Grass Photo

Ahwatukee Lakes residents are closing out the year with a sight they haven’t laid eyes on in eight years – grass on half of the 18-hole golf course. 

But owner Wilson Gee said his company, ALCR, couldn’t make good on its promise to have nine holes open for play by the end of November because city and state agencies have been dragging their heels on his permits for the mobile clubhouse bathroom.

“We need a permit from the city and from the state,” Gee said. “Basically everything is built. I have no idea why the delay. We’ve been waiting just for the roof of the bathroom, which is not more than 20 square feet and we’re waiting three months.”

Gee said he has no idea what’s causing the delay, though he suspects “somebody is doing something on purpose.” 

Still, he said, that delay hasn’t stopped crews from making sure that when he gets the permits, duffers can come out to play.

That’s something that hasn’t happened since 2013, when Gee closed the 105-acre course because, he said, it hadn’t turned a profit in the whole time he and his partners owned it under the company named Bixby Village. Bixby bought the course in 2006.

“Once we get that (permit), we’ll open the driving range immediately,” Gee said. “The practice putting green looks awfully good. We’re still top dressing that a little bit. We’re in the cleanup stage now. … Everything’s been fine-tuned. So, we’re mowing it down. We’re reshaping the bunkers one more time, putting additional sand in and really getting it ready to play.

“But I’m not gonna rush it,” he added. “I want to make sure it looks good.”

The missing permit doesn’t legally prevent Gee from opening the nine holes now.

“We don’t need a permit to open,” he said. “We have a business license ready to go. But I just want it to be a little bit nicer.”

Nonetheless, Gee said he wants to open and “get some income coming in,” adding he has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to comply with Superior Court Judge Theodore Campagnolo’s November 2020 ruling that posed a total $3.5 million in penalties if he failed to meet three deadlines for complying with an earlier order by another judge to restore the course.

Campagnolo ruled that ALCR must pay $500,000 if it has not finished design and other pre-construction work by June 2021, fork over another $1 million if construction has not started by Sept. 1, 2021, and cough up another $2 million if the course is not open a year from that date.

Though Gee said he beat those deadlines, that’s not how it looks to the lawyer for the two homeowners who have waged a seven-year legal battle to force the course’s reopening.

Attorney Tim Barnes has asked Superior Court Judge Sarah Agne to find ALCR in violation of the first deadline. He said that ALCR never had a formal and detailed plan for the design and whatever plans it did have were never run past him and homeowners for review and approval.

Gee has testified that such a plan was not necessary. He also has held to his promise in court to finish the first nine holes this year and delay a full reopening until later next year – possibly right around the time he has to under Campagnolo’s order.

But Barnes wants Agne to levy a stiff penalty on ALCR that can be used to hire a professional golf course expert to oversee the Lakes’ reconstruction. He also has picked apart various aspects of the work that has – and hasn’t – been done to make his case against ALCR.

Though attorneys for both sides filed written final arguments in the case by Thanksgiving, Agne as of two days ago had not issued a ruling.

Gee said he can’t wait to reopen, explaining, “this year, I think the Phoenix area is going to be booming with golfers. There are indications we’re going to have a record year. So that will be good for the economy.”

The fly in the ointment, however, is “we just have to find people to work,” he added.

As the owner of two other courses in Ahwatukee and another in Maricopa, Gee said he feels the same manpower shortage that has affected many businesses throughout the Valley and the nation.

“Nobody wants to work,” he complained, saying he has 30 openings and that  the labor shortage has been particularly hard on his restaurant and kitchen staffing.

That won’t be a barrier to reopening the Lakes because there will not be a permanent restaurant on the site, though Gee has said he might allow food trucks on or near the premises. The clubhouse will offer only a dressing area, pro shop and bathrooms, according to testimony during hearings before Agne last fall.

As for the green on the Lakes, ALCR’s crews planted the grass in early November and that he’s happy with how it turned out. Though the price of grass seed has shot up this year, the company beat most of that increase by stockpiling hundreds of pounds of rye and Bermuda early enough.

Still, even though the grass has come up high enough that it has to be mowed, the permit delay is frustrating Gee.

“Right now,” he quipped, “we’re literally watching the grass grow.” 

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