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Asheville Real Estate Appeals to Athletes



6/19/2008 - Asheville Real Estate Appeals to Athletes

A second home in the western Carolinas is an outdoorsman's paradise.

It's easy to find hot-boiled-peanut stands, fireworks emporia and barbecue shacks in the western Carolinas. The recent wave of multimillion-dollar communities is a little harder to spot, with rustic-looking gatehouses tucked along Blue Ridge mountain roads. Country here still feels like country, good news for a sportsman looking for a second home--but more interested in what's outside his front door.

That would be a landscape of mountains, lakes and streams, and unspoiled forest overflowing with trails and everything from pigmy salamanders to black bear. There are nearly one million acres of national- and state-protected land in the 50-square-mile stretch between Asheville, North Carolina, and Greenville, South Carolina--plenty of wilderness to fly-fish and white-water paddle, to mountain- and road-bike, to hike and horseback ride. The hydropower lakes west of Greenville add boating and waterskiing, and, of course, there's lots of golf in the neighborhood: rolling mountain routes that have inspired Tiger Woods to build his first North American course near Asheville.

The climate here is mild year-round, but high season is the summer, when the mountains stay refreshingly cool. So now is the time for a visit, and here are three sporting-focused developments worth a look.

The Cliffs

If Tiger Woods hadn't come along, Cliffs founder Jim Anthony says he wouldn't have built another golf course. The Cliffs communities already had seven: including two Tom Fazio courses, a pair designed by Jack Nicklaus and one from Gary Player under construction. All are within an hour's drive of one another, playable only by Cliffs owners and their guests. That's a lot of golf. Anthony and his marketing team had been busy focusing on "wellness" (private doctors at beck and call, nature hikes, organic vegetables on the clubhouse menu, Pilates galore).

But then Woods flew in to see the Cliffs' latest acquisition, nearly 1,500 acres above Asheville called High Carolina. Woods knew of the Cliffs communities' reputation and was looking for a North American debut. "He walked around, saw the site and got back on his plane," says Anthony. "He said to his guys, do this deal and don't blank it up."

According to rumor, Anthony offered Woods something close to $50 million (in cash and real estate) to close that deal. Whatever he paid, the Cliffs now have eight private courses, and plenty of Tiger-fueled interest amid a slowing second-home market. "We're impressed," says Dan Geenen, who traveled from Milwaukee with his wife, Carol, and four young kids to take a look at the three Cliffs developments on South Carolina's Lake Keowee. "It's not house next to house next to house. You don't see that very often."

The Cliffs communities are indeed nicely low-density, with scenic golf courses, the newest of which have few homesites crowding the fairways. Despite an embarrassing flak over Anthony's waste-water dumping proposal for the new Cliffs at Mountain Park (he's since revised the plans), his developments have a reputation for environmentalism, including a partnership with Clemson University to develop more sustainable golf course management practices.

"We're in the forefront of conservation in golf course design," says Anthony. "We want Tiger Woods' course to be the greenest golf course built in America."

Homesites starting from $300,000.

Pla D'Adet

The mountain roads of the western Carolinas are a cyclist's paradise. Lance Armstrong trained here for his Tour de France victories. George Hincapie, U.S. National 2006 champ, lives in Greenville, the site of the country's top pro race for the past two years. And soon to break ground is Pla d'Adet, which is surely the world's first luxury cycling village.

Laid out across 300 acres north of Greenville, along a popular local ride to the sleepy town of Saluda, Pla d'Adet is offering 97 homesites surrounding a 40,000-square-foot Hincapie Performance Training Center, built into a hillside. George Hincapie and his brother Richard are partners in the development (which is named after George's career-highlight '05 Tour stage win in the Pyrenees), and they designed the Center's somewhat unusual set of amenities.

"Lactic acid testing, anaerobic threshold testing, high-altitude training rooms," says Richard. "We want to replicate the life of a pro athlete for the everyday person." There will also be an indoor 25-meter training pool and a four-mile rubberized running track throughout the property, with specialized multisport coaches available for triathletes.

"This is for the guy that says, 'Instead of golf courses I want 500 miles of road around me,'" says Bill West, a wealthy telecom industry retiree, who now leads Pla d'Adet's sales effort. No plush "discovery" office here; West takes prospective buyers on grueling rides in the area in an attempt to convince them to make a homesite reservation. "They love it," says West. "These are guys who have been to Hilton Head and said, 'That's not me. This is me. I'm a cyclist and I want to hang out with cyclists.'"

Homesites starting from $400,000.

Balsam Mountain Preserve

Balsam Mountain Preserve does have a golf course--a terraced mountain route designed by Arnold Palmer--but to give you an idea of this 4,400-acre development's priorities, there are more naturalists than golf pros on staff. "There happens to be a golf course in an incredible mountain setting," says Balsam's president, Craig Lehman. "This is so much more than golf."

Top on the menu would be hiking and fly-fishing, both available on the property, spread along a mountainside 45 minutes west of Asheville. There are 50 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking or horseback riding (stables and pasture land for buyers with horses are on site). It's easy to get lost in the woods at Balsam--there are even primitive camping cabins for overnights--thanks to the 3,000 acres protected in a nonprofit conservation easement, which will have property owners and area naturalists as trustees.

Off-property, the hiking and fishing get even better. The half-million acres of the Nantahala National Forest abut the property line to the south, the Blue Ridge Parkway is to the north and the expansive Great Smoky Mountains National Park lies west.

With all that protected land in view, Balsam feels retreatlike and remote; even the Boarding House and cabins, where owners and their guests may stay, strike a convincingly rustic, and comfortable, note. There's a palpable emphasis here on nature and wildlife, reinforced by Michael Skinner, Balsam's chief naturalist, whose Nature Center has kid-friendly hands-on exhibits, two fearsome pit vipers and a magnificent 15-year-old bald eagle named Spirit. Skinner and his staff have been cataloging the property's impressive biodiversity, creating a checklist for owners that includes 115 bird species and 700 vascular plant species--"throw in mosses and mushrooms, and you're over 1,000," says Skinner.

Homesites starting from $425,000. www.balsam


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