If there is a universal image with which retirement planners and developers and builders pursue prospects, it's the golfer -- usually male, usually under a full head of silver hair -- driving, putting or hitting a sand shot against a luminous green and the harvest hues of an immaculately landscaped country club. "This is what you're working for," the image proclaims. ''Once you retire, you can golf every day.''

Bob MacKenzie typifies the guy in that image. More than a decade ago, the then Richmond school principal and his wife, Myrna, bought a lot at one of the first golf-course communities in British Columbia, Gallagher's Canyon outside Kelowna.

Neither he nor his wife ever planned to retire to the Okanagan, much less live on a golf course.

As Myrna explains: "Bob had family in the Lower Mainland and our kids (from previous marriages) were all living there. I came up for a speech therapists' conference in Kelowna and Bob joined me to play some golf. It was raining one day, so we drove up to Gallagher's and talked to the real estate people."

As the countdown to retirement continued, mailers from the sales team at Gallagher's helped the idea of golf-course residency take root.

"One night, we got a call from a sales person saying that a lot that we'd looked at was back on the market," Myrna says. "We thought -- let's just do it; we can always sell it later -- and we've been here for 10 years now."


They purchased a lot overlooking the 11th hole and were in their new home a short time later.

''We actually never looked at another golf course property and didn't do a lot of research,'' Myrna laughs. ''I'm not sure if that was the best way to go about it!''

Making a home in Kelowna was an exciting move for the couple. "There were quite a few of us in the same situation -- newly retired, moving to the Okanagan from either the Prairies or Vancouver,'' Myrna recalls. '' ... the golf course and its amenities became the centre of our social network.''

While Bob worked on his short game and whittled his handicap down, Myrna kept working as a speech therapist until retiring from full-time work last year.

Alhough a ''big city girl'' and not as keen a golfer as her husband, Myrna feels that they have the best of both worlds.

''We're out here in this beautiful country-setting, surrounded by Ponderosa forests and parkland, and yet only 15 minutes to town. My commute takes me past horse farms, orchards and vineyards. You really can't compare it to driving to work in the city.''

Golf-course communities are flourishing in virtually every corner of the province -- and should continue to do so. Demographics, of course, are one reason. The potential for appreciation is another: a Landcor survey of Gallagher's golf course property indicates that the value of detached homes there surged to $620,000 from just over $160,000 in just five years.

Golf is far from being a sport of the retired and nearly retired. According to the Royal Canadian Golf Association, half of the golfers in Canada are men under 49. Another 20 per cent are women under 49.

Further, between 2001 and 2006, the number of golfers increased in all age groups, but gained fastest among those in the 50 - 59 age category.

Little wonder that at places like Predator Ridge in Vernon, sales manager Ross McGaw is seeing couples with kids in tow interested in purchasing golf property. "These are professionals who make good money but who aren't ready to put down $600,000 on a large residence."

This summer Wesbild, the owner/developer of Predator Ridge, is introducing a smaller (1,300 - 1,800 square feet) townhome community called Osprey Green, with prices starting at just under $400,000.

"Over time, these buyers may move up in square footage, but they are very content with the value that these smaller homes represent."

Predator Ridge, which recently hosted the Telus World Skins Game, is certainly anticipating increasing demand in golf course home ownership: more than 2,000 residences could be built there over the next fifteen years.

Albertans loom large as purchasers of B.C. golf real estate. Despite harsh winters and courses that are not as scenic (save for perhaps those glorious tracks located in the Rockies), Alberta has just about as many golfers as B.C. does -- around 800,000, in each province.

B.C. offers a broad variety of golf course residency options. Intrawest -- owners of Whistler-Blackcomb -- have developed Greywolf at Panorama, in the East Kootenay. Similar to golf course properties that ring the fairways of Nicklaus North and the Chateau Whistler, these homes can be used both summer and winter and may offer better revenue potential if you want investment income.

Trickle Creek near Kimberley is a unique case because the golf course has became more famous than the ski resort.

''Kimberley has always been known as a family-oriented ski resort and maybe not as appealing to the hard-core,'' Matt Mosteller, of Resorts of the Canadian Rockies, says.

''When Trickle Creek was built Golf Digest gave it this 4.5 star rating and all of a sudden people from all over the world wanted to come here and play."

Unlike many golf resorts, Mosteller says, "we really tried to keep the course separate from the real estate to maintain that green-space parkland-experience." Still, the real estate at Trickle Creek is very close to both the golf course and the ski resort.

"Generally, we've found that not all golfers ski, but many skiers golf. The golf investors generally prefer larger homes in the over-2,000-square-foot range, while skiers are happy with one or two bedrooms, or even studios," Mosteller reports.

There are also residencs near the fairways at Sun Peaks, but local realtor Bill Hanrahan says that "while summer business is improving, we're still a ski resort. Only about one in 30 buyers, he estimates, are purchasing to play golf.

The development and construction of other courses in the Kootenays has also benefited Kimberley area real estate. "

"There are six courses within a short drive of each other, so people will stay up here and play maybe six courses during the vacation, not just Trickle Creek," Mosteller says.

The fact that you can start golfing as early as April down in the valley extends the potential as far as rental income goes as well. Currently, Dream Catcher, Tall Pines, and the Mountain Spirit Lodge are under way at Kimberley Resort.

And there are more golf course home developments on the way -- but first a little context is needed.

Doug Ferne is the B.C. director of the National Golf Course Owners Association. "There are 2,500 golf facilities in California, which is roughly 300 more than we have in all of Canada," he says.

"In B.C. we currently have 312 facilities. If you compare, say, the Ottawa Valley to southern Vancouver Island, you'll see that there are 134 facilities in that region of Ontario and only 10 or so between Victoria and Nanaimo."

That's all about to change. Ferne lists 39 new proposals for golf course developments ''and every one of them has a real-estate component.''

Some are expansions to existing courses, like the massive Bear Mountain resort near Victoria, while others are much-reported-on developments like Tower Ranch near Kelowna, Tobiano west of Kamloops, Wyndansea near Ucluelet, The Rise outside of Vernon.

Ironically, a great number of people who live on golf courses don't even play the game.

Mark Jennings-Bates is a Kelowna-based real estate specialist who previously did a lot of work in Canmore, Alta. There, he reports, golfers only made up between 30 to 40 per cent of the homeowners.

Bates says the attraction of golf-course residency is a ''manicured lifestyle'' in a quality homes in a safe, exclusive community made all the more attractive by an absence of motor-vehicle traffice and the presence of amenities like a clubhouse.

Strata fees often pay for landscaping and home-maintenance costs, freeing homeowners from those burdens so that they might use their spare time for pursuits other than golf.

With many new courses and real estate plays coming onto the market, it pays to do your homework.

Golf course property generally is priced at a premium above non-resort real estate, though it can appreciate faster, too.

Pay attention to the location -- most developments are not within walking distance of malls, grocery stores, or other services.

Communities can have drastically different residency and rental requirements and might not allow sublets or rentals at all.

And, of course, study the market. There are a lot of golf courses that seem to be on the books, and future demand may be questionable.

Inquire about the developer and builder to ensure that they have a good reputation.

It's easy to get caught up in the hypberbole. Maybe you shouldn't rush into the nearest sales centre after you've shot a hole in one and bought a round of drinks at the 19th hole.

Steven Threndyle is a Kelowna writer.