For the first time in eight years, some Ahwatukee Lakes are starting to fill up with something other than storm water.
Vowing to open the long-dormant Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course by November, owner Wilson Gee hit a milestone last month as he began filling some of the site’s lakes.
But it’s an open question whether his work so far will satisfy Superior Court Judge Theodore Campagnolo’s order that the course be open for business by the fall 2022, threatening Gee with $3.5 million in contempt-of-court penalties. Gee closed the course in 2013.
The attorney representing the two homeowners who in 2014 sued Gee filed a contempt action Tuesday accusing Gee of violating the judge's order not planning to restore a true 18-hole executive course or fill all the lakes. Attorney Tim Barnes asked Campagnolo to impose a $500,000 penalty, stating, "Completion means completion. Not substantial completion. Not partial completion. Completion means that the golf course is open for golfing on all 18 holes."
Gee, who discussed his progress with AFN prior to the filing of Barnes' motion, could not be reach immediately for comment,
The start of the lakes’ refilling last month marked the latest in a series of projects on the 101-acre site that Gee said will lead to a July planting of Bermuda grass.
That means by August, Gee said, what a judge once described as a “moonscape” will be green again.
He said dead trees, weeds and lake footprints have been cleaned from much of the premises, although a final scraping will be done before seeding begins.
The main bridge over a portion of the lakes has been built but completing some of the small ones has been delayed by the nationwide lumber shortage.
“All 18 holes will be ready for planting of grass by the end of July,” Gee said.
Crews two weeks ago started to fill an irrigation pond and the completion of the pump station is awaiting certain parts that SRP requires before it will approve service, Gee said.
“We won’t change any of the drainage patterns, so Ahwatukee Lakes will continue to be basically a retention area for the whole area,” Gee said.
The lakes were designed partly to stop storm-driven torrents of South Mountain runoff from flooding a wide area of eastern Ahwatukee.
Gee also said he is installing a security system around the pump station to prevent vandalism and that the wet well that feeds the site has been fully reconstructed.
“In the meantime,” he said, “we may start testing everything with a generator.”
A large part of the testing is aimed at ensuring the irrigation heads are all working.
“Once that’s done, all we’re going to do is go ahead and what they call scrape all the weeds out and everything else and then we’ll start seeding hydro seed on the tee and greens and regular seeding on the fairways.”
Gee said he does not expect to be affected too much by a sharp increase in seed prices – from a dollar a pound to $1.70 – because he had locked in a price before costs started to soar.
“It’ll be green by August because we’ll lay everything out there but we won’t open until November,” Gee said, adding he intends to wait a minimum two months to let all the grass grow out.
“We may open the driving range ahead of time, but everything else will grow out,”
he said. “And then once everything goes out, guess what? We cut it down again and overseed.”
While still retaining 18 holes, Gee said, “In order to break even, we’re going to extend the driving range.”
He also said the driving range “will be expanded to 50 spots, providing ample practice for our instructional golf program.”
Additionally, he said, “all golf team members of Mountain Pointe will have access to the driving range and golf course at no cost to them. Hopefully, this will bring more young people to the game – as well as field a stronger team.”
“We talked to the coach already,” Gee said. “We want to build up that team and also promote junior golf.”
He also said General Manager Terry Duggan and his staff “will provide free golf instructions for golfers of all ages” once a month.
The clubhouse will be a modular “sales office” type building, approximately 10 feet by 32 feet with no bar or restaurant and only bathrooms and a changing area, though he said he might bring an occasional food truck out on the premises.
But one former staple of the old course will not be returning.
Golf carts will not be rented and private carts banned from the course, Gee said, because they ruin the grass.
Gee said that while part of the overall course, some holes also will be used for teaching new players, particularly when there isn’t much regular play going on.
“We cut one of the par-4s, so that will be a chipping area and sand trap training area,” he said.
“The instructors can take students out by the driving range and play certain holes when things are slow.”
Gee echoed the concerns that he has consistently cited throughout the long court fight.
He maintained throughout that fight that the course has never been profitable since he bought it in 2006.
“That’s the problem – everything is a moving target,” he said. “We don’t know if people will come back and play. Because of COVID, everybody’s playing the big courses and they’re enjoying it. Will they come back to play here? It’s a big gamble. So that’s why the driving range, I think, offsets that risk because people still will practice…So then, it’s still an 18-hole course but some of those holes can also be used for training.”