Boot Ranch, a luxurious second home “ranching light” community in Fredericksburg, Texas, where you can play city slicker one minute, Arnold Palmer the next, says it’s back. I still have the press kit I received from Boot Ranch now some four years ago. It was the most beautiful kit I have ever received, and useful, to boot: a stitched leather notebook folder, 8 by 10.5. Presto, I was in love with the place. It’s all about the presentation, of course! I was told that George Bush, Sr. would be one of the regulars on the “Augusta” golf course created by Hal Sutton and recognized by Golf Digest as one of the top ten private golf communities in the country. (Rumor was he was buying or being offered a home.) Knowing Fredericksburg and the Texas Hill Country like I do, I was dying to get over there.

But by 2009 I’d heard the bad news: the 2,050 acre development was foreclosed on after a key lender declared bankruptcy. It was also embroiled in lawsuits involving another investor worried about the resort’s performance, and an Austin couple upset over the handling of its golf membership fee.The real estate world, of course, has changed from what it was in 2005 when BR’s land deals were first done and 2006 when that golf course was completed. Like other second home projects that catered to a seemingly endless supply of the wealthy, I have witnessed the pattern: during these nutty years a golf course was completed almost every  day in the United States, 300 to 400 per year, totally driving real estate just like it did at Boot Ranch.

In fact, this reminds me a bit of the Black Rock Club, Marshal Chesrowns’ gorgeous first-class development I was privileged to visit when the market was, shall we say, more robust. Black Rock Development in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho — at the time “one of the nation’s fastest-growing vacation and second home locations” also went belly under. Chesrown surrendered ownership of the Club at Black Rock  — the 30,000 square foot luxury golf club and housing development — above Lake Coeur d’Alene as high-end real estate in northern Idaho headed south. Washington Trust, a privately held Spokane bank, took the deeds from Chesrown in lieu of foreclosure in 2009. The bad loans were about $12.5 million. Last I heard, a coalition of 8 club owners – membership in the exclusive golf club was $125,000 for starters — bought the club from the bank. Chesrown, a dashing bachelor rancher started his automotive career selling Buicks, became the youngest Toyota dealer in the United States, and founded Chesrown Automotive Group, which he sold to Republic Industries, otherwise known as Auto Nation. He has or had a sprawling horse ranch near Coeur D’Alene and also one in Texas. The development was absolutely first class, and the homes were some of the best built I’ve seen. Still, like Boot Ranch I, they were largesse — pricey, large homes. As America played semantics with the D-word that rhymes with recession,  even the wealthiest may have re-thought such a significant investment. I’ll be interested to see how those owners market the place.

Back in “the day”,  Boot Ranch was a golf destination attracting high net worth retirees and corporate types who might fly in to Fredericksburg’s own FBO — that’s Fixed Base Operation, on private jets. Get those Lucchese’s mucked up, someone would clean them or fly in a new pair.

And the first vision for this development echoed the times — big stuffy ranch living without any of the work: large, ranch-style lots, some exceeding 30 acres in size. Price tags of  $500,000 an acre. Full disclosure: we bought a place in nearby Johnson City, so I was out there shopping and comparing notes.

But by 2006, those mini-ranches were not moving. Neither were the $175,000 golf memberships for real estate owners with $12,000 annual dues. I’m told the cost to join the 105 member golf club has now been cut to $100,000 with $12,000 in annual dues, but I am looking at something from 2007 saying it was $100,000 back then. There were plans for a ranch club, fitness center, spa, equestrian center, tennis, lazy river water park, winery, kids camp, skeet and shooting range. Now I hear 38 lots were added to the first 900-acre section under development, and the average lot size diminished from 8.5 to 5.5 acres.

Boot Ranch was purchased in foreclosure last year by a subsidiary of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., and the marketing plans are now including women and grandkids along with the golf-obsessed moneyed guys. My guess is the homes will be smaller and cheaper.

I wonder if they are going to continue with the 3,800 square foot “Sunday Houses”, based on the small houses ranchers built in town for the trip to shop, attend church and chew the fat. These were fractional ownership deals at $300,000 a pop –yikes! –plus HOA dues of $12,500 annually. Homes run as low at $267,000 up to $2,000,000. A $2.4 million home sold this year, and there are $8 million in property reservations to add to a grand total of $26.4 million in real estate sales. The development has sold 36 of the 83 estate lots available in the first phase, not too shabby. The $30 million clubhouse is complete, and the new owners say, “Boot Ranch is back”

I’m dying to get down there and run my fingers over the interiors, see if there are any bargains for us here on SecondShelters.