Links Living: Desert Highlands

The original desert-golf community has found a novel way to stay young

Scottsdale is synonymous today with high-end communities featuring golf courses from leading architects. But it’s worth remembering that the northern reaches of this area, 30 miles from downtown Phoenix, were little more than cactus and rocks three decades ago and that the transformation began with a development called Desert Highlands.

Desert Highlands Scottsdale Arizona

Over Thanksgiving weekend 1983, the inaugural “Skins Game” gave golfers around the country their first look at desert golf, a stunning Jack Nicklaus course that placed pods of turf among the forbidding landscape. All these years later, Desert Highlands remains one of the area’s most in-demand addresses (you must buy a home to be a member). But its 560 lots have long since sold out, while many of its early homes are showing their age. “Outdated housing is impacting our membership,” says the club’s director of marketing, Carey Fassler. “People love the club but don’t love the old houses.” Which is why the community launched its Residential Remodel Program.

This innovative scheme allows builders and investors to buy and update existing properties—without having to pay the club’s initiation fee—then put the revitalized product up for sale, attracting new members who want the most up-to-date homes. In most cases, the houses are significantly redone, usually including all-new floor plans and totally renovated kitchens, bathrooms, even garages. It’s not unusual for these upgrades to cost half a million dollars. Since launching in 2013, 10 houses have been redone and sold; another is presently in the works.

Remodeling has brought new life to Desert Highlands. As other communities age and max out their land plans, look for the idea to spread. And just as with the original concept of golf living in the desert, remember where it all began.