The Club West Golf Course likely is gone for good, a group of local investors said Monday as they walked away from a tentative deal to buy the beleaguered site.
In ending talks that last week fueled rampant speculation in the community that homes would be built on part of the site, Matt Shearer, a Club West resident and one of the investors, delivered a sobering verdict after months of analysis by the group’s consultants:
“Unfortunately, we do not believe the course can be saved as a sustainable jewel of our community.”
Noting that he and his partners “invested significantly in our research, hiring hydrologists, irrigation consultants, surveyors, planners, soil experts and renowned golf course and clubhouse architects,” Shearer issued a statement to AFN that said:
“As more time passes, saving the course becomes more difficult and prohibitively expensive. Time is not an ally and the course needs to be revitalized within a budget that considers available water sources, community support and the direction the golf industry is headed.”
Shearer said he and his partners wanted “to create a sustainable, challenging but playable, 18-hole course with a beautiful clubhouse and community golf center.”
But they apparently discovered the same thing that another group of local investors encountered earlier this year when they considered buying the course from owner Wilson Gee.
The earlier group eventually determined that Gee’s asking price of $850,000 is twice what the course is worth.
But even at half the price, they said, the intractable issue of cheap water and a badly deteriorated infrastructure made any effort to run a profitable course an uphill climb.
Those factors may put into play a new future for the course outlined in the anonymous letter delivered last week to 73 Club West homeowners – namely, that houses and a shortened nine-hole course might emerge as one of the few viable alternatives to the barren site.
But for a brief few months in the winter of 2017-18, the course has been virtually barren since the summer of 2016, when Gee turned off the water because its cost was too high.
Because the city more than a quarter of a century ago demolished an effluent treatment station that provided cheap wastewater, Club West Course relies on city potable water.
In 2016, Gee said he was facing a $700,000 water bill and his only alternative to going broke was to simply close the course.
Shearer’s statement took notice of the anonymous letter.
The letter, whose key points could not be verified, was left on the doorsteps of homes near the physical heart of the course.
Those homes abut holes 11 through 14 as well as the clubhouse and an adjacent large pond and a big parking lot for duffers.
The letter said the four holes, clubhouse and lot would all be leveled for unspecified types of residences and that the course itself would be shortened to nine holes.
Over the weekend before issuing his statement, Shearer contradicted the letter’s assertion that a sale was imminent.
“We are currently doing our due diligence within the realm of determining if a healthy 18-hole golf course is viable,” he told AFN.
Shearer also stressed that he and his partners either live in Club West or at least own homes there.
In the statement released Monday, Shearer said, “We are aware of the rumors and speculation surrounding our feasibility study. The community should rest assured that any changes to the course must be approved by a community vote.”
He also said he and his partners would “continue to work with our data and employed experts to see if there is a viable solution. If one is developed, we will present it to the community.”
Gee declined comment on his negotiations.
CC&R process changed
The state of the course today stands in stark contrast to what it was two years ago, when Richard Breuninger bought it from Gee for $1 million and obtained $350,000 from an investor to seed it and restore it to a lush green playing field.
Between November 2017 and February 2018, golfers relished the chance to play on the much-loved course – which commanded premium prices of at least $60,000 over the average lot price in the 2,666-home community.
But the same lack of cheap water bit Breuninger in February 2018, when he fell in arrears with the city Water Services Department to the tune of $160,000.
Breuninger eventually defaulted on his $1 million note to buy the course and Gee foreclosed in September 2018, immediately putting it up for sale.
Gee said the course had deteriorated significantly by that time.
Hundreds of sprinklers had been torn out of the ground and left in a pile in the clubhouse, he said.
Even before Gee assumed control, golf carts were removed – some were repossessed and others mysteriously vanished.
Around the same time that Gee took back the course, the Club West Community Association board made it more difficult to change the covenants, conditions and restrictions that require the course be used for golf.
Up until September 2018, Shea Homes, which built much of Club West, owned the so-called declarant rights to the course that control the land use regulations.
The HOA bought those rights and created a new process for changing the CC&Rs.
HOA Board President Mike Hinz said that previously, only a majority vote by the board was needed to change the CC&Rs.
