Jim and Pat Kehoe

Jim and Pat Kehoe recently moved to Bowes Creek Country Club in Elgin (Dave Shields/for the Chicago Tribune)

Country club living always signifies prestige. It suggests the good life: upscale residences with views of acres of manicured green space, socializing at well-appointed clubhouses, unlimited golf at your doorstep.

That high-end ambience still exists, but the trend today is toward more affordable golf course communities built around public courses.

The new Bowes Creek Country Club in northwest suburban Elgin is the latest entry in that category. The 18-hole golf course, laid out on gently rolling terrain, is scheduled to open in late September, according to Michael Lehman, director of golf and head pro.

The project is unique because it is a joint effort of Toll Brothers, which will build 931 homes at the 616-acre site, and the city of Elgin, which will manage and maintain the course.

Some homes already have been built at Bowes Creek, which offers four-bedroom single-family houses with 2,000 to 4,300 square feet starting in the low-$400,000s, and low-maintenance townhouses with 2,000 to 2,300 square feet priced from the mid-$200,000s. It also has a separate active-adult enclave with ranches and townhouses priced from the upper-$200,000s to the mid-$300,000s.

The Bowes Creek opening is surprising because the golf course community boom slowed down years ago and planning for future golf developments has been stalled by the current state of the economy.

"I don't see new ones being built in the next five years," said real estate analyst Tracy Cross. "There have been a lot of problems with country clubs because of the recession."

But golf developments planned and started before the housing downturn continue to sell. Cross listed the top three as the Hawthorn Woods Country Club in northwest suburban Hawthorn Woods, Bowes Creek in Elgin and Mill Creek in west suburban Geneva.

"Having a golf course gave builders a competitive edge. But in the early 2000s, housing sales were humming along so builders didn't need golf to set them apart," said Cross, president of Tracy Cross and Associates in Schaumburg.

He added that new golf projects tailed off for other reasons, too. "Changing tides have put more emphasis on family-oriented activities, the cost of golf has increased and the popularity of the game has remained stable or downward in recent years."

It costs more to live on a golf course. Cross estimates that houses in a gated community cost close to 40 percent more than similar residences elsewhere. "A $350,000 house might be $500,000 on a golf course," he said.

But there's still a demand for country club living. Just ask Jim and Pat Kehoe.

When they started looking for a new house, golf was not a priority. Now it is. That's because they moved in June to a two-bedroom, 2,000-square-foot ranch at the active-adult section of Bowes Creek. They're looking forward to the opening of the golf course.

"I used to play golf a number of years ago," said Jim, a retired Chicago firefighter who had lived in the city all his life. "We've already joined the golf club. And we've both taken golf lessons."

They had their garage extended four feet to make room for a two-seater golf cart. "It can also be driven on the streets to go to the activity center and clubhouse," he said.

The 9,000-square-foot active-adult clubhouse has a media room, library, billiards room and space for parties. Besides golf, recreation options include a swimming pool, tennis courts, bocce ball and a putting green.

Because the golf course is so convenient, Jim thinks they will play three times a week.

Barbara and David Schwab also are ardent golfers.

"We wouldn't have moved here if it didn't have a golf course," said Barbara Schwab. "We play at least twice a week."