Last week, True Life – the developer that’s told us for a year that golf is dead – suddenly publicized its “estimate” to renovate the Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course.

The estimate from True Club Solutions, a division of Troon Golf organization, put the cost at an eye-popping $14 million. This would be on top of the staggering $9 million for land that tax records indicate True Life paid to turn the Lakes into a housing tract.

The grand total for an 18-hole executive course: $23 million. The estimate seemed timed to bolster True Life’s claim that rehabbing the course is not viable and that in-fill houses are the only answer.

Except that it doesn’t and isn’t.

The estimate no more shows that golf won’t work at the Lakes than a farm-themed development will raise Ahwatukee home values, or harmonize with existing uses. And far from the $14-million estimate from Troon (which calls itself “the world’s leading high-end golf development, marketing, and management company”), other experts in the golf industry put the cost at restoring the Lakes course between $2 million to $3 million.

None of the experts wants to be named publicly to avoid appearing to denigrate a big player like Troon. Yet, there are plenty of comparable estimates available on the internet for anyone to take a look. While such estimates don’t take into account variables specific to the site, the range from public sources is in line with what the experts in touch with Save the Lakes/Save Open Spaces say.

Golf course architect Tom Doaks of Renaissance Golf Design says on his website, “Two of our most acclaimed recent designs, Lost Dunes and Pacific Dunes, were built to world-class standards for budgets of $2.5 million each.”  

Turner Macpherson Golf Design, citing numbers from the Golf Course Builders Association of America, puts the cost of the “average course” at $2.2 million.

William A. Amick, another golf course architect, puts the cost of building a course at $900,000 to more than $3.15 million for an upscale course.  

With golf courses, as with houses, you can spend as much money as you want. The point is that True Life’s estimate strains believability.

Here’s a slice of why: Troon puts the cost of rebuilding the ALGC buildings, principally the clubhouse, at $4.5 million – about $325-$420 per square foot – compared to $150 for new construction here. Moreover, Troon estimates that Lakes players would pay about $14 a round – compared to the $59 to $110 a round Troon lists for tee times for some of its 16 Arizona courses it lists on its web site.

Small wonder True Life claims it would take four years for the Lakes to break even. Evidently, when you run the upper crust of golf, as Troon does – including the Fairmont St. Andrews, Scotland, and the Trump Turnberry Resort in Glasgow, Scotland – one estimates very high.

No, the more plausible explanation for the estimate’s preparation and publicity is True Life’s attempt to “create a sense of urgency” in its campaign to change the CCRs. Just last week, True Life executive Aiden Barry was quoted in the Ahwatukee Foothill News saying, “We’re thinking of a deadline … to create a sense of urgency.”

No wonder.  

True Life has had control of the property for about a year now; it has been spending money on salaries, advertising campaigns, billboards, public meetings and wants to generate revenue. But if the estimate from True Club were legitimate, it seems more likely that the actual numbers would be a closely guarded secret than divulged to the news media after a contentious, year-long debate.

Few companies reveal actual cost estimates for a specific project: there’s little to gain and much to lose if a competitor learns vital information.

Moreover, it would make sense for a company to estimate costs when it was negotiating for purchase. But the estimate is dated Feb. 10, 2017, well into True Life’s brutal public-relations campaign. Just as no one buys a house without knowing how much it will cost, no developer would acquire a golf course without knowing the financial score. No company would wait a year before getting estimates, select only one bidder, and select the bidder most likely to provide a high bid.

True Life’s estimate shows only what is obvious: it makes no sense to build a Mercedes golf course in a Chevrolet neighborhood.  

For the last year, True Life has been asking us to believe that Ahwatukee Farms will raise property values, harmonize with the environment, and be an asset to the community. That’s tough to accept when True Life pushes out a PR gimmick like its “estimate.”

-Ben Holt, Jerry Bryan, Linda Swain, and Deb Karkosky are officers of Save The Lakes and are, respectively, president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer.

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