“We have two board members who live on the course and we didn’t think that was fair,” he explained.
Now, there’s a two-pronged process for changing the land use regulations.
First, the board must approve a change and then it must ask all homeowners to vote on the matter.
But the Club West process is different from Ahwatukee Lakes – where the CC&Rs cannot be changed without approval by 50 percent-plus-one of all homeowners. If a homeowner doesn’t return a ballot, it effectively is a “no” vote on change.
Club West’s new rules require that only 31 percent of the ballots must be returned – triple the quorum of returned ballots that had existed when Shea held the declarant rights.
If at least 31 percent of all mailed ballots are returned, a change in the CC&Rs would require half-plus-one of those votes.
Attorney Ellen Davis, who paid an extra $60,000 for the lot when she bought her Club West house next to the course, expressed concern about that 31 percent.
She said that homeowners who don’t front the course could determine its future at the expense of those who paid higher lot prices to have a view of the course, noting only 416 votes were needed to approve a change in the CC&Rs.
Those other homeowners, she said, could easily decide that homes on part of the course would be better than the ugly expanse of dirt there now.
“I realize this golf course thing is a no-win situation and it is not wonderful,” Davis said. “I get that people are not happy living next to the brown pit that we got. And I don’t know if we would be better off as a community to have some development there rather than the way it is now.
“But my concern is for the 357 of us who paid the money to have this view of this open space: why should we make the sacrifice for everybody?... Why do I disproportionately have to take that hit?”
Hinz disagrees with Davis’ interpretation and stressed that the process is far more democratic than it had been.
“We just expanded the community’s ability to influence what happens with the golf course,” Hinz added. “And we took it out of the hands of the board and we gave it to them. So, it’s a two-part process. It’s a pretty heavy lift.”
Uncertainty over the future
Davis had worked with her neighbor, Jim Lindstrom, on a deal to save the course in late 2016.
With the help of a golf course architect and other experts, Lindstrom produced in late 2016 a detailed business plan for homeowners to buy and run the course themselves.
The plan required at least 300 homeowners who would kick in $13,333 or as many as 500 owners who would pay $8,000.
Ultimately, he abandoned that effort when he failed to get enough homeowners to buy into his plan.
Lindstrom said he was furious and frustrated when he got the anonymous letter last week, but that he spoke with Shearer and was assured houses were not in their plan.
He said Shearer was interested in the course improvements Lindstrom’s 2016 plan had recommended to curb water use, such as reducing turf.
Lindstrom also doubts that the nine-hole course mentioned in the letter would be profitable.
He said his consultants determined nine-hole courses can only be profitable in highly dense urban areas – which, he added, Club West and Ahwatukee are not.
“There are not enough golfers around here and there’s no reason people who travel here to play nine holes,” said Lindstrom.
Hinz disputed the letter’s assertion that Shearer and the other investors had told the board of their plans.
“No one has made a presentation about the course to the board,” he said.
The letter did take note of the water issue, and said, “The buyers are very ‘secretive’ but it was implied that the plan is to use city water or the new pipeline water.”
There is no “pipeline water” – at least not yet.
The ad posted for Club West’s sale said buyers would have to put up an additional $1 million for a pieline.
That pipeline is envisioned by Ahwatukee businessman Rande Leonard, owner of Pecos Storage on the reservation end of 32nd Street.
Leonard’s plan would transport water from the Gila River Indian Community in a pipeline that would run beneath the South Mountain Freeway in concrete sleeves that the Arizona Department of Transportation has already installed.
It would then hook up to a pipe at 24th Street to service Club West Golf Course.
Leonard a month ago said the project was still alive, but did not return AFN’s request for comment this week.
It’s unclear what happens now with the Club West Course, the second of four in Ahwatukee to become a wasteland.
“It’s tough,” Hinz said. “It’s the water situation. People talk about this pipeline and some other things in there but they need to come up with a way to monetize this golf course to give themselves a return.”
He said some people talk about just letting the course become a desert but said, “You can’t let it revert to a desert. You got to do stuff to it to make it become a desert.”
Ultimately, Hinz said, “As a board, our interest is preserving the jewel in the crown. We want a green golf course.”