Resplendent with cushy furniture, modern light fixtures and muted tones on the walls, Mirasol’s striking new $40 million clubhouse does what many of the members-only clubs in Palm Beach County are trying — shed their old-fashioned image to appeal to more active adults.
Mirasol, an upcoming $35 million expansion at BallenIsles Country Club and a new $37 million clubhouse and sports complex at The Club at Ibis are among the largest, most expensive projects in northern Palm Beach County in recent years.
In fact, a staggering combined $200 million in improvements in golf and country club clubhouses in northern Palm Beach County are either on the drawing board or already completed.
In all, The Post found at least 10 communities that have poured millions into upgrades in the fast-growing north end of the county.
The spacious, new clubs are part of a relentless competition to capture a slightly younger clientele and grow membership.
But a big risk looms — will the return on investment be there? And who is paying for it all?
The extravagance often comes with substantial fees assessed to homeowners. And younger buyers — those in their 30s and 40s — are especially sensitive to the cost of club membership fees, said Bobby Wunderlich, founder and president of BWG Realty.
Ben Schachter, southern region vice president for the Realtors Association of the Palm Beaches, said home buyers have a difficult time psychologically paying less for the actual real estate than the club membership.
Still, buying into such a club can be “very affordable and attractive,” Schachter said.
“You have to look at the overall picture.”
Keeping up with the competition
Mirasol residents are paying back a $30 million loan with a $175-per-month increase in assessments for golf and tennis members that is in effect for the next 12 1/2 years — a hike that pitted neighbor against neighbor over the $40 million expansion. Like most country club communities, membership is mandatory.
But after all the homes in the development were sold, the clubhouse wasn’t big enough, Board of Directors President Tobi D’Andrea said.
Sitting in the expanded lobby, D’Andrea said, “At some point, each community has to decide what it wants to be when it grows up.”
Although the community’s average age is about 63, young professionals are moving in, and about 600 kids already live in the community with their families, General Manager Matt Lambert said.
Said D’Andrea, “We’ve attracted a younger population from the start, and this reinforces that position.”
And some early critics are using the new facilities all the time, she added.
At PGA National Resort & Spa, which completely renovated its 33,000-square-foot Sports & Racquet Club, General Manager James Gelfand said young families and recent retirees represent two big areas of growth.
“Today a golf membership needs to be about more than golf,” said Gelfand. “We’re striving to get younger,” and more attractive for families. Membership is optional for community members, and fees are not assessed to pay for the improvements, he said. Money for renovations comes from an investment group which owns rights to the club revenues.
At Jonathan’s Landing, homeowners are paying $3,000 to $5,000 one-time fees for a $10 million clubhouse renovation completed in January 2016. The new restaurant, pro-shop, outside dining, fire pit and waterfalls appeal to residents from the Northeast who want to enjoy Florida winters outdoors, said Wendy Seely, director of membership services.
Abacoa Golf Club in Jupiter is a privately owned club that’s open to the public for golf. Its owners have invested $1.4 million into it the past two years, mostly on the golf course and driving range, said Administrator Terri Dew. Of that, $50,000 paid for a center where people can work with the pros.
Even BallenIsles Country Club, which in 2009 built a wildly popular sports complex, bistro and spa, needs more space in its main clubhouse, its managers said.
“We need to think forward,” said Board of Directors President Jack Cook.
BallenIsles will pay for the $35 million project with $10 million cash and a $25 million loan paid back over 12 years. No new assessments are expected, Cook said.
Instead, the loan will be repaid as the club acquires new members when homes sell and users upgrade their memberships. Those figures are based on 66 home sales per year.
Clubs ‘better be careful’ about overspending
Golf courses “didn’t have to be as imaginative” in the late ’90s and early 2000s, when developers could build and the golfers would come, said Ed Getherall, director of consulting for the Jupiter-based National Golf Foundation.
After a building boom in the 1990s and 2000s, the Great Recession slowed the game’s growth. About 5 percent of courses, or more than 800, have closed in the past decade. Golf course operators have to be more proactive — including keeping clubhouses appealing, Getherall said.
“The goal for a lot of these clubs is to make them the center of the members’ universe,” Getherall said. “It’s all about driving the time spent on property.”
But it’s also important not to overspend, he said. When golf was thriving, even public courses were building new $10 to $12-million clubhouses, he said.
“That’s hard for a public facility to justify,” Getherall said.
