The ongoing struggle over the future of Club West’s dead golf course took some surprise turns last week when the somewhat antagonistic parties began talking and the new owners indicated they’d listen to a solid plan for buying it from them and restore it to a sustainable championship playing field without houses.
The Edge and its affiliated company, Community Land Solutions, invited Matt Tyler, president of the Club West Conservancy, to meet with an advisory group the owners have put together to discuss the course’s future.
But the bigger surprise is a renewal of talks about selling the 18-hole site to a reputable golf course operator and solving the water problem by having all homeowners share the cost.
“We’re essentially offering to listen in advance to any reasonable offers within some common-sense parameters,” said Matt Shearer, a partner in both The Edge and CLS. “My advice to them would be that the money-from-the-community option has been tried in the past. Maybe they would focus on finding an outside buyer, but I can’t speak for them.”
Shearer said CLS and The Edge would vet any plan for the course but that they also would continue working on their own plan to turn the site into a park with an unspecified number of new homes. He added they intend to have that plan completed by November in an effort to present it to the board so it can consider putting it up for a homeowners’ vote early next year.
But in the meantime, he said, CLS and the Edge will listen to any sustainable plan that stands up to its vetting.
“It needs to be sustainable,” Shearer said. As for a championship golf course, he added, “You need to have a water solution – things like that. But we’re putting that out there because we’ve been open to that and we’ve worked on it in the past.”
The Edge’s partners formed Community Land Solutions when they signed a deal to buy the site from Wilson Gee, said Shearer, a principal in both groups.
He explained Community Land Solutions has evolved into “a consulting company that focuses on advising owners of golf courses.”
Saying “we learned a lot” as they studied Club West, he said, “We have talked to other people and we’re advising the owners of the golf courses that are looking to be repurposed because they’ve been closed a long time.”
On its website, theparkatclubwest.com, the owners posted, “We are open to any person and/or group that wants to purchase the Club West Property and restore it as an 18-hole championship golf course. We will seriously consider selling the property for that purpose given all of the following conditions are met along with the HOA BOD (board of directors) approval:
“A detailed plan for the restoration that includes: greens, tee boxes, fairways, sand traps, cart paths, markers and signage, the pond, practice putting green, practice chipping area, driving range, restrooms, storage sheds, clubhouse, parking lot, irrigation systems including pump station, and other support structures on the course property. The plan must also include the acquisition of all the landscape equipment needed to maintain the restored course. The plan must include a timeline for restoration and when the course would be open for operation.
“The plan must include realistic and itemized costs for all items listed in the restoration with a total dollar value.
“Viable water source, delivery method and water usage plan.
“The names of the people who will operate the restored course, the expertise, their water plan and realistic 5 year business plan that would sustain operation.
“Proven sources for: 1) Funds to purchase the land and cover our costs already incurred; 2) Funds to fully restore the course as previously outlined above; 3) Funds to initiate operation of the course as business entity given their 5 year business plan.
“We will continue with our plans to develop the ‘Park at Club West’ while waiting for someone or some group to come forward with a realistic and viable plan outlined above shortly.”
The owners also expressed skepticism about any plan other than the one they’re working on.
“Given the deterioration of the Club West property has been going on for more than five years, we believe that anyone really serious about buying the property with the intent to restoring it to a full eighteen hole championship course would have developed viable and realistic plans by now and could submit them for evaluation within 30 days,” it said on its website.
Meanwhile, Tyler said the Conservancy has talked to at least one golf course architect who believes the site can be restored and operated profitably.
But a key to making that hope a reality would involve an agreement by homeowners to pick up the tab for water at a cost of what he said would amount to a few hundred dollars annually.
Water that’s cheaper than City of Phoenix water has been a stumbling block for the course’s operation for four years.
Gee – who still holds the promissory note on The Edge’s purchase of the site – closed the course in June 2016, saying he could no longer afford the city’s bill, which amounted to more than $700,000 a year.
Ahwatukee entrepreneur Rande Leonard came up with a plan to pipe cheaper water from the Gila River Indian Community, but the pipeline would cost at least $1 million and he has yet to find anyone interested in ponying up that money.
But Tyler said he thinks that if the Conservancy can get a legitimate golf course operator interested in reviving the course, he would try to persuade the Club West Community Association board to consider Leonard’s plan – or something similar to it – because the HOA’s own water costs are rising for irrigating common grounds throughout the HOA.
“The HOA’s water costs are going up and up and up,” Tyler said. “They’re approaching $400,000 a year, which is half of what it costs to water the golf course. So, when you think about that, there’s a significant ROI (return on investment) at the community level to solve. Why not invest in getting SRP canal water or getting water from the reservation?”
Tyler said that would “fundamentally change the equation” in determining the site’s future.
He said experts have told the Conservancy that a plan for restoring the course put forth four years ago by Club West resident Jim Lindstrom was “a little bit excessive and a little bit too expensive” and that they believe the course could be restored at a cost of between $4 million and $6 million – half, he said, of what Lindstrom’s plan estimated.
There are other reasons why a reputable operator would be interested, Tyler said.
“If you look at the data and the average cost per round that they were getting toward the end when it was deteriorating, it was a third to half of what they should be getting for a round the golf at a well-maintained course,” Tyler said. “You can’t base your financials on a course that was getting run into the ground. So realistically, you should have more than double the revenue.
”The other thing is if you look at your current golf courses, about 50 percent of their revenue comes from events and food and drink,” Tyler said. “The split when they closed it was only 25 percent and again because it wasn’t a place people wanted to go hang out. It wasn’t a place they wanted to have a wedding at because it wasn’t maintained.”
Tyler also said he’s buoyed by a survey that drew 800 responses from among Club West’s approximate 2,700 homeowners in which 81 percent “would prefer to keep the land just ‘as is’ rather than having houses” built on the site.
Of those who responded to the survey, the group said, 27 percent have houses on the course and 73 percent live elsewhere in Club West.
The overall results showed 77 percent wanted a golf course back but 75 percent felt that was an unrealistic hope and that overall, respondents split evenly between a golf course and a park.
Shearer said he wasn’t surprised by the survey results – and is skeptical about a viable golf course plan – which is why “concurrently we’re working on a park solution.”
“We looked at the golf course solution,” he said. “That was our first proposal. We understood that people want the golf course back. We saw the only way to do it was immediately address the water situation or reduce the turf and we saw no willing investors to restore the course properly so it could maintain a profit - which meant a new clubhouse.”
“I’ll be honest with you,” Shearer added. “I don’t really see it being feasible. But the perception is that people wanted to look at it. All we’re trying to do is guide the process and present the facts and ultimately the homeowners will decide by a vote."
A few days after the meeting with the advisory committee, the Conservancy put out a blistering note to Club West residents, accusing The Edge of "trying to hold the golf course land for ransom" in order to push for some houses on the course. It also downplayed the significance of the meeting, claiming that neither entity appears willing to consider an option for the land that does not involve houses.