2006: Superstition draws buyers to East Valley

Superstition Mountain, Ariz.

When the LPGA first held the Safeway International at Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club three years ago, the 890-acre residential community near Phoenix was largely an enigma.

“Nobody knew where Superstition Mountain was,” Mark Kizziar, president of Superstition Mountain Properties Inc., freely acknowledges.

That’s no longer the case. Home buyers, predominantly golfers looking for first or second homes, increasingly have made the drive out Route 60 to this East Valley property about 35 miles from downtown Phoenix. Sales exceeded $40 million in 2004 and $78 million in 2005, when 155 homes were sold.

About 900 homes are planned, a quarter of which have been sold. Homes are priced from the mid-$500,000s to more than $1 million. Custom home sites, ranging from four-tenths of an acre to 2 acres, run from thelow six figures to more than $1 million.

Inside the gates, Superstition Mountain feels much like North Scottsdale’s tony golf communities, located

50 miles to the north. That’s not surprising. Superstition Mountain, which takes its name from the 160,000-acre mountain range that towers over the property, bears the stamp of Lyle Anderson, the man largely responsible for turning Scottsdale into one of the hottest addresses in the West.

Anderson has reshaped the Phoenix-Scottsdale region over the past two decades. His decision 20 years ago to build Desert Mountain northeast of Phoenix had many skeptics, who questioned why anyone would want to live so far from the city. Today that 8,000-acre property, which has six golf courses and about 2,500 homes, sits in the heart of one of the region’s most popular residential areas.

Now he’s at work in this golf community in Pinal County, an area not known for high-end residential properties. Individuals and corporations control only 22 percent of the land in Pinal, according to the Arizona Department of Commerce. Anderson says there is talk of government agencies possibly releasing some land for development, but for now Superstition Mountain is something of an anomaly in the county.

More than half the early buyers are from Arizona, suggesting it will be both a bedroom community for the nearby city and a second-home property.

“We have really understood from experience the second-home market in the U.S.,” Anderson says. “It’s very strong here. Scottsdale has basically flat run out of land, so it’s going to spill over into other properties, Superstition Mountain being one.”

The community opened in 1998, and as happened to many properties, the stock-market decline the following year and the subsequent Sept. 11 terrorist attacks took a toll on home sales. But, Anderson says, “People aren’t going to stop living their lives. Part of the robust (recent housing sales) numbers you’re seeing are people who delayed their purchases.”

Anderson is using a formula he has employed for more than a quarter century. As is the case at every Anderson property, golf courses designed by Jack Nicklaus are a major draw at Superstition Mountain. Kizziar, a past president of the PGA of America, says 93 percent of current residents have bought golf memberships, which include an $85,000 deposit and $550 in monthly dues.

Anderson has promoted the property by recruiting Tour events, a strategy he has employed since the early days of Desert Highlands, another Scottsdale community. The Safeway, which last weekend completed the third of what is expected to be at least a six-year run at Superstition Mountain, no doubt has helped raise awareness of the community. The tournament is played on the Prospector course, also the site of the Champions Tour’s Countrywide Tradition in 2002. Superstition Mountain’s other course, Lost Gold, hosted the Senior Slam in 2002.

“Having a very classy golf tournament on one of your golf courses is a great way to get institutional awareness of your properties,” Anderson says.

Nicklaus designed Lost Gold with son Jack and Prospector with son Gary. Lost Gold is the more difficult of the two, with smaller green complexes with more slope and more forced carries to tighter driving areas.

The Prospector was the sight of one of the more memorable tournament finishes of 2005, when in the final round Lorena Ochoa drove into the water that lines the left side of the 18th fairway, allowing Annika Sorenstam to rally for victory. But generally speaking, players will find the Prospector to be the less penal of the two courses.

“We want to get people out on the golf course, not hitting a lot of mulligans, and then get tighter up around the greens,” says Jason Walter, Superstition Mountain’s director of golf.

Lost Gold and Prospector have one thing in common: perhaps the fastest greens in the West. The USGA would love these greens, which are constructed from Champion Bermuda overseeded with Poa trivialis and regularly Stimp at 13 or higher. If Nicklaus hadn’t designed the greens with relatively soft contours, they would be unplayable.

Walter oversees a ladies’ program on Tuesdays with up to 40 women attending, and on Wednesdays there is an instructional clinic for beginners, followed by nine holes. A lesson program is held for juniors on Saturdays. And like courses at all of Anderson’s properties, players can walk anytime. The 49,000-square-foot clubhouse, which overlooks a 12-acre practice area, includes large locker rooms with full-length lockers, sauna and whirlpool.

Superstition Mountain’s courses, like everything in the surrounding area, are dominated by the namesake mountain range, which rises 3,000 feet above the desert floor.

“That mountain is magic,” Kizziar says, standing on the patio of a home in Superstition Mountain’s Greythorn community, near Prospector’s 16th tee. “It changes color four or five times a day. And you feel it on every hole.”

The mountain range draws its name from the many legends it has spawned, most notably that of the Lost Dutchman Mine, a gold mine allegedly discovered in the late 1800s by a German-born prospector named Jacob Waltz. For more than a century, prospectors and treasure hunters have scoured the range in search of the cache, to no avail.

Superstition Mountain – the community, that is – has given people another reason to come to Pinal County, and many will stay even if theydon’t find gold.

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