Wilson Gee says he is ready to reopen the course that he owns in Phoenix, Ariz., but both he and a court-appointed expert say the move should wait until mid-October. Citing a report from golf course landscape expert Mark Woodward, attorney Tim Barnes tells the court, “it is much better to let the Bermuda grass and Paspalum grow until Sept. 25 to establish a good base and then to start the overseeding process with rye grass on Sept. 26 and to open the golf course to the public on Oct. 21.” When the course opens, it will mark the end of an eight-year legal battle waged by two homeowners that saw numerous appeals, including one that went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Wilson Gee says he is ready to reopen Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course in Phoenix, Ariz. Sept. 1, but both he and a court-appointed expert say that historic moment should wait until mid-October, Ahwatukee Foothills News reported.
In papers filed last week, the lawyer for the homeowners who sued Gee in 2014 over the closure of the course asked a Superior Court judge to postpone the 18-hole executive course’s full reopening until Oct. 26, Ahwatukee Foothills News reported.
Citing a report from award-winning golf course landscape expert Mark Woodward – the court-appointed special master assigned to determine if Gee complies with a court order to reopen the course Sept. 1 – attorney Tim Barnes told the court last week:
“The Lakes Course can open on Sept. 1 but from an agronomic standpoint and turf coverage standpoint, it is much better to let the Bermuda grass and Paspalum grow until Sept. 25 to establish a good base and then to start the overseeding process with rye grass on Sept. 26 and to open the golf course to the public on Oct. 21, 2022.
“Every golf course in Arizona that plants rye grass generally closes the course for two to three weeks in late September or early October and so will the Lakes Golf Course,” Barnes continued, “But allowing the Bermuda grass and Paspalum to grow and become more established will benefit the golf course and the golfers’ experience.”
Gee told the Ahwatukee Foothills News before Barnes filed his request that he couldn’t agree more with Woodward.
“We’ve got 12 people out there cleaning up everything, the lakes are filling up…I don’t have control. It’s up to the court,” he said, adding he can comply with a November 2020 order threatening a total $3.5 million penalty if he does not meet the Sept. 1 reopening deadline.
Gee also disclosed to the Ahwatukee Foothills News that he reversed an earlier decision and will offer golf carts for rental.
And while there will be no clubhouse – the original one was destroyed in a mysterious fire three years after the course was closed in 2013 – Gee said he is trying to arrange for food trucks to be on the premises.
When the course finally opens, it will mark the end of an eight-year legal battle waged by two homeowners that saw numerous appeals, including one that went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Ahwatukee Foothills News reported.
Gee testified five years ago how he had purchased the 105-acre site and the Ahwatukee Country Club in 2007 through a partnership called Bixby Village and gradually expanded his portfolio by adding Club West and the Foothills Golf Course in Ahwatukee and the Duke in Maricopa, the Ahwatukee Foothills News reported.
But the ensuing Great Recession and a steady decline in golf’s popularity threw a wrench in the partnership’s dreams, he testified, adding the Lakes never made a profit and that its operation was essentially supported with revenue from the other four courses, the Ahwatukee Foothills News reported.
Homeowners disputed Gee’s assertion that the economy and golf’s popularity were to blame, contending he had intended on reaping a windfall by selling the site to homebuilders.
He tried to do just that in 2015 by making a deal with the True Life Companies, which agreed to pay more than $9 million for the land with an eye toward building an “agrihood” dubbed “Ahwatukee Farms,” with dozens of houses, a school 5-acre farm and amenities such as trails, the Ahwatukee Foothills News reported.
True Life walked away from the deal with Gee after losing a vote among the Lake’s approximate 5,400 homeowners to change the site’s land use regulations to allow the development.
And over the last four years, Gee also sold the Club West course to a quartet of investors and has put the Foothills and Duke sites up for sale for $5 million and $8 million, respectively, the Ahwatukee Foothills News reported.
In an affidavit filed with the court, Woodward said he has made “numerous visits” to the Lakes in recent months and that delaying the reopening “is what is best for the golf course and the golfer’s experience.”
He told the court, “We’ve only had a little more than three months to get the golf course back in playing condition, which is not enough time,” the Ahwatukee Foothills News reported.
He said the first two months involved extensive debris removal and that “a massive portion of the overall work” involved restoring the irrigation system.
“There was a lot of heavy lifting that had to be done because all of the components of the irrigation system …had been sitting for so long,” he wrote, calling it “a huge undertaking getting it back to where we could apply water.”
Calling Sept. 1 “absolutely the wrong date” for reopening and noting “golfers would not enjoy it,” Woodward said waiting for the grass to take firm root “would be a game changer,” the Ahwatukee Foothills News reported.
“I strongly believe that the neighbors and the golfing public would appreciate and totally understand,” he said. “The golf course will be playable, safe for the golfers and be open in good condition.”