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Black Rock getaway a winning ride

By MARTIN KAUFMANN
Managing Editor/The Golf Life

COEUR d’ALENE, Idaho – Walking off the green on the 10th hole at The Club at Black Rock, PGA Tour pro Rich Beem recently told a visitor, “From this next hole on, this is why I bought here.”

It quickly became clear what Beem was talking about. The tee box on No. 11 sits 100 feet above the fairway, offering sweeping views of Lake Coeur d’Alene. The short, dogleg-left par 4 requires a fairway wood off the tee, followed by a wedge over a pond to an elevated green that sits in an amphitheater framed by a large boulder and two waterfalls. That’s followed by two more elevated tee shots on Nos. 12 and 13, the latter a short par 3 framed by the lake on the right and, on the left, a rock formation from which Black Rock draws its name.

It’s the sort of bold, theatrical design that has become the trademark of architect Jim Engh, who counts holes 10-14 here as his favorite stretch at any of his courses. He also notes that Black Rock is his only design at which he owns property.

“It’s just a special place to me,” Engh said.

Beem, who views Black Rock as a good place to prepare for his Tour appearances, has a similar sentiment. Asked how often he stays at his home here, he said simply, “Not enough.”

Beem’s affection for the property serves as anecdotal evidence validating Black Rock owner Marshall Chesrown’s business strategy, which can be summed up this way: Golf takes precedence over everything else.

“It was clear to me as I went to different developments around the country (before building Black Rock) that what really drove success was the quality of the golf,” Chesrown said. “We needed to design the best golf course possible. The rest will take care of itself.”

There’s a certain irony here: Chesrown isn’t a golfer, preferring ponies to birdies. (“I have enough aggravation in my daily life without taking up that game,” he said.) He lets homeowners use the stables on his property near Black Rock and plans to build an equestrian center on the north end of the property.

Despite his ambivalence toward golf, Chesrown took an unusually progressive approach to the design of the Engh course. Before any homesites were planned, he turned over the entire 650-acre parcel to several architects to draft plans. He settled on Engh’s, which he described as “the most creative, and also the most expensive.”

“Jim’s was the only routing that took the golf course off the side of the mountain,” Chesrown said. That had the added benefit of creating space for some of Black Rock’s most expensive home lots.

Chesrown’s willingness to indulge his course architect also illustrated his disdain for design by committee, where the architects, land planners and engineers engage in a give-and-take before arriving at a consensus. He designated Engh the alpha dog; design was paramount. In Chesrown’s scheme, the land planners play second fiddle and the engineers exist solely to “make (the design and planning) work.”

Engh tested Chesrown’s resolve on No. 13, a sliver of land that wasn’t originally part of Black Rock. Engh “came back and said, ‘Marshall, I found an unbelievable golf hole today. But we’re going to need about 150 feet of your neighbor’s property,’ ” Chesrown recalled. “I said, ‘Jim, you had 650 acres. Now we need another 150 feet?’ ” But Chesrown secured the land.

Chesrown knows this terrain well. A Spokane, Wash., native who played on this property as a child, Chesrown operated 11 automotive franchises in Colorado before selling that business in 1997. He bought the Black Rock property from a family friend that same year and planned to put a ranch on it before being convinced to build a golf course and develop the land.

The property includes a 1,100-acre parcel on which Tom Weiskopf has designed a second course, scheduled to open in 2009.

“You’re going to feel like you’re in a different state when you’re across the road,” Chesrown said of the larger parcel, which he said will have lower density and “more of an estate feel,” with homesites ranging from two to 10 acres.

Overall, 726 homesites are planned on Black Rock’s 1,800 acres. Aside from custom homes, housing options include furnished cabins and village homes, which start at $1.25 million, and golf cottages, starting at $975,000. “Everything we build to sell is turnkey,” said sales director Terry Bloskey. The membership deposit for the golf club is $125,000, with monthly dues of $695.

Chesrown said he has seen some indications of softness on mid-priced lots, and buyers at the premium end of the market are driving a harder bargain. But he notes that of the 165 homes built, only seven are for sale.

“We’ve tried hard to manage the speculation,” he said. “When you have to absorb everything twice or three times, it makes it that much tougher.”

While golf was paramount in Chesrown’s business plan, it’s just one of the amenities, natural and manmade, available to homeowners. On site, there’s a 30,000-square-foot clubhouse with spa, two treatment rooms and a fitness center on the lower level. A second clubhouse will be built for the Weiskopf layout, along with an events center. Black Rock Marina, which has 130 slips, is located near the property, providing access to 30-mile-long Lake Coeur d’Alene. And at or near Black Rock, you’ll find all manner of outdoor activities, including hiking, biking, hunting, fishing and skiing.

Chesrown knew the area’s virtues. Still, he recalled that before developing the land, he commissioned a feasibility study “to make sure I hadn’t lost my mind.” The analyst, he said, wrote that Coeur d’Alene “could be the last undiscovered jewel of recreational property left in America.”

If anyone needs further confirmation, they need only speak with Beem.

• • •

Martin Kaufmann is the managing editor of The Golf Life. To reach him email mkaufmann@golfweek.com.

Black Rock homes

Custom home
• 4,836 square feet
• 3 bedroom/3 bath
• Office/media room, exercise room, covered patio with fireplace, vaulted ceilings, 3 fireplaces, custom-crafted doors
• $2.995 million

Golf cottage
• 1,485 square feet
• 2 bedroom/2 bath
• Completely furnished, fireplace in great room and bedrooms, golf course views, adjacent to 18-hole putting course
• Starting at $975,000

Village home
• 2,650 square feet
• 4 bedroom/4 bath
• Outdoor patio with firepit, hardwood floors, stainless steel barbecue, granite countertops, wine cooler, walk-in showers
• Starting at $1.2 million

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