Golf course pays bills, gets water restored

Arizona National plans to reopen soon; owners negotiating a sale
2012-10-27T00:00:00Z 2014-07-15T17:55:30Z Golf course pays bills, gets water restoredTony Davis Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
October 27, 2012 12:00 am  • 

The water is back on at a far northeast-side golf course after the owner paid more than $250,000 in back payments and deposits to Tucson Water.

In a recent letter to members of the private club, Arizona National Golf Club executive Jeff Silverstein said the course will reopen on Nov. 14, nearly two months after the city water utility turned off the taps to the course because of what it said was nonpayment of bills. On Oct. 16, the company paid $257,316 to the water utility, Tucson Water told the Star in an email.

Silverstein's letter also said the golf course's owners have decided to put Arizona National up for sale, are negotiating with two groups and have been told by a third that an offer is forthcoming.

In the last 90 days, the owners have reduced the club's outstanding debts by more than 50 percent, he wrote. Based on a recent appraisal, the owners feel it's time to exit their investment and will aggressively market the club, he wrote.

In an interview late this week, Silverstein also said a factor in the decision to look for a buyer is that "our reputation has been severely damaged," but he declined to discuss specifics. "I think that to maximize the long-term value of that property there has to be an ownership change," Silverstein said.

Arizona National, designed by world-class golf course architect Robert Trent Jones Jr., sits in the gated, upscale Sabino Springs development in the Catalina Foothills near Harrison and Snyder roads.

The course's parent company, IRI Golf Group LLC, has had troubles paying bills at three courses it owns and has been accused by some residents of allowing the courses to go downhill.

At Arizona National, longtime resident Mary Stark recalls seeing companies fly executives in by helicopter to play the course in more prosperous times of the late 1990s.

Stark, whose home adjoins the course, said the most important thing is to keep the greens green and that the fairways can be restored later, but she says Silverstein should have kept residents better informed of the course's financial problems.

Ray Suttles, who lives across the street from the course, said he would be glad to see a sale if it nets good buyers with the financial capability to run a course. Otherwise, he would like to see the course end up as an open area. "A lot of people here exercise in the morning, run and walk their dogs," he said.

In his Oct. 16 letter, Silverstein also wrote that "very shortly," the city "will be held accountable for the damage it has inflicted" on the course and company, implying legal action will be taken. "This has been a horrific event and we can only apologize for what has happened," Silverstein wrote. "While I cannot share with you the specifics of our plans regarding the city of Tucson's actions, I assure you that very shortly our side of the story will be told."

He would not elaborate in an interview.

The city disconnected water to the course on Sept. 17, one of several times that has happened in recent years, officials said at the time. In August 2011, then-interim Tucson Water Director Andrew Quigley wrote IRI officials that the company also had a history of writing bounced checks.

Silverstein said in September he is challenging the city's stance on the bill, but he continues to decline further comment.

"We have a zero balance with the city now," he said this week. "I can say that we have always paid our bills with the city. We've been in business here for over 10 years, and we've paid them millions of dollars."

Earlier this month, IRI turned over management of two courses it owns in Green Valley to a company headed by restaurateur Bob McMahon and developer David Williamson. That came after the Green Valley Domestic Water Irrigation District turned off water to both courses because of $90,000 in unpaid bills.

There have also been reports from members and employees that the same company's Golf Club at Vistoso hasn't paid its water bills at times. But this week, Silverstein said that course is "open, in beautiful condition and thriving right now."

While Arizona National's pond is full again and the greens and tee box areas are being sprayed to overseed them for winter golf, the fairways aren't being watered and it's not clear when they will be. In his letter, Silverstein said officials are investigating how much damage the fairways have suffered by going so long without water.

"Our concern is that the root damage that overseeding would cause to an already weakened Bermuda grass would make the transition in the spring unmanageable," Silverstein wrote.

The fairways' grass is now very thin, making the areas very hard and difficult to play, said Frank Brooks, a golf course member who has been critical of IRI management.

"It's similar to hitting a golf ball off asphalt. That impacts a lot of things. The tournaments that come in, and provide the sales and funding for the golf course, they won't come to a course that is very difficult to play," said Brooks, who lives near the 18th hole.

As for a sale, "I can't think of anything that would be better as long as they sell to an entity that is capable of and willing to maintain a resort-level, high-level golf course," Brooks said.

OTHER FINANCIAL ISSUES

Recent tax liens on golf courses owned by IRI Golf Group LLC's related companies:

• Federal: Three liens filed in 2012 totaling more than $54,000 on IRI Sabino Springs Golf Course LLC, owner of Arizona National Golf Club. The liens were filed due to the company's failure to pay employee business taxes for Social Security withholding purposes, the documents showed.

• State: Eight liens filed in 2011 and 2012 totaling more than $200,000 on IRI's Arizona National, Canoa Hills and San Ignacio golf courses. The liens were filed because of the course's failure to pay employee withholding taxes and sales tax receipts, the documents showed.

IRI executive Jeff Silverstein said the company has paid off many of these liens but that it hasn't yet shown up in the records kept by the Pima County Recorder's Office.

Contact reporter Tony Davis at tdavis@azstarnet.com or 806-7746.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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