Cheaper water could come to Club West Golf Course by the middle of next year – but it may be too late to immediately remedy its deteriorating condition and it may not come at all unless someone comes up with as much as $1.2 million to pay for a new pipeline.
Both the short- and long-term future today remains clouded for a golf course that is the heart of a community of about 2,400 homes.
While the course looked like a golfer’s paradise less than three months ago after Richard Breuninger became the new owner, the greens are rapidly browning and the small lake is drying up after the city shut off the water three weeks ago for nonpayment of a bill reportedly totaling more than $200,000.
Mike Hinz, vice president of the Foothills Club West Community Association board, said he met with Breuninger twice in the past 10 days and that he appeared to have reached a short-term solution to the water problem.
“I think they’re very, very close to coming to an arrangement,” said Hinz of Breuninger and the Phoenix Water Services Department. “He’s got a temporary solution, and I think there’s something they can work out.”
Stressing that the HOA is powerless to do much, Hinz declined to discuss specifics of that possible arrangement, deferring to Breuninger.
Breuninger could not be reached for comment. He did not return a call from the AFN last week after initially promising to do so. And on Monday, a message on his phone said his voice mailbox was full.
A Water Services spokeswoman declined comment, stating privacy rules prevented the department from discussing individual accounts.
Though some duffers continued to play the course last week, golfers, who requested anonymity, said conditions are worsening by the day.
“It’s like playing on concrete,” one said.
Pipeline still planned
Former course owner Wilson Gee said he is continuing engineering designs for a pipeline that will connect to a SRP canal on the south side of the South Mountain Freeway and bring water to both Foothills and Club West golf courses.
Foothills doesn’t need the SRP water right now because it relies on a well, although Gee, who owns that golf course, said it would ensure a steady source of water if the well ever went dry.
Club West’s irrigation costs would be cut in half, added Gee, who sold Breuninger the course last year after a long battle with the city over water bills that exceeded $700,000 annually.
“Hopefully the HOAs would agree to pay for” the line, Gee said. “It has to be negotiated.”
The line would run along the bike path planned for the southern rim of the freeway, then cross over beneath the highway. An Arizona Department of Transportation spokesman said last week that it is still going forward with plans to install a concrete sleeve beneath the freeway that would house the water line.
Gee said while engineering studies are ongoing, he’s already applied for city approval of easements needed for the line. He and Hinz said they are working with Councilman Sal DiCiccio to get that approval quickly.
If an agreement can be reached on paying for it, the line could be completed by the second quarter of 2019, Gee said, and provide water at “half the cost” of city water.
Gee also said that even if water service is restored now, it may be too late because the rye grass “will not come back.”
The sudden turn of events at the course dismays the HOA board, Hinz said.
“We’re disappointed they find themselves in this difficulty so soon,” he said. “Our interests are aligned with a successful golf course.”
Adding to the board’s dismay is a lawsuit filed against Breuninger by a partner in his company, Club West Golf Management, over allegations of mismanagement, misrepresentations and “wrongful and unlawful misconduct.”
The partner, William Day, who also is suing on behalf of that company, was to appear with Breuninger before state Superior Court Judge Christopher Whitten on March 13, for a hearing on Day’s request that Breuninger be ordered to open Club West Golf Management’s financial records. The hearing was postponed.
Day states in his suit that he acquired a 40 percent interest in the company in return for a $250,000 investment. Day also says he gave Breuninger another $100,000 to reseed the course, which had turned brown after Gee shut off the water last summer.
Among Day’s allegations is that the water shut-off is “causing an immediate and substantial and irreparable threat and injury to maintenance of the golf course.”
“The golf course is immediately becoming ‘brown’ and will shortly be completely unplayable, resulting in nearly total loss of use to Club West Golf Management of its most valuable asset,” the suit states.
A long-running problem
Hinz said there’s little at this point that the association can do about the course’s condition and nothing it can do about the suit, calling it “a business dispute” that has generated “ugly accusations.”
“The HOA has offered to lend whatever support we can,” Hinz told the AFN. “We’ll do anything in our power, but we can’t help him with his water bill and we can’t help him with his business plan.”
The cost of water has been a problem for the course for at least three years – but the history goes back further than that.
In the mid-1980s, Phoenix had signed an agreement with the former Del Webb Development Company when it was building Club West to provide reclaimed water from a plant that the developer would build.
After 12 years, the city abandoned the plant, citing high operating costs, according to Club West resident Jim Lindstrom, who in 2016 spent months trying in vain to recruit enough homeowners to buy and run the course.
Gee said he had an agreement to pay the city a discounted rate for potable water through 2015, but the city abruptly terminated it.
In 2016, Lindstrom said the city never told homeowners about the water-sourcing problems from 2002 to 2013, or that it was substituting more expensive potable water for reclaimed water.
Throughout that time, he noted, “The homeowners at Club West purchased homes with the understanding that the focal point for the community, the golf course, would be operated and maintained.”
Two years ago, the HOA board sued Gee over the course’s deterioration after he turned off irrigation in June 2016, saying he could no longer afford to pay the water bills.
That suit was dismissed with prejudice by mutual agreement last Dec. 17 – about three weeks after Breuninger bought the course from Gee for $1.3 million. Gee carries the mortgage on the property and told the AFN last week that Breuninger remains current on his payments.
Even before the deal closed, Breuninger used Day’s $100,000 to over-seed the course, transforming the course by mid-November into its lost luster.
Breuninger in November also alluded to having a plan to obtain cheaper water but declined to discuss specifics.
Posted on the wall at the Club West clubhouse restaurant are three maps showing diagrams of a water transmission infrastructure from the SRP canal to the golf course.
The restaurant, Biscuits, still draws patrons despite the course’s condition.
Breuninger also talked enthusiastically about his plans for making the course semi-private and creating a lounge in the clubhouse that would include a cigar-smoking area and a wine bar for members.
As of last week, the lounge area sported new flooring and wall treatments but had no furniture. A handwritten sign on the door read “Staff Only.”
Gee said he, too, is surprised the course has so quickly fallen on hard times again, but he understands at least part of the problem confronting Breuninger.
“It’s always been about the water,” he said.