Club West Golf Course owner Richard Breuninger has a message for anyone who cares about the troubled site:
“I have not been dishonest. I’m not running away from anything.”
In a wide-ranging interview with AFN, Breuninger gave his account of his stewardship of the course, stating he’s working to save it and his ownership of it.
“I made a bad hire and it didn’t work out,” he said, referring to his selection of Christa Jones as general manager.
Stating he was as much in the dark about her handling of the course’s business affairs through Club West Golf Management LLC as the other principal, investor William Day had been, Breuninger also said he was blindsided when he bought the course and discovered $242,000 in unpaid water bills and $102,000 in back property taxes.
Breuninger said he is not only working at the course every day – along with his mother, a pared-down staff and several relatives – but that he is also still trying to secure financing to stabilize the course’s financial situation and implement his vision for the course.
His first order of business, he said, is to make sure his “dearest friend” Lloyd Melton can reopen Biscuits Restaurant at the Club West Clubhouse quickly – possibly later this week.
“I want to do right by Lloyd, the people who bought memberships and everyone else,” he said, adding:
“At this point, I want to do what the community wants. I wanted to be part of the solution from the start. Ahwatukee is my home. I’m not trying to be a martyr. I love that golf course.”
He also said, “There are more people interested in our success from a homeowner’s standpoint than those who are interested in a golf course. They want green grass.”
Breuninger detailed the unexpected problems that began even as he was about to sign a zero-money-down lease-purchase agreement with former owner Wilson Gee for $1.3 million at a payback rate of $35,000 a month.
And even after he thought he had overcome those challenges, he said, an even bigger shock came when the city began threatening to cut off the water.
He soon discovered a stack of unpaid bills, he said.
Problems mounted quickly
Breuninger said he had depended on Club West Golf Management to run the course’s day-to-day affairs while he focused on finding long-term, less expensive financing and on working with the Gila River Indian Community and others to get cheaper water.
Jones, whom Breuninger said he met nine years ago at Brookline College-Phoenix, was the statutory agent for Club West Golf Management.
Breuninger said she abruptly stopped showing for work in February. She resigned her position Feb. 28, state Corporation Commission records show.
Breuninger also said he bears no ill will againstWilliam Day, who holds a 30 percent share in Club West Golf Management – now labeled by the Corporation Commission as “not in good standing” because it has no statutory agent.
But he also said Day, who sued him in February for access to Club West Golf Management’s financial records, understood that the money he put into the company would be used to pay off Gee’s water bill.
He put Day’s total investment at a slightly lower figure than Day has claimed, saying he has records showing Day provided $72,000 for grass seed and the $242,000 to pay off Gee’s water bill.
The water bill was one of several surprises Breuninger said he encountered the day he signed the lease-purchase agreement.
He said he was sitting in the title office waiting to sign the paperwork when he learned of the $102,000 back-tax debt.
That and other debts also held up the transfer of the liquor license for the clubhouse restaurant to Melton, Breuninger said.
In addition, he said, Melton paid only $45,000 for his lease because he spent thousands getting the restaurant in shape.
Once the water bill and the tax debt were settled, more surprises awaited at the Club West site itself, he said, ticking off a list of problems that had developed over seven months of neglect:
The clubhouse was infested with scorpions and other pests. The rooftop air conditioning units were broken. The irrigation system for the course itself needed to be fixed.
‘Our hair was on fire’
Breuninger also rebutted Day’s assertions to golf club members last week that Club West Golf Management paid Breuninger’s Inter Tribal Golf Association $208,000 for unspecified expenses.
“That’s entirely wrong,” he said, adding that he has had forensic accountants poring over the records that he says Jones left in shambles.
“Only $36,000 went to ITGA and it was not in a lump sum,” he said.
One financial expert working with Breuninger is Eric S. Trevan, a national advocate for entrepreneurial and economic development and for small, minority, and Native American businesses.
Breuninger, whose father is a member of the Oneida tribe in Wisconsin, said “red flags” started going up shortly after the holidays.
He said he was receiving no city water bills and then learned that the Phoenix Water Services Department was sending five separate bills – one for each of the meters tied to Club West Golf Course – to five different addresses that “had no physical location.”
Once he had the department send them all to his clubhouse restaurant, he began getting past-due notices.
“I didn’t see any performance report from Club West Golf Management until mid-January,” he said, adding that he had no idea of the extent of the company’s financial disarray until February.
“Christa stopped coming to work, so I went into her office and discovered a pile of bills on her desk. Our hair was on fire trying to solve all the problems,” he said.
As his accountants pieced together a financial history of Club West Golf Management’s activities, he added, “We were holding our breath waiting to see what they found out.”
‘Water’s the key element’
While that was going on, Breuninger said, he also was trying to untangle a network of vendors that Gee had contracted with through Foothills Golf Group.
Gee owns the Foothills Golf Course and through that company, Breuninger said, had made expensive deals with Yamaha for golf carts and for other things like clothing and equipment. He said he started using a cheaper golf cart supplier and that Yamaha took away their vehicles as a result.
Throughout this time, Breuninger said, his crew of about 45 employees continued trying to maintain the course. That payroll has now been reduced by more than half, he said.
Even though water service is shut down, he said, some of his employees figured a way to transport water from the small lake near the clubhouse so they could irrigate the course’s greens.
Stating he understands that Day “has an investment to protect,” Breuninger said, “I have a golf course to protect.”
Breuninger stressed that no money came in a lump sum, adding that members’ fees slowly came in over over a period of six or seven weeks. “It wasn’t like we had $250,000 all of a sudden,” he said.
He is still hopeful he can arrange more favorable financing, but said that’s been difficult to get because the financial records were in such disarray and because the course will show an operating loss until a new golfing season begins in the fall.
He also said he is continuing to work on a solution to the course’s biggest problem – a source for cheaper water.
“Water’s the key element,” he said. “That defines whether we are successful. My original discussion with everybody was that we had an ongoing solution to the water problem.”
At the same time, he said, he intends to honor his debt to the approximate 60 golfers who spent a total $250,000 on membership in a semi-private club he started at Club West last fall.
“We want those members to stay,” he said, adding that he envisions giving them free golf till the end of next year.
“I’m trying to do what I can as a responsible owner to make sure the people who signed up for memberships are treated fairly,” he said.
At the same time, he said, “people are offering me deals to bail.”
That is as much an impossibility, he said, as any suggestion he has profited from his ownership of the course.
Noting that he lives with his mother in the Quail Landing Apartments in Ahwatukee, he said:
“Do you honestly think I am trying to run away with money? What money?”
“There are still all kinds of things I want to do for our community, great things like an Oktoberfest, a farmers’ market. I’m not running away from anything. I’m the one who’s still making sure that whatever we have left as far as resources go go into that golf course.”
“You can speculate until you’re blue in the face about what happened to the money and if you saw me driving up in a Ferrari with diamonds on my fingers and flashy new clothes, I could see where you’d get the idea I profited from this. But I’m not that kind of guy.”