Golfing great Hal Sutton found himself in the Texas Hill Country about 12 years ago, with a stop in Fredericksburg. He might have thought he was in Tuscany, not Texas, because the terrain was so similar he wondered where the olive trees were. The idyllic German-esque community of about 11,000 in Gillespie County rests about 70 miles west of Austin and 52 miles north of San Antonio. Fredericksburg, famous for its summer peaches and German brews, caught Sutton’s heart and never really let go.
But it got his brain busy calculating, dreaming.
“This is beautiful,” the 14-time winner on the PGA tour told his wife, “This is the Aspen of Texas! We need to buy something here, build something here. Once the rest of the world discovers how beautiful this place is, it will just take off!”
I relate to that feeling totally. Whenever I drove my son to camp in Hunt, Texas, for years back in the 1990′s, I too fell in love with Fredericksburg and the gentle hills surrounding it. It is the perfect primary, second or vacation home location — drive-able from most major Texas urban areas, scenic, hilly, and loaded with activity. There is water: Lake LBJ and the Guadalupe and Pedernales Rivers, and there is land: mountain climbing at Enchanted Rock, horseback riding, endless hours of hiking.
Hal Sutton did more than just dream. He built the best exclusive family golf community in Texas, Boot Ranch. Armed with a $30 million investment from his partner, the Louisiana Municipal Police Employees Retirement System (Hal is from Shreveport), his own funds, and a network of good friends, he created the perfect ranch for city slickers looking for a getaway on the range laced with golf, gourmet food, and guns. He chose a beautiful spread of 2050 acres with the Palo Alto Creek winding through about five miles north of Fredericksburg, on the road to Llano. In case you don’t know, this is the hilly neck of Texas where most big time billionaires play rancher — Kelcy Warren, Tav Lupton, David Bamberger of Church’s Fried Chicken fame, to name a few.
Sutton’s dream team planned for 387 home sites of various sizes, shapes, and prices, all with a definite Texas Hill Country look and flavor.
And then he gave it something only Hal Sutton could: one of the best golf courses in Texas, a place he hoped would and believes will rival Augusta National. With its rugged hills dotted with cedars, curves and creatures, Boot Ranch offers golfers some of the most beautiful golfing terrain in the state. There are twin 40-foot waterfalls in front of the 10th green. The Dallas Morning News has ranked Boot Ranch no less than five times as one of the Top Ten Courses in Texas, and the course has been rated by Golf Digest as one of the Top 10 courses in the COUNTRY. The course measures 7,250 yards from the championship tees for a par of 71. Even veteran golfers find it a challenge each time they play. There is also a 34-acre practice park, which includes a short game range and an executive Par-3 course. The Director of golf is Emil Hale, hand-picked by Sutton himself.
Boot Ranch launched in 2004 with the vision to create a world-class vacation home destination deep in the heart of Texas, with a true Texas twist. There would be a Sutton supreme golf course, a clubhouse village with casual and fine dining, pools and spa, guest lodges, zero-lot line low maintenance units, and acres of undeveloped acreage in between each homestead. This was not to be a development where units were crammed on the land to maximize return. Every element of the development would be completed on the highest level of luxury, and extended family would be encouraged to play and stay by way of a vertical membership to multiple generations. Traditional ranching is losing its luster with subsequent generations, and Boot Ranch would offer homeowners a chance to enjoy the romance of the ranch life, without the headaches. Homeowners could build homes of their choice, with builders of their choice, as long as design styles adhered to the community’s design standards to keep the look “Hill Country”. They could enjoy a community of activity right on the ranch on a level that Bick Benedict would have approved: trap and skeet shooting, fishing, hiking and mountain bike trails, horseback riding, swim and of course golf, and still be five minutes from the charm and amenities of Fredericksburg.
Then came the Greatest Recession since the Great Depression.
Like most vacation and second home communities during the financial crisis, Boot Ranch found its once-eager buyers holding back. After 37 brisk sales, Sutton brought in Legacy Properties for a restructuring in 2007, pumping in tens of millions in infrastructure costs. The U.S economy dove even further, and, like many developments across the nation, Boot Ranch equity was under water. Its resulting foreclosure left the estate of Lehman Brothers Holding Inc. – the major Boot Ranch noteholder – holding the keys.
