Property: Grab a slice of golfing action

If you like the thought of an end to rainy days on the fairway, head south to a villa with links to a course.

MOSES IS playing golf with his Boss. Moses hits a long straight drive that lands deep in the middle of the fairway. The Boss hits a dribbler, but a bird picks up the ball and carries it to the edge of the green. A grasshopper then pokes the ball to the edge of the hole, whereupon a worm nudges it in for a hole in one.

Moses' reaction is unprintable, but he was actually lucky. At least he got to play.

"For purchasers buying with golf in mind it is important that their rights to play golf are enshrined in the golf club constitution," warns Michael Foundley, managing director of Alto Golf and Country Club. "Some courses have withdrawn the right to play golf after selling the properties. Our golf club constitution states that only Alto property owners can become members of the club. And the constitution can be altered only by the members."

Located on the Algarve in Portugal, Alto has an exclusive 18-hole golf course, indoor and outdoor pools, sauna, solarium, jacuzzi, gymnasium, a hair and beauty centre and a restaurant. Along with sunshine and mostly dry weather, Mr Foundley believes that British ownership and cooperative, flexible management will further attract UK buyers: "Alto is professionally run by a well known English construction company, John Mowlem. Our rental office in Reigate, Surrey sells holidays, and this also enables our owners to rent their properties and achieve an income from their holiday home."

Almost every Mediterranean country is chasing the blooming golf business, including Morocco and Tunisia, and all of them are chasing Spain and Portugal.

Buckinghamshire developer Banner Homes is building Las Alamandas, 100 apartments, including penthouses, close to three popular golf courses: Las Brisas, Los Naranjos and Aloha near Marbella on Spain's south coast. Hamptons is selling the properties, which start at about pounds 200,000.

Taylor Woodrow's 240-acre Los Arqueros, with an 18-hole course designed by Seve Ballesteros, has villa plots starting at about pounds 55,000 rising to villas at pounds 300,000. Located at the foot of the Sierra Blanca mountains, Los Arqueros is 10 minutes from Porto Banus harbour and Marbella. In keeping with the generally high standards at modern Spanish and Portuguese golfing developments, floors are marble, air conditioning is ubiquitous, and many bathrooms are en suite.

FPDSavills is selling Las Brisas Golf, a hacienda located near the golf course and featuring bedroom suites, guest house, self-contained staff accommodation, various luxury fittings including armour plated glass windows, and a pounds 6m price tag which, after all, is probably peanuts for individuals who are in need of armour plated windows.

Michael Foundley says that "several families have clubbed together to buy an apartment or villa at Alto for shared use, and we also operate `quartershare' purchases for rights to occupy an apartment for a quarter of the year. Not a timeshare, this is a form of freehold ownership which is recognised by Portuguese law. With a quartershare, buyers can select the time of year when they are most likely to visit and they can also rent out surplus weeks."

Allow time to investigate an estate's history. John Oxenham is selling his apartment at Parque in the Algarve. Now under British ownership, the development's two previous owners ran into financial difficulties and one also had to hurdle a localised geological dilemma. This chequered building history is not why the Oxenhams are selling their property.

"Vigia took over four years ago and have now taken Parque up to five- star standards," says Mr Oxenham. "I've had my own share of business disasters, and we want to retire soon. Our grandchildren are in England, and it is time we got a UK base to travel abroad from, instead of vice versa."

Mr Oxenham praises the social and gastronomic as well as meteorological climate of a golfing community: "The place has a cosy feel and an international but mostly British crowd. We have satellite television, an Australian- designed swimming pool, two all-weather bowls pitches, tennis courts, a gym and a golf driving range.

"You can be in shorts at Christmas time. The air is clear, the sky is full of stars at night, we eat local fresh fish and vegetables, and there are many cheap restaurants."

The village is still not finished. As for the golf itself, "the course is now superb. Some holes were criticised for being too difficult, but they were re-done and the whole course improved. Now it is nicely challenging," says Mr Oxenham.

The Oxenhams are asking pounds 65,000 for their one-bedroom flat, which included pounds 10,000 for golf rights which give a 50 per cent reduction on green fees. "The property is owned through an offshore company, which means that you don't incur inheritance tax if you hand it on to your children, for example."

He notes too that renting is easy and lucrative: "Now that we are mostly in England, we let it for about 40 of the 52 weeks. After all our expenses we make a profit of about 5 per cent" says Mr Oxenham.

"Different countries have their own conveyancing procedures," says Amanda Purves of FPDSavills International. "In Spain, for example, make sure the property is free of debts and the property for sale tallies with the property in the Land Registry. The grounds, swimming pool and other aspects of the property will have to be managed, and utilities are cut off promptly if the bill isn't paid when it's due."

Prospective buyers should not be blind to the various legal technicalities and financial intricacies. Skimping on professional advice is shortsighted when buying a foreign property. As Moses might advise, don't play God.

Hamptons 0171-823 3222; FPDSavills 0171-591 5700; John Oxenham 01989 562065; Taylor Woodrow 0181-893 2525

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