Nine years after its owner shut it down, the Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course partially reopened last week even as the next step in the long legal battle over its restoration remains unclear.
Handfuls of happy duffers have been trickling the restored nine holes and the elongated driving range that reopened Feb. 1.
“It’s been great,” said Terry Duggan, president of Ahwatukee Golf Properties and a key aide to Wilson Gee, a principal in course owner ALCR.
“We’ve average close to 70 players, Duggan said Sunday.
Players have been partly lured by the price – $20 for the first round of nine holes and $10 for a second tour. The driving range cost varies with the number of balls a golfer plays.
Duggan said reaction has been largely favorable, though “some people are saying it’s not as good as it used to be.”
“They don’t understand,” he added. “We just over-seeded and we got to go back and put in all the Bermuda grass in the summer and then the rye and then get it all fully opened by September. So, we still have a lot of work to do. We’re not even close to finishing.”
Though the crowd skews slightly young, he added, because no golf karts are permitted, Duggan said, “There have been some older golfers too, the ones who like to walk.”
Gee was anxious to reopen and begin recouping on an investment he has put at around $800,000 – far below the $5 million to $6 million that one golf expert testified in a trial in 2018 was needed to restore the course and significantly short of the $12 million that onetime semi-owner The True Lakes Company estimated that reopening would cost.
Yet, even as the cries of “fore” resonated across the course, barren stretches of ground bore testament to Duggan’s explanation that much work still needs to be done.
They also served as a reminder that the lawsuit brought by homeowners Eileen Breslin and Linda Swain in 2014 remains alive after Superior Court Judge Sara Agne ordered Gee to deposit $500,000 with the court so that a special master could be paid to supervise the restoration.
Agne on Feb. 10 rejected ALCR's attempt to get out from under the $500,000 penalty and ruled the company must post it within 10 work days so that the money can be used to hire a special master who will oversee the course's restoration. The special master must be mutually agreeable to both parties or the judge will make the choice and it must be an individual
“who designs, builds, or manages golf courses."
Agne's initial order last month came after the homeowners’ lawyer, Tim Barnes, persuaded the judge that ALCR had violated the first of three deadlines another judge set in November 2020 after ruling ALCR was in contempt of still another judge’s order to restore the executive course.
Barnes had alleged a host of deficiencies in the restoration work – including an insufficient number of trees, an unfilled lake only a semblance of a clubhouse that won’t be serving beverages or food – to contend that Gee had violated Judge Theodore Campagnolo’s directive to have a restoration plan in place by May 2021.
Campagnolo’s three deadlines carry stiff penalties – none of which go to the plaintiffs in the litigation.
He set a $500,000 penalty if a restoration plan was not in place by May 2021; a $1.5 million penalty if work had not begun by September 2021; and a $2 million levy if the course is not fully operational by September 2022.
Last summer, Gee proudly noted that he had already begun work ahead of Campagnolo’s second deadline and that he would have the course ahead
Gee also continues to assert, as he did under oath, that he didn’t need a formal restoration plan – a contention Barnes disputes.
While sidestepping most of Barnes’ specific complaints, Agne’s order last month hung on ALCR’s failure to obtain a grading permit from the City of Phoenix.
Both Duggan and Gee have testified that city planners told them they didn’t need a permit but Agne's ruling Feb. 10 rejected their assertion that a permit was not needed..
They cannot directly appeal the ruling to a higher court, though they can ask for a special action on behalf of the Arizona Court of Appeals, which does not have to consider it.
Gee said for now he only had a soft reopening of the course and will do something big and special once all 18 holes are ready for play in September.