Within two years – one with any luck – Club West residents will no longer have to put up with a perennial browning of their golf course every summer, no matter who owns it.
That bold assurance comes from the man who is undertaking the construction of a pipeline that will irrigate the beleaguered course with water from the cooling towers of Salt River Project’s Kyrene Generating Station.
Rande Leonard, a longtime Ahwatukee businessman who owns Pecos Storage at Pecos Road and 32nd Street, said he isn’t spearheading the project just because he likes his community. He‘s a businessman and will make money from the transportation of and the water he sells to the course.
But that water will cost the course’s owner 30 percent to 50 percent less than the city drinking water it now uses and that has put the course on a bruising cycle of browning each of the last two years.
Wilson Gee two years ago stopped irrigating the course in the summer, saying his city water bill of $700,000 created an excessive financial strain. This year, the city shut off service to the course in February when current owner, Richard Breuninger, was unable to pay a $213,000 delinquent bill for service during the winter.
“If everything falls our way, our goal is to have water so we can plant Bermuda grass next summer. While the course will green up over the summer, it won’t be playable until after overseed in the fall of 2019. And by 2020 there will be continuous play on the course,” said Leonard, who formed a company, Club West Irrigation Project LLC, for the project.
The only possible hang-up in that timetable might be if his construction schedule is thrown off by unusually thick rock formations crews may encounter as they lay 20,000 linear feet of pipe that will zigzag from Pecos Park along the south side of the South Mountain Freeway to roughly 18th Way, where it will go under the freeway to Liberty Lane to a pipe running between Club West and the Foothills golf courses.
If that happens, the course will have to be over-seeded with rye in fall of 2019. Then, in summer 2020, the Bermuda grass necessary to sustain rye beyond one season can be sown.
Either way, Leonard said, Club West golfers and residents have reason to be optimistic about the course’s long-term future.
“I wouldn’t be in this if I didn’t think this would be successful,” he said.
The major bureaucratic impediment to his plan was removed recently after the Arizona Department of Transportation and design-builder Connect202 Partners “became extremely helpful,” Leonard said.
They willingly provided geo-technical data, survey computer-assisted design drawings and other material to facilitate the project’s timely development, Leonaed said. They have already laid one critical concrete sleeve beneath the westbound side of the freeway for the water line.
Until recently, ADOT only had agreed to install two concrete sleeves for the pipeline – one under 24th Street running east-to-west south of the multipurpose path that will run along the south side of the freeway and the other beneath the freeway running north-south near 18th Way.
But now ADOT has agreed to help Leonard clear other bureaucratic hurdles, although agency spokesman Dustin Krugel stressed, “There is no new formal agreement beyond ADOT’s previous commitment to install two sleeves.”
“ADOT continues to have conversations with Club West Irrigation Project LLC regarding an encroachment permit and various agreements needed with the agencies involved to install a waterline in ADOT right-of-way south of the freeway,” Krugel said. “Ultimately, Club West Irrigation Project LLC will be responsible for funding and constructing the waterline.”
Added Leonard: “ADOT is 100 percent on board.”
The pipeline will cost about $1.3 million – which Leonard figures he can recoup in less than than 10 years.
“I’m not going to get rich with this,” he said, adding that he started looking into the project as a favor to his longtime friend, city Councilman Sal DiCiccio.
“I’ve known Sal a long time,” Leonard said. “In September of 2017, he said, ‘We’ve got this problem with Club West. Can you help us out?’ Frankly, I knew exactly what to do. I knew what the issues were.”
That’s because Leonard had developed “a reservoir of knowledge” when he tried to bring water to the nearly eight acres of his multi-use storage facility that he opened in 2009 on reservation land south of the Pecos Road-32nd Street intersection.
Ultimately, he found water by successfully drilling a well, but he became familiar enough with the geological and bureaucratic complexities that often surround water lines to help DiCiccio out.
There’s also another reason why Leonard can be so confident in assuring a perennially green Club West Golf Course no later than 2021: He’s working with both Breuninger and former course owner Wilson Gee.
Gee stands to get the course back on Aug. 21 unless Breuninger pays off a $1.3 million note he signed when he bought the course last December.
Breuninger said he is working on a $3-million financing package that will enable him to pay off Gee and have enough money to maintain day-to-day operations at the course.
Breuninger wants to use some of that money to do seismic imaging of the course in an effort to find groundwater he could access by a well. Breuninger believes that since nearby Foothills Golf Course is fed by a well, the water it accesses probably flows beneath or near the Club West Course as well.
“It’s not an either/or situation,” Leonard said. “I’m working with Rich but I am also working with SRP and Wilson Gee.”
Besides, Leonard noted, a well on or near Club West Golf Course is no certainty. “You can spend $500,000 testing and drilling and come up dry or have a lower volume of water than required,” he said.
The pipeline project is not easy and faces both financial and geological challenges.
Leonard is planning to lay 6- to 8-inch diameter pipe to provide a sufficiently ample flow of water to feed Foothills Golf Course as a backup if its well ever runs low or dry.
The price of that pipe is influenced by the price of oil, said Leonard, a retired CFO for an oil company. With the price of oil rising of late, his project might get more expensive.
There’s also the challenges that await anyone who digs beneath the surface of the Arizona desert – as ADOT discovered when it ran into unusually stubborn rock deposits laying a new waterline along Liberty Lane. That challenge, together with other factors, has forced ADOT to delay completion of the project until sometime this fall when it initially predicted it would be done this month.
Leonard said that his self-imposed timetable requires him to lay 400 feet of pipe a day once he begins construction on April 1. But there may be some geological impediments in the area of 24th Street that could slow that schedule by as much as two thirds at least in certain areas of the pipeline’s route.
But neither challenge is insurmountable, Leonard said, adding, “There is no cause for anxiety among Club West residents.”
“As much as anything can be a ‘certainty’ in this life, the line will happen next year.”