The golfing season may have been saved at Club West Golf Course after Wilson Gee on Tuesday regained ownership when an Ahwatukee man’s last effort to keep the site expired with a terse order from U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
“I guess I own Club West again,” Gee laughed on Tuesday – minutes after no one offered to pay off the $1.3 million note that he held for Inter Tribal Golf Association, which owned the site for basically less than nine months.
The trustee sale came a week after bankruptcy Judge Madeleine C. Wanslee late Aug. 28 issued an order dismissing the bankruptcy filing by ITGA and its CEO, Richard Brueninger, for failure to file a required list of creditors.
Breuninger had signed the $1.3 million note Dec. 1 to buy the course, then eventually failed to make his $35,000-a-month payments on the loan. Earlier last month, he had filed the bankruptcy petition the day before the sale was initially scheduled, delaying the foreclosure temporarily.
“It was really just a stalling tactic,” Gee said.
While holding out the possibility that someone else may want to buy the course, Gee said he would begin working with his staff to gear up operations in the hopes that overseeding can begin in a few weeks and golf can return to Club West late this year.
“We’ll go through the process like we usually do,” he said. “We’ll start working up schedules and a budget and go from there. Fortunately, we have the personnel in place who know what to do, so we can ramp up pretty quickly.”
Gee said besides any paperwork that needed to be done to complete the transfer of ownership, his staff also would have to inspect the course and see what work needed to be done. And there was the matter of taking an inventory of what equipment was still on the site, since there were photos on Facebook of a truck stacked with tractors and other equipment leaving the course.
Another issue that Gee will have to resolve is the future of Biscuits restaurant at the Club West clubhouse.
Gee said the foreclosure cancels any agreements that Biscuits owner Lloyd Melton had with Breuninger to run the restaurant.
“He’s foreclosed out, too. We’re not hardcore lenders and we’ll reach to Lloyd, explain the situation and then he can decide what he wants to do,” Gee said. “If we can’t make a deal, he’ll have to move out, too.”
Melton could not be reached for comment.
The Club West action comes two weeks before another trustee sale that would return to Gee ownership of the defunct Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course.
That Sept. 20 trustee sale would spell the end of The True Life Companies’ involvement in Ahwatukee and its failed two-year effort to build an agrihood on the site.
Unlike Club West, Gee has held out no hope for a return of golf to Ahwatukee Lakes. He is fighting a Superior Court ruling that a golf course be rebuilt on the 101-acre site.
Club West HOA board president Michael Hinz told community residents last week, “We do not know if ITGA will refile or if the dismissal is final.”
He also advised, “Homeowners who believe they are owed money from the course, such as those who purchased memberships, must continue to pursue ITGA to recover any monies until or unless ITGA refiles.”
About 60 to 70 homeowners had purchased memberships in a semi-private club that Breuninger had started late last year, when his fall overseeding of the course had produced a lush, green landscape.
Along with preferred tee times and other golfing privileges, those memberships also carried the promise of a private lounge that never materialized and other course amenities that were never made.
Even before that note was signed, Breuninger through Club West Golf Management used an approximate $350,000 investment from former landfill owner William Day to overseed the course so that by the time the note was signed, Club West had become lush and golfers began flocking to the site.
But by February, the course began turning brown as the Phoenix Water Services Department shut off the water over an unpaid bill totaling more than $215,000. The bill with delinquency fees is now close to $300,000.
As the grass withered and died and the lake level dropped to the point where its fish started dying, the Club West residents who purchased annual memberships for anywhere between $3,500 and $6,000 became irate and demanded their money back.
Breuninger has contended that he relied on Club West Management to pay the water bill and manage day-to-day affairs at the course while he worked on ways to make the course a centerpiece for Ahwatukee.
Day’s lawsuit against Club West management and Breuninger is still active in State Superior Court, and attorney Jeff Proper, who is representing Day, said the suit has merely been on hold while the ownership of the course was resolved.
While ITGA still owes the city close to $300,000 for water used on the course during the winter, the city holds the unpaid bill against Gee.
Although the city Water Services Department does not discuss individual accounts, spokeswoman Stephanie Bracken said:
“We do not hold a new owner liable for the debt of a previous owner. However, we do require a deposit from the new owner, based on the past delinquency from the previous owner.”
It was the cost of city water that motivated Gee to find a buyer for Club West in the first place.
In 2016 he stopped irrigating the course – prompting a lawsuit against him by the Club West HOA board that it dropped when Breuninger bought the course.
Gee said his water bill for Club West was over $700,000 a year, making it unprofitable to keep the course opened.
Ahwatukee businessman Rande Leonard is hoping he has the answer to Club West water woes.
He’s having engineering studies made on a pipeline that would bring cheaper SRP water to the site and is hoping construction can begin next spring.
“The pipeline is progressing,” Leonard said.