In Spain, Buyers Relish Designing Their Own Golf Homes


Caldes de Malavella, Spain — A few years ago, while vacationing on the coast of Spain, John Carter drove inland to the PGA Catalunya Resort to book a tee time. He wasn’t intending to buy more than a round of golf.

But before the week was out, he and his wife had reserved a plot overlooking the ninth hole of one of Spain’s top courses, and they had committed to building a vacation home that would cost 3 million euros, about $3.3 million.

Five years later, the house is a model of contemporary architecture. Geometric structures stand in stark contrast to the rugged Mediterranean terrain. Floor-to-ceiling glass walls offer views of the Montseny mountain range to the southwest. The driveway sweeps up to the front door in the manner of grand carriage entrance ramps in 16th-century Italian villas.

“We enjoyed building it,” said Mr. Carter, 56, an investment fund manager who lives in a traditional brick home in England. “It was an adventure.”

What it takes to build your dream house in a residential golf complex varies from club to club. But you won’t have free rein. Most clubs ask that you respect their guidelines, designed to ensure visual consistency. Fences may not be allowed. Certain trees may not be cut down, and those statues you had an eye on may have to go in the corner of the backyard so that your neighbor doesn’t have to look at them.

The probability of challenges is even greater in a country where you don’t speak the language.

But the Carters were able to avoid extra costs by opting for a “turnkey” contract. That meant they hired the PGA Catalunya Resort to take care of everything. The resort proposed a list of approved architects, put the construction up for tender, monitored the building works from start to finish and made payments to all suppliers.

“Turnkey contracts are recommended if you want to avoid unexpected price increases,” said Nicolás Melchior, a real estate expert at the law firm Mariscal & Abogados, “as long as the price agreed with the interlocutor is not excessive.”

The turnkey contract also meant that the Carters did not have to deal with mishaps. Though tempers flared when builders fitted their daughter’s en-suite bathroom with pink and cream instead of pink and white tiles, it was the PGA Catalunya Resort that sorted out the mess.

“Sometimes things weren’t done the way we wanted, but nothing was unresolvable,” Mr. Carter said.

Recently, political turmoil following the 2017 Catalan bid for independence has discouraged some foreigners from buying property in this region.

While more international investors than ever bought Spanish real estate in the first half of 2018, in Catalonia the number fell by 5.3 percent.

But building a luxury home at PGA Catalunya Resort is still a draw for overseas investors. Sales are up 9 percent from last year. Potential buyers can expect to spend around half a million euros for the land and an additional €1 million to €3 million for a house that complies with the club’s strict architectural guidelines.

A few holes down the course from the Carters’ villa, beside the lake on the 15th hole, a crane looms over the building site where Sarah and Oliver Kesting’s new home will soon stand.

The Kestings, who until recently led a hectic life juggling the management of their electronics company with school runs into traffic-congested downtown Munich, have enrolled their children in a local school and hope to move here permanently.

While construction is underway, they are staying nearby and keeping a close eye on developments.

On a recent afternoon, they climbed a paint-splashed ladder onto what will be the first floor of their new home. Black rubber tubes dangled from concrete slabs, and a microwave sat in a pile of rubble, a long cable connecting it to the mains so that the workmen could heat up their lunches.

“It has been fun designing our own home,” Mr. Kesting, 49, said.

They’re not just building a new home — they’re building a new lifestyle. One that will include a stand-alone bathtub with views over the fairway, a large garage for Mr. Kesting’s collection of cars and, because they are wary of potentially hefty Spanish electricity and gas bills, a geothermal heating system.

“The cost of living in Spain is lower than in Germany and better quality,” said Mr. Kesting. “Except for energy.”

Though not a turnkey project — they are working directly with the developers — so far there have been no setbacks, besides an unsuccessful attempt to persuade the PGA Catalunya Resort to lower the height of the curb on the street so that their sports car can drive more easily into the garage.

Perhaps the most striking feature of their project, on paper, is the giant pergola over both the indoor and outdoor living areas.

It is designed in homage to the early-20th century Japanese novelist Jun’ichiro Tanizaki, who claimed that shadows have the power to make materials such as gold or crystal seem more beautiful in dark rooms than in broad daylight.

Aluminum and copper will be used to this end in some of the walls and columns, which will stand in groups of odd rather than even numbers in a modern take on the temples of classical times.

For Ignacio López Alonso, one of five partners at the Barcelona-based firm Lagula Arquitectes, designing the Kestings’ villa is part of a love affair with a daring residential project that began at the outset of the global financial crisis a decade ago.

Spain’s construction bubble had burst, and 800,000 new vacation homes were unsold along the coastline and at many of Spain’s golf courses, said David Plana, the chief executive of PGA Catalunya Resort.

“Many were failed housing projects, with 18 holes built in the middle,” Mr. Plana said. “We did things the other way around.”

Initially, the PGA Catalunya Resort had no real estate. It had two golf courses, the Stadium and the Tour, which were conceived as candidates to host the 1997 Ryder Cup by the European golfing masters, Neil Coles and Angel Gallardo.

Then in 2008, at a time when banks were not giving out loans, the resort’s owners used private funds to hire Mr. López Alonso’s firm to design one showcase signature villa.

The villa was completed in 2011. Over the next eight years, more than 200 properties were built, of which approximately 50 are bespoke villas.

Though designed by a medley of local and international architects, including the 2017 Pritzker Prize laureates, RCR Arquitectes, all the properties, whether terraced houses, flats or villas, must abide by aesthetic rules designed to respect the lay of the land.

“It is important to find an equilibrium between what the land asks for and what the client asks for,” said Mr. López Alonso, recalling some difficult requests from clients.

When a retired couple insisted on building a porch with a balustrade, Mr. López Alonso had to tactfully put his foot down. But that wasn’t the end of it. Shortly afterward, a truckload of poor-imitation Giacometti statues arrived from Switzerland. Though Mr. López Alonso considered them tacky, they didn’t infringe on any guidelines — only prefabricated statues are banned.

In the end, aided by a couple of builders, Mr. López Alonso placed the statues, some of them more than two meters high, or about 6.5 feet, around the garden so they were hidden from the neighbors.

A weather vane in the shape of a witch on a broomstick was the only element that could be seen from the golf course.

Luckily, according to Mr. López Alonso, most of the owners appreciate contemporary architectural aesthetics.

When Hans Eekhof, 60, a businessman and former Dutch ocean-racing world champion, teed off at the Stadium course earlier this year, he glimpsed the villas among the pine trees at the edges of the fairways. But none were for sale.

There was, however, the opportunity to buy a turnkey project on an empty plot.

Recently, the only evidence of activity was a white line in the grass around the border of Mr. Eekhof’s land. But if everything goes according to plan, a grandchild-friendly, horseshoe-shaped villa will be completed for an estimated €3.5 million by September next year.

PGA Catalunya Resort employs a local biologist to grow organic fruit and vegetables for residents. Once or twice a week, homeowners can stop off at his vegetable garden and pick up a courtesy basket of tomatoes, peppers, plums or whatever else is in season.

There is a vineyard, too, which is expected to yield its first harvest later this year and give owners their first bottles of homegrown wine.

And at last count there were at least 16 Michelin-star restaurants within a 30-mile radius.

“I love good food,” Mr. Eekhof said. “Dining at all the restaurants will keep me occupied for the rest of my life.”



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