Public clubs aren’t the only ones that risk overspending, real estate agents say.
Homeowners facing the burden of hefty fees might sell and move on. The smaller, less expensive homes in a community take the biggest hit when fees rise, said BWG’s Wunderlich.
“These clubs better be careful about that,” said Wunderlich, who has an office outside the gates of Frenchman’s Reserve.
He cites condos in Boca Raton where properties are being sold for next to nothing. The owners have died and their children — the clientele clubhouse managers hope to lure — don’t want the properties and their hefty fees.
Jeff Lichtenstein, who runs Echo Fine Properties, offers a country club comparison on his website to help buyers analyze membership costs. Buyers and owners of 2,200-square-foot homes are more sensitive to six-figure initiation fees and dues that can top $20,000, he said.
The goal is to be competitive without pricing homeowners “above and away,” Schachter said. That eats away at the prospective buyer base — even in luxury communities where homes are priced from $1.5 million and above.
“You can charge a premium, but you cannot gouge people,” Schachter said. “People want to feel that they are receiving a good return on their investment.”
That means keeping up with the competition, said Seely: “You can’t be behind the eight ball.”
A look at some of the recent community clubhouse upgrades in north county:
The Country Club at Mirasol
11600 Mirasol Way, Palm Beach Gardens
Cost: $40 million.
Payments: $30 million loan, repaid for with $175/mo increase in assessments for golf & tennis members for 12 ½ years.
Completed: Spring 2016.
What’s new: Clubhouse with larger grill room; health and wellness café; two new pools; second-floor outdoor terrace; improved spa; dedicated freestanding tennis center; improved fitness center.
The Club at Admiral’s Cove
200 Admiral’s Cove Blvd., Jupiter
Cost: $14 million.
What’s new: Ftness facilities and youth activity center with tutoring.
PGA National Resort & Spa
400 Avenue of the Champions, Palm Beach Gardens
Cost: $25-$30 million in last five years.
Payments: Paid for with revenues, which include member fees.
Completed: Revamped members’ club opened fall 2015.
What’s new: Renovated lobby; new, furnished poolside cabanas, outdoor dining deck, overhauled sports & racquet club, revitalized spa.
Jonathan’s Landing Golf Club
16823 Captain Kirle Drive, Jupiter
Cost: $10 million.
Payments: Paid for with $3,000 to $5,000 one-time assessments.
Completed: January 2016.
What’s new: Restaurant, pro-shop, outside dining with fire pit and waterfalls, renovated second-floor bar.
Abacoa Golf Club
105 Barbados Drive, Jupiter
Cost: $1.4 million
Completed: Ongoing improvements, most recent 2015-2016.
What’s new: Golf course improvements, create learning center, renovated bar inside the clubhouse and new bar outside, renovated Halfway House for quick-service food.
Sandhill Crane Golf Club
11401 Northlake Blvd., Palm Beach Gardens
Cost: $4.6 million.
Payments: Paid for by recreation impact fees from developers and general fund stabilization reserves.
Expected completion: November 2017.
What’s new: Larger club with pro shop, locker rooms, quick food service and event space banquet-style seating.
North Palm Beach Country Club
951 US Highway 1, North Palm Beach
Cost: $15 million.
Payments: Paid for with loan to be repaid with golf and restaurant revenues. Small portion from general fund.
Expected completion: December 2018.
What’s new: Updated décor, Carl Von Luger Steak & Seafood restaurant, splash park for young children.
BallenIsles Country Club
100 BallenIsles Circle, Palm Beach Gardens
Cost: $35 million.
Payments: Paid for with $10M cash and $25M loan paid back through home sales and upgraded memberships
Expected completion: Early summer 2018.
What’s new: Adding 35,000 square feet. Enlarging dining room, creating “19th hole” with outdoor eating space, a la carte dining, new lobby lounge.
Frenchman’s Reserve Country Club
3370 Grande Corniche, Palm Beach Gardens
Cost: $8 million.
Payments: Paid for with legal settlement with developer.
What’s new: New golf instruction area, freestanding restaurant, tennis club and new court, renovated spa, splash pad.
The Club at Ibis
8225 Ibis Blvd., West Palm Beach
Cost: $37 million.
Payments: Paid for with $159/month assessment and new memberships.
Completed: November 2015.
What’s new: Clubhouse with upstairs restaurants, sports village, sports pub, game rooms.
See a map of the upgraded clubhouses at pbpo.st/clubhouses