Michael Meldman follows the sun. As CEO and founder of Discovery Land Co., he enjoys golfing, fishing, and spa treatments in some of the most appealing and exclusive destinations in the United States, Caribbean, and Mexico. He maintains “14 or 15” houses — at least one in each of the 12 residential clubs he has developed, including The Hideaway and The Madison Club in La Quinta.
“I set up these communities to encompass family values,” he says of his company. “I was a single dad, and I wanted to plan things to do, not just golf, for families. People have embraced the concept, and the communities have become an important part of their lives.”
Movie producer Jerry Weintraub calls the developer a “great friend and a visionary.” Meldman had a walk-on role in Ocean’s Thirteen with George Clooney, his “charismatic, intelligent good friend.” He has also appeared as himself in the HBO series Entourage and in the movie Hall Pass, which opened in theaters in March.
THE ROAD TO DISCOVERY
Meldman did not set out to be a development giant. The Stanford grad fancied himself a high-powered attorney. “I bombed the LSAT, so I ended up in Lake Tahoe dealing blackjack,” says Meldman, who was approached one day with an offer that seemed hard to pass up. “Someone said ‘Do you want to work as little as possible making as much money as possible?’ Soon, I was working in real estate.”
Meldman began realizing sales after a year and started buying property for his own investment. In the process, he learned a valuable lesson that would guide all his future projects. “I learned how to develop properly, environmentally,” he says. “It is easy to build; it just takes money. But you can’t re-create the environment. That has always been the most important part of any real estate deal or project I have done.”
In his first luxury residential club, The Estancia Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., developed in the mid-’90s, Meldman achieved his goal of transforming a high-density project into a low-density community that blends with the beauty of the terrain. “Estancia was intended for 800 residences,” he says of the 640-acre community. “I put 250 on it so that we did not have to change the natural environment.”
Meldman’s success relies on identifying coveted, idyllic locations, then adding top amenities from golf courses and spas to fishing and skiing and striving to make each new club better, creating a distinctive “wow” factor.
GIVING BACK TO THE GRASSROOTS
Meldman has also established a foundation to give back to communities, emphasizing children’s charities.
Many Discovery Land projects are located in small towns, enabling Meldman’s foundation to give on a grassroots level. “Change can come one kid at a time — sort of like we say in development, ‘One brick at a time,’” he says.
“My parents were great — always around and doing fun things,” Meldman says. “My kids are very grounded. I love spending time with them; they are the reason I planned all my projects to have activities for families, other than just golf. All of this came from my desire to enjoy my kids.”
Meldman has two sons: Will, 20, who attends University of Southern California, and Hunter, 23, a recent USC graduate working in Discovery’s Montana club.
Discovery Land built The Hideaway when its original developers failed to complete it. “I came in and cleaned up the ‘Enron of the desert,’” he says, adding that he delivered “everything [the residents] wanted, only better.
“We created The Hideaway to be younger, more fun, and more family oriented than others,” Meldman says. “We sold out the 500 lots in 18 months. It is a fun, vibrant, active place.”
However, he considers the less dense Madison Club his shining jewel. For the golf course, he collaborated with Tom Fazio to create what he calls “Shadow Creek on steroids,” referring to the golf course in Las Vegas.
Another project, Yellowstone Club in Montana — the only private ski and golf club in the world — began when Discovery Land and Yellowstone Club (which boasts Bill Gates and other captains of industry as members) jointly acquired the property in 2009 in the wake of the high-profile divorce of its previous owners, Tim and Edra Blixseth. “I know them both very well,” Meldman says. “I think they are happy that it’s in good hands.”
The company recently completed master planning of the village area and added amenity programs, including a “camp house” recreational facility with a kids’ hangout area.
“The fact that my vision has been successful — that, 15 years later, it is a huge part of people’s lives — is enriching,” says Meldman, who is still in awe of the people he encounters behind the exclusive gates. “I am always meeting new, great people and making new friends. It is never the same, never boring. My life is creative and intellectually and socially exciting. I think I’ll keep my day job.”
DISCOVERY LAND COMPANY COMMUNITIES
1994 Estancia, Scottsdale, Ariz. (developed prior to DLC’s formation)
1998 Iron Horse, Whitefish, Mont.
1999 Kukio, Kona, Hawaii
2000 Vaquero, Westlake, Texas, Mirabel, Scottsdale, Ariz.
2002 The Hideaway, La Quinta
2003 Mountaintop, Cashiers, N.C.
2004 Gozzer Ranch, Coeur D’Alene, Idaho
2005 Baker’s Bay, Great Guana Cay, The Bahamas, El Dorado, Los Cabos, Mexico, The Madison Club, La Quinta
2009 Yellowstone Club, Big Sky, Mont.