Northgate is the vision of developer Jack Thoner, who is also a resident of Northgate. Even though he began this golf and luxury living community over 28 years ago, Thoner is still creating his “achievement of the first order.” Long-term developer commitment is probably the first underlying lesson of Northgate. It’s hard to project a sense of timelessness and patient progress in a build-and-turn atmosphere. Thoner’s philosophy of building when the time is right is evident in the continual improvements to the course and infrastructure. There is new construction in the form of an intimate cluster of new homes positioned around a beautiful pond adjacent to one of Northgate’s lush fairways. Even in its third decade, Northgate is changing, adapting, vibrant and still executing on blending nature with high residential lifestyle.
Northgate’s initial routing of 18 holes was carved out of the gulf coast forest by the team of von Hagge-Devlin. The development had already begun a few years earlier but land was preserved for the eventual course construction. Another nine was added several years later, and remarkably, it was the golf course architects that planned the residential lots of that phase of development. Jack Thoner actually asked vonHagge to plat the impacted residential land parcels so he could early on judge the esthetic quality of his future lot developments. Such was the collaborative trust between architect and developer, along with a mutual respect for each other’s work driving toward a common purpose – the golfer had to sense that homes and golf course belonged together. This was to be a place for both.
Achieving such harmony did not come easily, or without a cost. Northgate had to create a harmony of nature and housing with a sense of balance and compatibility. This meant donating generous parcels of land to conceal and give a sense of scale. Land use affects economics, and there the friction usually begins because this comes at a price to the developer. Northgate’s approach to this challenge has been once again very uncharacteristic to that of some urban developments. While economics are important, Jack Thoner deemed them to not be the only important driver. To him, restraint in development also weighs in. Northgate contributed generous amounts of acreage to enable a course design that meets the needs for length and strategic values so important in producing a first-rate golf course. Restraint entered the picture to avoid the usual economics-driven land plans that feature design efficient grid-like street patterns at the expense of pleasant meandering streets. The decision was made to preserve the underlying value of the project as a luxury country club community, to be implemented by major long term financial commitments for superior development infrastructure, landscaping, fencing, community entry gates, structures, and specialty paving.
The developer’s contribution of acreage between holes five and six on the Bridges Course is a good example of restraint actually enhancing value. Land for the approach to number five, the green and transition area between the holes was made available for the architect to create a feeling of openness and separation. vonHagge used the additional acreage to provide an important sense of calming space, and secondarily, to shield golfers from nearly traffic noises. The architect and developer created a sense that you’ve entered an exclusive park, an apt introduction to the sense of luxury that emanates from every corner in the community. This collaboration also gave rise to the positioning of an attractive bridge landmark and vegetation areas that are important focal points in the expanse of green. We’ve included a photo of these features with this article. Working together once again, the team preserved tall stands of pines to allow for some dramatic nighttime tree illumination that ads to the beauty and surely entices many prospective residents and members. These are win/wins in the best sense and deliver value to residents and passers-by alike.
Home positioning, land sculpting and vegetation maintenance were given high priorities at Northgate for the aesthetic and visual benefits they bring to the community as a whole. Where homes border fairways and teeing areas, viewing angles for course-side residents were carefully considered. Fairway contouring and spacious offsets from hardscapes were incorporated into the landscape to manage cart traffic away from view. Wherever possible, cart paths are concealed behind slopes and vegetation. High quality natural stone, stucco and roof tiles are used in both golf course structures, buildings, and fencing to develop rich visual impressions throughout the property. Residential fencing is also at a minimum; and, where required, you’ll see stone columns, open iron and hedges only.
As a country club community, Northgate felt the need to allocate a full 50% of its land resources to the course and clubhouse facilities. The other half of its land resources are used for homes and winding lanes. The careful positioning of golf course and residences produce an environment where a visitor or resident cannot arrive at a home or the clubhouse without being exposed to several golf holes that add beauty to the roadways. The home sites and golf course work in ways respectful of each other. The ponds and vegetation that buffer homes and fairways add a unique and calming beauty to both. Homes are restricted to only one side of the fairway, which affords the homeowner a full enjoyment of the view. Further, perimeter areas surrounding the golf course borders serve as buffers to shield golfers and residents from neighboring property usages and appearances.
Despite almost three decades of accomplishments, Jack Thoner feels there is still more to do at Northgate. That’s due in part to what he describes as one of his greatest achievements - that he managed to buy time to keep part of his canvass blank. There is achievement, he feels, in preserving something for the future so that the many lessons of the past can be more expertly interpreted and applied to shape the future. It’s ironic that something better in country club living has been created by not doing some things for 28 years! This would not be possible, according to Thoner, without having learned an appreciation for what patience can help you achieve and how to successfully merge the efforts and talents of both the developer and golf course architect organizations.
The signs of progress are still evident in Northgate during its third decade. There is a strong sense along the fairways and colorful lanes that Thoner will continue to paint on the canvass that’s Northgate.
Source: Texas Golfer, September 2004