Discovery Land Company has been synonymous with luxury for over a decade. Those in the know, know that it represents the kind of lifestyle that only membership can buy because it removes the layer of uppity from an experience that’s all-encompassing but at the same time easy. It’s a problem solver, a means to a highly desirable end, a luxury residential private club community, a game changer.
Founded in 1994 by Michael S. Meldman, Discovery Land Company is the premier player in the high-end resort residential niche with 19 world-class projects in their portfolio, but how it began was a happy accident.
“Well, you know, I’m just a real estate guy. I grew up in Milwaukee, very middle class. I was never a doctor; never a member of the country club, I didn’t golf” explains Meldman. He goes on to tell us how family and fate came together to give birth to the expertly executed web of properties that exist today. “When I was in real estate in California I bought a lot of ranches and had to go through the entitlement process which is basically an environmental process of mapping to make sure we developed everything correctly and one of my first projects, which was outside of Stanford, consisted of some 300 acres and took me 18 years to get approved.”
It seems that when it came to environmental constraints, every imaginable hurdle existed on that land: The San Andreas Fault ran through it; there was a ridge that could cause landslides, there were concerns about earthquakes, the worries were many and often wild. “They were things that felt like the equivalent of an asteroid hitting, but I had to deal with those environmental issues. And the people who were expressing these concerns were masters of the issues—they were Stanford professors, the Portola Valley Geologic Safety Committee, who started the U.S. Geologic Survey, really influential and knowledgeable teams. The way that I look at it is that I got a PhD in land development over those 18 years and it taught me how to develop property under those environmental constraints. If you think about it though, it’s the right way to develop. Not only is it cost effective, but also it’s more natural and you don’t scar the earth. That experience taught me how to develop properly.”
Armed with that newfound knowledge, Meldman went forth to develop, all over, in the way nature intended. And he was ahead of the game. The first big project was Estancia, a 384-lot development on 640 acres on Pinnacle Peak outside Scottsdale, Arizona, that he started around 1995. Pinnacle Peak is a mountain and a landmark, so how did he get around the doing mass grading? “I just laid the Tom Fazio-designed golf course within the existing contours so that it was able to meld into the landscape.” The development is 21 years old and it remains the most expensive address in Arizona. Having implemented everything he was taught during his Portola Valley time, he proudly boasts that even with its developments, “it looks like the property before it was developed.”
Now if you remember, this story’s hero was a self-proclaimed non-golfer. The country club was never his stomping ground. So despite having the illustrious Tom Fazio create his course, there needed to be more. This is in-step with the pillars that make up the Discovery Land Company, of which there are three. “Discovery has different pillars; golf is one, family is another and then there are the remaining outdoor pursuits which are unique to the environment of each property. The golf caters to the golfer but we also wanted to cater to the wife and kids.” At his property in Montana, Iron Horse, for example, the premise is to turn the family into mountain men.
“My kids grew up in Presidio Heights in San Francisco, but because we were going to Montana often, they were tying their own flies by the time they were 10 years old and wakeboarding at Whitefish Lake. They went on trips into the backcountry and would go camping for three to four days. We try to take advantage and make the indigenous culture and recreations part of the club environment at each property. Like in Hawaii we turn members on to water through scuba diving and freed diving and snorkeling and surfing and outrigger canoeing. It provides a whole new dimension to the community.”
There’s also a very laidback component to the Discovery lifestyle and that’s where the rules come in. Namely, for members, there are no rules. Gone are the days of collared shirts and silent participation. At Discovery properties you’re invited to play golf barefoot and enjoy a cigar on the course if that’s what you desire. In fact, Meldman has created comfort stations on all the courses where participants will find such offerings as margarita machines and soft serve ice cream, food stations and the like. Essentially, whatever you want is available as long as it means that you’re having fun and enjoying time with your family. That was always the premise. “It all started because when my kids were little just getting them in a collared shirt to play golf took the fun out of what we were trying to do. I would literally be fighting with them, asking them to ‘put the collared shirt on,’ and they’d say ‘no!’ You get to the place where you say ‘forget it, who cares, it’s a silly rule, lets just play golf!’ And people would say ‘you cant do that,’ but I say ‘why not?’”
