Cory Renfrew of Victoria spends his winters in Scottsdale and, on most days, he can be found on a golf course.
But Mr. Renfrew isn’t your typical Canadian snowbird. For one, he’s 27. And another, golf is more than just a hobby. It’s his job.
The University of British Columbia graduate is a promising young pro who’s trying to work his way up the golf ladder. He plays on home soil in the summer on the minor-league PGA Tour Canada and then heads to the Arizona desert for six months of practising at the city’s most famous course, TPC Scottsdale, competing on local mini-tours and taking the occasional crack at qualifying for tournaments on the higher-level Web.com and PGA tours.
“Once I came down here, I just liked it and never really saw a need or a wish to go anywhere else,” says Mr. Renfrew, who has spent the past four winters in Scottsdale, leasing a condo with two other young Canadian pros, Eric Hawerchuk and James Seymour.
Mr. Renfrew is not alone. More than 650,000 Canadians flock every year to upscale Scottsdale to take advantage of its hot, dry climate, perpetually sunny skies and bounty of golf courses. Alberta and Ontario (both of which have direct flights from their major cities) are the two top sources of snowbirds. Some are short-term tourists, but many set down seasonal roots by buying a condo or house. Regardless of their length of stay, golf is often on the agenda.
Scottsdale, a tall rectangular-shaped municipality to the immediate east of Phoenix, has about 50 courses within its boundaries. Another 170 exist in the rest of the Phoenix metropolitan area, which is referred to as the Valley of the Sun. All have views of the mountains that surround the valley.
With about 360 courses for all of Arizona, “you can see that the bulk of golf is located here in the Valley of the Sun,” says Jerry Rose, vice-president of Communication Links, a Scottsdale-based marketing and PR company that specializes in golf, hospitality and real estate. “This is the epicentre for golf in Arizona.”
Some of the courses are internationally recognized, such as TPC Scottsdale, where the PGA Tour holds its annual Waste Management Phoenix Open, easily the most heavily attended and raucous event on tour. (Yes, pro golf gets rowdy now and then.) Other high-end golf experiences include the courses at The Boulders, Troon North and Grayhawk.
Many tracks aren’t as well known, such as Starfire and Orange Tree, but they still provide residents and winter guests alike with quality golf at lower price points.
“We’ve got them all across the board. You can go as low as probably $50 up to 300 bucks,” says Mr. Rose, who notes the savvy snowbird can find bargains by playing in the shoulder seasons (autumn, April and May), during the late afternoons and on weekdays. Loyalty cards also provide discounts.
There’s also a range of styles. While desert courses, with their oases of emerald turf amid acres of brown dirt, rocks and cacti, come to mind when one thinks of golf in Arizona, there are enough traditional parkland layouts that provide a less intimidating experience.
“You’re not hitting out of the desert all the time,’ Mr. Rose says. “You’re not going to get beat up too much. You don’t have to worry that you’re going to be in the rocks and the bushes all the time.”
Many of the courses are built in the middle of neighbourhoods, meaning one never has to go far to get a golf fix. It also means snowbird properties in these golf communities can be in hot demand.
Scottsdale real estate prices swooned in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, bottoming out around 2011, but they have gradually climbed again to “normal” levels, says Carmen Brodeur, a realtor with Trillium Properties, which caters to snowbirds and just happens to have its office at TPC Scottsdale. (About 50 per cent of Trillium’s clientele is expected to come from Canada this year, down from a high of about 80 per cent in recent years, when the Canadian dollar was stronger.)
“We’ve definitely recovered from the bottom but there are still good deals out there,” says Ms. Brodeur, who’s also a lawyer and originally from Calgary.
She says the majority of her Canadian clients are seeking detached homes, while a minority are looking for condos. Proximity to golf is often on the wish list. “I have a lot of Canadians who want to live in North Scottsdale, close to all the golf courses.”
Ms. Brodeur says detached homes start at $375,000 (U.S.) and average about $500,000 in a golf neighbourhood. The popular area around Grayhawk, for example, has condos beginning at $200,000 and homes from $400,000, while the tonier Troon North district has condos from $400,000 and homes that goes into seven figures, Ms. Brodeur says.
(Snowbirds can also find long-term leases. Mr. Renfrew, for example, pays about $500 a month for his share of the condo.)
While these purchasing prices are high in relation to other parts of the Phoenix area, Ms. Brodeur says, “compared to Toronto and Calgary and Vancouver, my goodness, you get a big bang for your buck here.”
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