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December 2020

The Resurgence In Private Clubs

By Scott Kauffman

As the golf industry begins to focus on the winter months, Summer 2020 will forever be remembered for two things: golf’s great business comeback and the American public’s overall shift to live, work and play in wide-open places and spaces.

To be sure, the latter element is what sparked golf’s resurgence of rounds played and retail sales like never before, not to mention the exodus to America’s less-dense suburbs and other peaceful settings surrounded by nature. One place that epitomizes the best of golf and the aforementioned grander indoor-outdoor lifestyle is the rarified air of the Rocky Mountains and Montana’s Big Sky region.

Indeed, everything is seemingly bigger and more spacious in Big Sky, one of North America’s largest ski resort destinations, situated in the southwest corner of Montana not far from the West Entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Take Moonlight Basin, for instance, a private golf and ski development adjacent to Big Sky that features an endless array of alpine adventures spread across 8,000 acres.

For golfers, one of the community’s compelling recreation highlights is The Reserve, a private Jack Nicklaus Signature Course laid out across an oversized 1,000-acre footprint of gorgeous mountain vistas. Completed in 2015, the course sits amongst 7,500 feet of elevation, 360-degree mountain vistas and some of America’s most secluded and striking scenery as part of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem.

Featuring about 1,000 feet of elevation change in the routing of the layout and nearly 10 miles of cart paths, Nicklaus accentuated the Reserve’s grand golf scale by designing one of the longest holes in America – the 777-yard, par-5 17th. If all of this Nicklaus-designed golf isn’t enough of a dramatic and secluded leisure escape — the layout also has an adjoining par-3 practice course — and Moonlight Basin’s neighbor is Big Sky, which features 5,850 acres of world-class ski terrain with 300 named runs on four connected mountains.

Moonlight Basin vice president Kevin Germain says Big Sky’s “crazy busy summer” was clearly driven by the growing desire of people to pursue more space in more natural settings.

“People make a special connection with nature and you can’t have it unless you’re in nature,” adds Germain, an avid outdoorsman and fly fisherman, which Big Sky is known for. “We have always tried to cater toward that desire and I think as people have been locked up and quarantined or isolated for the last few months, they just want to get out and embrace nature and have that connection.”

Evidence of Moonlight Basin’s growing demand is construction of the exciting new LakeLodge that will represent the latest in real estate opportunities alongside a variety of townhomes, condos, homes and vacant lots that already exist inside the gates. Scheduled to open next year, the 59,000-square-foot LakeLodge will offer a host of dining and recreational amenities, including a golf simulator so members and guests can book a lesson from one of Moonlight Basin’s professionals.

Plans call for 16 private residences, priced from $775,000 for studios and up to $4.5 million for five-bedroom penthouses. It is a marked turnaround from the financial crisis of 2008, when Moonlight Basin and neighboring Spanish Peaks, another exclusive private golf community, went into bankruptcy protection.

But the two communities are now under the trusted and well-capitalized ownership of CrossHarbor Capital Partners, a Boston-based real estate investment firm. CrossHarbor is also the company that stepped in to acquire nearby Yellowstone Club after noted developer Tim Blixseth went bankrupt in 2009. The ultra-exclusive Yellowstone Club is known for having its own private mountain and well-heeled members/homeowners like Bill and Melinda Gates, former Google chief executive Eric Schmidt, former vice president Dan Quayle, entertainer Justin Timberlake and future hall of fame quarterback Tom Brady.

Yes, everything here in Big Sky truly is bigger by nature and prestige. And the very nature of it all is special, to say the least, which Germain credits for the community’s extremely busy summer season for both real estate sales and membership growth.

For instance, heading into the final quarter of 2020, Moonlight Basin sold nearly double the number of memberships from 2019, to 60 overall this year, according to Germain, including 38 new signature golf memberships that come with a hefty $75,000 initial deposit.

“The growth has been much greater than anticipated,” adds Germain, who has been at Moonlight Basin for 20 years. “People are embracing the lifestyle here and I think one thing that’s happened during COVID is it’s made everybody move their bucket list up.

“People that always talked about having a place in Montana for all its mystique and beauty are now doing it. I think one of the other things that’s happened during the pandemic is everybody’s realized life is short. I can pretty much work from anywhere, so why don’t I go live somewhere where I want to vacation.”

And do it of course, in the biggest of Big Sky manner.


 

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