In 1986 my wife and I were attracted to Ahwatukee, partly because of the nearby mountain park and partly by the promise of recreational facilities and grassy open space.
The Presley Development Company was selling homes and lots with the promise of extensive recreational facilities including a first-class country club, a premiere executive golf course (the Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course), a tennis club with a clubhouse, and a swimming club. Being tennis players we were especially attracted to the tennis club. Though not a golfer at the time, I thought that I might enjoy the game on retirement, especially the executive course. We were told that the Lakes course was the best executive course in Arizona and that it hosted the Arizona short course championship annually.
We purchased a lot, built our home, and moved in during the summer of 1987. We were among those who preferred that Ahwatukee be annexed by Tempe (Ahwatukee was in the county then) because of its strong reputation in the areas of recreation (municipal golf courses, many parks) and its cultural emphasis (libraries, recreation centers, cultural events). Ultimately, we were annexed by Phoenix and we have been pleased with the public development of parks and libraries since annexation by Phoenix. However, we have been very disappointed with what has transpired with corporate recreation in our community since we arrived.
Shortly after we moved in friends told us that Presley was turning the Ahwatukee Country Club (ACC) over to the club members. More than a few friends who joined ACC told us that Presley kept the multi-thousand-dollar initiation fees paid by charter members. Unlike other communities such as Sun Lakes and Sun City where local country clubs do well, this move by Presley created the beginning of a steady deterioration of the club. Members were reluctant to pay yet another initiation fee, potential members shied away as well.
A few years later, we (and other members of the tennis club) were notified by Presley that the club had been sold. The very well known and highly used club (with clubhouse and 24 lighted courts as I recall) was located at the corner of 48th Street and Warner Road (site of McDonald’s, Ace Hardware, Zipp’s). Club members mobilized and prepared to fight. Most of us gave money and a “Save the Tennis Club” organization was formed. The developer began a battle of legal attrition that resulted in continued spending by those dedicated to saving the club. Presley filed a counter suit against the individuals who were trying to save the tennis club, further depleting financial resources. Ultimately, the corporation and its deep pockets won. Presley did agree to build a few courts in the ACC parking lot if the club would donate the land. The Presley promises that lured us to Ahwatukee vanished. So did the company shortly after the last homes and lots were sold.
And now we face the further loss of the once fine recreational facilities in our community. Those who read the news are aware that the Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course has been closed and an apparent contract has been signed with Pulte Homes to convert the course to a single-family home development. After retirement in 2005, I did indeed take up golf. As my many Lakes golf shirts attest, the Lakes was my home course where I learned to play the game. Since I began playing, the golf courses in the Ahwatukee-Foothills have changed owners several times. Currently, one owner has a monopoly on the area’s courses. In my view, each of the courses has deteriorated greatly under this ownership. The Lakes course was neglected in a manner befitting a slumlord. Dead trees still line the course and according to stories in the news over the years, nearby homeowners had to fight to have unsafe trees removed. The bridges fell into disrepair, the grass went unmowed, ball washers either didn’t exist or didn’t work, and the traps had no sand. The clubhouse deteriorated and the restaurant was closed.
In spite of the poor condition of the course, play was still strong last winter. I had more trouble getting a tee time last winter than any time since I started playing. Yet we are told that the club was losing money and that the owner was a victim of the economy. Not having privy to the records, we have only the owner’s word on this matter. Was the club really losing money or was it more lucrative to sell to Pulte?
Other questions are worthy of asking. No doubt others in the area have asked themselves the same questions:
• Does closing the Lakes drive business to other courses in the monopoly?
• When was the deal struck with Pulte? Was it before or after the course closing?
• Who will compensate the homeowners who paid a premium for golf course lots?
• Why do homeowners have to pay to keep water in area commons?
• Why was a fence put up around the entire course (to give it the appearance of a prison)? If the current location of the fence is OK, then why was the perimeter fence put up in the first place? How is the liability for the area any different now than it was when the course was built?
• If the recession was the reason for closing the course, why did the owner buy other courses in the area during the recession?
As I see it, our recreational resources have eroded greatly as corporate promises have gone unfulfilled. The quality of life in our community diminishes, open green space diminishes, and more people will be packed into the area creating additional traffic and congestion.
I have gotten to know many of the current and past employees of the golf corporation that owns all of the courses in the area. They have treated me well and I wish them no disrespect. But I do question the motives of the owner. Is there a conscience there? Is there any regard for the people of the community?
There are many unanswered question, but two additional ones are worth asking:
• Who will win the battle of attrition concerning the Lakes course, the residents or the corporate monopoly? History is on the side of the corporation. Although laws have been made to protect the course, the laws are of little help in the battle of attrition. Deep pockets typically outlast those of us who really care about the community.
• Which golf course is next?
• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Dr. Charles “Chuck” Corbin is professor emeritus at Arizona State University. He is the author of more than 90 books on fitness and exercise, was the first chair of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition Science Board, and served on the Institute of Medicine Committee on Fitness Measures and Health Outcomes in Youth. He was a charter member of the advisory board for FITNESSGRAM.