DELRAY BEACH, Fla. – In 2010, with the housing bust winding down, GL Homes had a decision to make on a 280-acre parcel it owned along Lyons Road west of Delray
It could have built another 55-and-over community for active
adults or more of a family-type development, but the Sunrise-based builder kept
hearing from buyers of all ages that they wanted a country club setting without
golf and its pricey fees and mandatory memberships.
So GL delivered The Bridges, a 591-home luxury community
minus the links, but otherwise packed with amenities. Analysts say it's a model
that builders will copy in the coming years.
"There's no question you'll see more of this,"
said Lewis Goodkin, a veteran housing consultant in South Florida. "If I
was building a family-oriented community today, I wouldn't even think about
putting in golf."
The Bridges opened in 2012 north of Clint Moore Road, and
only about 25 homes remain for sale. The prices aren't cheap — from the mid
$600,000s to more than $2 million — but the lifestyle includes a
17,000-square-foot clubhouse with a full-service restaurant, a resort pool,
tennis courts, an indoor sports court, card rooms and a social director who
organizes clubs and classes.
GL, the dominant builder in Palm Beach County, didn't skimp
on details. Swimmers can listen to music through underwater speakers, while
video games in the teen lounge are swapped out on a quarterly basis to prevent
Homeowners pay monthly dues up to $475, compared with $1,000
or more at most golf clubs.
Ed Haymes had been active in a Boca Raton golf club for 17
years, at one point becoming the homeowner's association president. But the
four-day-a-week golfer turned into a tennis player, and he and his wife, Adele,
began questioning why they were still paying fees of $3,000 to $4,000 a month.
"Golf just didn't mean as much to us," said
Haymes, 74, a retired advertising executive. "It just really didn't make
economic sense to stay there."
Last year, the Haymes moved to a three-bedroom home at The
Bridges. They swim, play tennis and regularly sample the grilled salmon at the
sit-down restaurant. And they like the mix of people.
"It's nice to see someone pushing a baby
carriage," Ed Haymes said. "I haven't seen a baby carriage since we
visited my son up north last fall."
Developments focused on golf have struggled in recent years,
with mandatory memberships stretching into the tens of thousands of dollars on
top of steep monthly dues.
Ken Johnson, a real estate economist at Florida Atlantic
University, said operating and maintaining golf courses can cost upwards of $3
million a year, which leads to the large fees for residents. What's more,
Johnson said, golf's popularity is declining, particularly with superstar Tiger
Woods not dominating as he has in the past.
"To me, a golf course is an albatross around your
neck," he said. "It's just not a good plan anymore."
Goodkin, the housing consultant, said South Florida became
saturated with golf courses in the 1980s, and now many of them are abandoned or
in receivership. At least two developers, Standard Pacific Homes and the Stiles
real estate firm, are building homes on old courses because land is in such
Over the past few years, The Bridges has ranked near the top
in housing starts for all Palm Beach County developments, according to the
Metrostudy research firm. The last homes are under construction now, and the
popularity of the community prompted GL to build a similar but larger project
across the street.
The 742-home Seven Bridges is underway, with GL posting
about 150 sales there since last spring. The first residents will move in by
April or May, said Marcie DePlaza, division president of GL.
"The decision to build it didn't take more than a
second because the demand was there," she said.