the golf real estate

economy was turning sour; and declared healthy when its COO reported that 168 of its first 171 lots had been sold between last Nov. 1 and the end of April 2002.

“An incredible year,” Steve Adelson said.

Mirabel briefly commanded the national golf stage a couple of years ago when San Francisco-based Discovery Land Co. decided the Greg Norman design it had paid $15 million for “wasn’t a good fit.” Those were the exact words of Discovery Land’s boss, Michael Meldman. At that time the course was called “Stonehaven.” At issue was playability and a user-friendly members course.

Meldman brought in Fazio, shelled out another $15 million, renamed the place Mirabel and quicker than you can say “redesign,” Meldman had the track he wanted. “The best course that nobody will ever play,” Norman huffed when asked about his rejected work.

But Meldman never looked back. His high-end golf course community credentials speak for themselves and include the acclaimed Estancia, one of the highest-rated courses in Arizona, Iron Horse in Montana, CordeValle in California and Vaquero near Dallas. Like Vaquero, Mirabel golf comes with all the trimmings, including Pro V1 balls on the range. Fazio’s design almost has a parkland feel to it even though it’s built in the desert on limited acreage. It’s extremely walkable and there is a budding caddie program.

Right now Mirabel has 150 members. That number, Adelson says, will top out at 350. The

original downstroke for a membership began at $85,000, quickly jumped to $95,000 and will get to $105,000 before the end of this year. The interesting part is that people who don’t own property at Mirabel can’t join the golf club. And people who qualify to buy property at Mirabel don’t automatically become members. The initiation fee, by the way, is equity-based. Members who leave pay a 20 percent transfer fee and get 80 percent of the going initiation rate at the time of their departure.

“We have a screening process,” Adelson says. What that means is if somebody qualifies as a home buyer but doesn’t pass muster with the membership committee, Mirabel will politely say thank you very much and give the buyer back any monies, escrowed or otherwise. This is a departure from many real estate golf communities where membership comes automatically with the purchase of a home. Adelson defends Mirabel against those who consider this a form of snobbery. An ideal candidate for ownership/membership at Mirabel is one who knows somebody who already belongs.

“This market is very constraining,” Adelson says. “We see ourselves as the last community of this kind in the area.” And this is more than just marketing boilerplate. Rapid growth in the Scottsdale corridor in the 1990s coupled with tightened water use restrictions have placed huge limitations on further development.

The final plans for Mirabel call for approximately 315 custom home sites and 35 golf villas all encompassed within more than 700 acres of high-desert terrain, 3,000 feet above the valley floor. A 32,000 square foot clubhouse with a spa and a health club is expected to open in November of 2003. There are also plans for tennis courts and a swimming pool.

But the amenities don’t stop there. And this is where Meldman and his people like to think they separate the men from the boys in going the extra mile for their members. Mirabel has something called the “Outdoor Pursuits Program.” Basically, this means Mirabel employs a full-time concierge who, among other things, organizes events at the nearby Bartlett Lake marina where the club’s own 25-foot luxury Pontoon boat (“Mirabella”) is available. And, says Theresa Schnittker, Mirabel’s outdoor pursuits coordinator, “it’s more than just for boat rides.”

Similarly, Mirabel’s chef, Kim Fields, will cook (not just hot dogs) on the golf course during certain times of peak play, offering delicacies for players in the middle of their rounds that redefine the concept of the halfway house.

If you like your golf without bells and whistles, Mirabel may not be for you. Club officials concede that what they are offering isn’t for everybody. But it’s a formula that has worked in Discovery’s other projects. And, they emphasize, the service aspect is flexible. For example: If you are arriving at your house from out of state, late in the day, you can call ahead and Mirabel’s concierge personnel will procure your shopping list and have your kitchen stocked when you arrive.

At the very least, Mirabel has a sense of humor. When two guests finished a round at Mirabel earlier this year, club manager Michael Ryan winked and asked them if they had stashed any of the range balls into their bags as souvenirs. Informed that they hadn’t, Ryan was disappointed. The implication was that this is one white-collar crime that would have been tolerated.

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