Richard Breuninger has big plans for a colorful track that is blossoming again with a burst of green replacing brown.
Kimberly Carrillo/AFN Staff Photographer

It breaks my heart to see longtime golf courses fail and turn to dirt like Ahwatukee Lakes – or fall on hard times, like Club West did.

Even though a bad back prevents me from playing anymore, it is heartening to hear that Richard Breuninger, Club West’s new owner, has big plans for a colorful track that is blossoming again with a burst of green replacing brown.

This is simply too entertaining a golf course to let die – not with its elevation changes and the commanding view of Ahwatukee Foothills and the South Mountains from the tee box of it’s signature hole.

“There are no strip malls, there are no gas stations. It’s just houses and the golf course. This is Club West,’’ Breuninger said, standing on the signature eighth hole’s tee box.

That spot used to be the 17th hole. It stands out from other holes because golfers shoot downhill from an elevated tee box to one of two greens.

I remember shooting for the back green, but then hitting the short green by accident after another short fade to the left. Being a hacker, I would just putt out instead of chipping to the additional green.

Breuninger has no intention of allowing Club West’s slide into golf oblivion to continue. Instead, he has changes planned that he says will make the course better than ever.

“I am a custodian of their land,’’ he said as he talked about hosting professional golf events. The first professional event, featuring the U.S. Senior Professional Tour, is scheduled this weekend.

It is not affiliated with the better-known PGA Senior Champions Tour, which features former PGA Tour stars. The fledgling tour features club professionals and a few PGA veterans who are not old enough to qualify for the Champions tour.

Daniel Nunez, the tour’s president and CEO, said Club West will host the expanding tour’s first national event. He said the tour is a partner of the Indian Tribal Golf Association, a network of 63 tribes that own 110 golf courses across the country.

“We are working with them to develop the tour’’ into a launching point for the Champions Tour, he said. “Our tour is kind of a second chance.’’

Regular, everyday golfers looking for a tee-time at a nice course also will be welcome at the reawakened, reorganized facility. Breuninger is flipping the two nines, giving the course a fresh look, with the former first hole becoming the 10th hole, and former 10th hole becoming the first hole.

Beyond any initial confusion, the move promises to make play smoother and faster by removing some natural bottlenecks.

The former first hole is a difficult par 4, with an elevated tee box and a blind tee shot because the green is not visible. It is followed by a picturesque par 3, another potential bottleneck.

It was a difficult start to a round of golf, especially for a highly mediocre left-hander like me.

I would hit my drive on the former number 1, knowing I did not have the length to cut the corner, over the desert or even people’s backyards to take a shortcut. I would be hoping for a fade but more than likely hit a slice.

A 5, or a bogey, would be a good score from that point.

“This was a lost, rogue hole,’’ Breuninger said, standing on what is now the 10th tee box.

When the course opened, I remember a starter checking in players on the tee-box, to compensate for the fact that it was not visible from the clubhouse. Breuninger said this practice was discontinued under former owner Wilson Gee.

But under the revised layout, the former number 10, a far more pedestrian par 4, becomes the first hole. The new arrangement provides for a much easier warm-up and takes players past the driving range, always an asset at Club West.

“You lose your tempo, you lose your rhythm,’’ Breuninger said, when too many golfers are jammed onto the course, making for slow play. It is a frequent complaint of golfers, especially at public courses in the winter.

Breuninger’s plan makes sense. What you think of his plan for cameras showing you live – either in the clubhouse or on his web site – while you hit your first drive or putt out on the ninth green is another matter.

I’m thinking your reaction to this novel idea might depend upon whether you are a much better player or better-looking player than I.

I have visions of someone cackling in the clubhouse as they watch me top my drive and throw up my hands in disgust as my ball rolls into the desert.

It’s hard to doubt Breuninger’s enthusiasm, commitment and long association with Ahwatukee.

Residents and friends of golf can only hope he has the contacts he says he has to supply the course with enough water, overcoming Gee’s downfall.

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