Recognizing what a treasure they now owned deep in the heart of Texas, with a mandate to protect and maximize creditor assets, Lehman continued to fund, build out and finish the project. It was business as usual, riding out the storm, just as the Cowboys did on those craggy, rugged hills.
“Well, there’s one thing you got to say for cattle… boy, you put your brand on one of them, you’re gonna know where it’s at!”- Luz Benedict
Sutton had clearly branded a lifestyle at Boot Ranch, one that even a national financial crisis couldn’t touch. Part of Lehman’s luck was that Boot Ranch was located in the Lone Star State, a market that was barely touched by the recession. Texas residential real estate came back more quickly than other markets for several reasons: our values have never skyrocketed artificially as they have in some markets, and Texas puts the reins on home equity lines of credit, limiting them to 80% of home equity.
For two years, from 2008 to 2010, there was little sales movement at Boot Ranch. But when the economy turned north, the Texas real estate market turned into a Blue Norther. In 2011, Boot Ranch was at the top of lot sales for the State, selling between $10 and 20 million in inventory. And, Hal Sutton announced he was coming back to further brand the completion of his dream.
In 2012, Boot completed the plans for its award-winning, 55,000 square foot rock stone Clubhouse Village. Steering up the steep hill on the rocky circular drive, you truly think you are coming into a centuries old Italian village. The clubhouse was designed by Mike Marsh, who recently completed the stunning remodeling of the toney Dallas Country Club in Highland Park, to maximize the terrain and view. A rock archway frames the vista over miles of the ranch and a waterfall leading to the lagoon pool, ranch club pavilion, tennis and sport courts. The Village includes the golf pro shop, men and women’s locker rooms complete with steam rooms, the spa and wellness center, exercise center, and the dining room. Boot Ranch offers owners a choice of casual or fine dining under the direction of Executive Chef Aaron Staudenmaier, who worked with famed restaurateur Kent Rathbun in Dallas. There are ten luxurious lodge suites for guests with jetted tubs, separate shower and rooms the size of Manhattan — some just under 1000 square feet. These function as extra living quarters for members’ family and friends.
Then there are the lots. Boot Ranch has a variety of options from the sprawling, elegant estate home sites, which range in price from $300,000 to $2.5 million for as little as 2 acres up to a whopping 18 acres, including club membership.
There are the smaller Overlook Cabins, situated on approximately one-half acre sites with these price points starting at $239,000 to $449,000 including club membership, for dirt. Homes ranging from 1,800 to 4,000 square feet are going up as I write this, many pre-sold. Pricing for the lot and completed cabin ranges from $700,000 to $1.4 million.
Finally, Boot Ranch revived an old German trend from the original Fredericksburg settlers: the Sunday House. These were homes that were “shared” by settlers attending church services in town. The Sunday House gave them a place to rest, repast and refresh before the long ride back to the ranch, in a wagon or on horseback. Boot Ranch’s concept is a fractional ownership of each Sunday house with pricing at $300,000. Each Sunday House is about 3,800 square feet of detached space — a gathering house with family room, gourmet kitchen and laundry room, and four master bedroom suites, all detached but connected by walkways. It’s a similar concept to the way homes were built with detached rooms into the hills at Calistoga Ranch. The Sunday House concept has proven so popular and affordable, shares in the first four cabins are almost sold out and construction is underway on a fifth. Sunday House owners share their usage, averaging between 35-45 days each during a year. Buyers are streaming in primarily from Houston and Dallas, with others coming from San Antonio, Austin, Fort Worth, Tyler, Midland, Odessa and elsewhere. A few are even from out-of -state.
In 2011, as the U.S. was waking up from the recession, the movie Seven Days in Utopia was filmed at Boot Ranch. Starring Robert Duvall, directed by Matt Russell, the movie is based on the book: Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia, by David L. Cook, PhD. Cook is one of the country’s top sport psychology consultants and motivational speaker who has worked with more than 100 PGA Tour players. Among many coaching roles, Cook serves as sport psychology coach to the 1999 World Champion San Antonio Spurs. His story is about a young golfer who finds life’s purpose at the Links of Utopia.
In many ways, Hal Sutton found HIS life’s purpose at the Links at Boot Ranch, generating an attainable legacy for families to take a healing break from the insanity that 21st century life has become. It’s a place to kick back, put up your boots, re-connect with family and nature and maybe, just maybe, give you a chance to find your life’s purpose under the golden glaze of a Hill Country sunset.