Meldman really set the tone and the foundation for the way Discovery is. It’s super private but it’s really comfortable and really casual. And that’s his way. Even when Meldman was honored with The Heart Foundation’s Steven S. Cohen Humanitarian Award the events entire theme was “Meldman casual;” from menu to attire the star studded event perfectly mirrored the Discovery way. The no muss, no fuss approach actually allows for the focus to be on what’s most important, in this case, improving the lives of children around the world. “I really think you change the world one child at a time,” Meldman told Toys for Boys. His foundation actually raises and donates close to a million dollars a year and has been for about a decade now. “What we do is try to fund children’s charities in the areas that we are in. We have a project called Gozzer Ranch in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and we basically built a building and used as a Boys and Girls Club there, we’re also involved with Camp Good Times which is essentially a camp for children who are survivors of Cancer. We subsidize and fund children’s hospitals in Cabo San Lucas where the money makes a big difference as we really like to get involved in causes where we can see the dollars at work, where we know that it’s going directly to the kids, one at a time, the same way we build our real estate, brick by brick.
One at a time is also how he’s built his varying properties. Sprawled all over the United States, the Caribbean and Mexico, there’s still much to come. We spoke to Meldman about location selection and how each unique development came to be. It’s not quite as strategic as one think, if so they probably would have chosen to be in vital areas like Beverly Hills, in Bel Air but there just isn’t the available land and there’s also that pesky issue of entitlements. “You have to be as close and accessible to a big market or a great piece of property but with the entitlement. Sometimes you won’t get the entitlement to do what you want in a strategic location so you have to be a little bit more opportunist and visionary and kind of create the locations.” A visionary he definitely is; and examples of how he’s put that vision to work exist in each of his locales. Take Baker’s Bay, for example. Truly one of the prettiest pieces of property, the seven miles of pink sand beaches are off the beaten path, to say the least. “It’s in the middle of nowhere so getting people there is a little more challenging but the property is so beautiful and we were able to do what we wanted to do on it. We put the spa and restaurants and marina and golf course in and that made it a compelling place for us.” Places outside of main markets are always more difficult but Discovery has mastered the formula to entice the buyer by creating the content within the space so that you never want to leave. One of his more recently opened properties and the first on the east coast is less difficult to get to. Just a short ride from New York City, Silo Ridge is even convenient for commuters who’d like a weekend escape.
“There are a lot of things happening at Silo Ridge that are unique and in-step with our outdoor pursuits; over the last 20 years as the projects develop, so do the pursuits—golf continues to be the main on and not every place has a ski mountain or a lake, but with Silo Ridge there are also new focuses like cuisine. It’s the home of our farm to table dining concept and our chef, Jonathan Wright provides a unique experience where he makes bread from the grown-on-property red hard wheat and makes Burrata from our cows—it’s a culinary delight for everyone. It’s also a big hunting area; we use the hunt club and go boar hunting and fox hunting. There’s also Fly-fishing and hiking and layers and layers of activities families, probably the most of any of the other locations, and the organic, farm to table aspect is very popular amongst our owners, they all have a lot to live for so we like to keep them healthy.”
The expansion continues but next on a global scale. The next property promises to be in the Dominican Republic and space is similarly being considered all over Europe and the Middle East where the concept will remain at the same level and under the jurisdiction of the same three pillars—Discovery Land Properties offer a sense of comfort through their consistency that’s an integral part of what makes them tick. Currently under construction is Dune Deck a hotel in West Hampton that Meldman hopes to transform in a sort of The Flamingo Kid type resort, but in a modern way. “It will have 33 suites on the water with all our outdoor pursuit activities from fishing to surfing to paddle boarding and boating plus access to the beach spa, and gym.” Dune Deck should be open summer of 2017.
When he’s not busy developing real estate, Meldman is also a crucial member of the threesome that owns Casamigos Tequila, alongside George Clooney and Rande Gerber. The idea actually came to life at El Dorado, the Cabo San Lucas location of one of Meldman’s Discovery properties, where they all own a home. “It was never meant to be marketed or sold,” he laughs. “We just figured between all the Discovery properties, Rande’s bars and George’s drinking, we would just make it for us.” He admits that everyone is pretty committed and involved in the unprecedented growth of what’s widely considered the world’s most rapidly growing tequila brand. His list of accomplishments between development, philanthropy and spirits industries reads like an unlikely sum of parts but his greatest achievement, he boasts proudly, are his three sons. “They work with me, they are great to have around, they’re great men. And they’re really helping me grow the business which
I built around them and to be with them and spend time with them. They have been around it their whole lives and seen everything from the beginning.