A virtual “for sale” sign has been posted on the Duke Golf Course at Rancho El Dorado for four months.
The Duke is listed at $4.995 million. It includes the 7,011-yard course and 5,400-square-foot clubhouse. The veranda is another 3,000 square feet.
“It’s got a lot of things going for it,” broker Jon Knudson said. “It’s trending in the right direction.”
Designed by Dave Druzyski, the course was constructed in 2002 and opened by Rancho El Dorado Golf Course in 2003. The property is in three parcels. The 110 acres sold to Hiro Investment LLC in 2009 for $1.45 million.
Hiro Investment LLC has owned four golf courses in Arizona, Ahwatukee Country Club, Club West, Foothills Golf Club and The Duke. It listed three of them for sale.
“We’re seeing a bit of an exit strategy by these guys because they already listed another golf course with me, Club West,” said Knudson, a partner at InSight Golf Brokerage. “Ahwatukee was already listed.”
Knudson estimated the average time to sell a golf course in Arizona is six to nine months.
“The best thing I can see is that during the period between 2009 and 2015, they went from a considerable negative number in what the business was generating to a considerable positive number,” Knudson said. “So these guys have totally turned around the business. They made almost half a million dollars last year.”
The Duke is at the time of year when it has just gone through over-seeding and winter visitors have returned.
“The course came in phenomenal after over-seed,” said head golf pro Stephen Reish, who is also serving as co-manager with Susan Miller, the food and beverage director. “Right now, with the improvements, if we keep the course in good shape like this, there’s not much we can improve on.”
He credits good customer service, from the course workers to the golf shop to the Silver Spur Grill, with spurring The Duke’s turnaround over the past few years.
“That’s what brings people back, and they bring their friends,” said Reish, who has been with the course four years. “We just know how people want to be treated, and it goes all the way around the whole course.
“I don’t see a lot changing if somebody does buy it,” Reish said. “They would be crazy to just change everything. Maybe wait until the end of the year and then start implementing their rules, whatever that might be.”
The interim situation Reish and Miller share for the course’s management is expected to last until The Duke has new ownership. It came about when General Manager Corey Parker was hired elsewhere.
The course being for sale has left employees, even Reish, unclear what their future at the course is. He and Miller may continue to manage, or they may be placed back in their departments under a new general manager. Reish said The Duke sold fewer Gold Cards, its annual discount card, possibly because of the uncertainty.
Knudson called it a typical transition.
“Sometimes when a golf course gets sold, it’s concerning to employees, so you see some turnover,” he said. “The GM there was actually fantastic. We loved him, but he got another opportunity. There are a lot of people, when you build a good reputation in the industry, who will want to hire you. And he was really good.”
The Duke is consistently called “player-friendly,” with its wide greens and easy views in a laid-back ranch setting, to bring in casual golfers. “People leave the course feeling good instead of feeling like they got jumped by someone,” Knudson said.
But the lure for many is simply proximity.
Convenience is the main reason Julian Rachey golfs at The Duke. The Canadian writer winters in the Villages. This is his fifth year coming to Maricopa.
He said a little more water could go a long way, talking about both the course and the ball washing.
“The last three or four years, it’s been like they’ve been holding everything at a certain level to hold down expenses,” Rachey said.
“Now it’s crowded with Canadians, and the prices keep going up. And I’m Canadian.”
Tom Botterud, too, does not like the prices going up when winter visitors arrive. It’s something he would like to see change with new ownership. He said he did like the results of the over-seeding this year.
“It’s a nice course. They’re all nice courses. They have three or four them, but because I live here I come here most,” said Botterud, a Wisconsin native who has lived in the Villages six years.
[quote_right]“It’s going to happen where Maricopa is going to hit its stride again. And The Duke is in an excellent position to capitalize on it.”[/quote_right] The Duke’s closest competition geographically is Ak-Chin Southern Dunes. The 320-acre Southern Dunes is more known for its championship-level golf, recently landing an agreement to host the PING Southwest PGA Section Championship for the next five years. Golfweek ranks Southern Dunes ninth in the state and does not list The Duke in the top 30.
“Competition is always high anywhere in Arizona. But because Maricopa is more of a daily-fee type demographic, they’re not looking for real expensive golf,” Knudson said. “It differentiates itself from Southern Dunes because that’s a little bit higher end. I think that is one of the reasons The Duke [was] able to generate 54,000 rounds in 2014. That’s high.”
The Silver Spur Grill also has benefited from lack of competition in its category of a sit-down restaurant with a bar and good-quality food, Knudson said. “In the neighborhood, you don’t have 40 different places where you can go out to eat.”
Much of The Duke’s future success depends on Maricopa. The community had a population of about 1,000 when the golf course was under construction. Use of the course has grown with the city. But it has also echoed trends in the sport.
Even before the Great Recession, the golf industry started seeing a decline in rounds.
“When things get tight, this kind of spending is one of the first things to go. But over the last two, three years, we’ve kind of seen that stabilize again, with a slightly lower amount of participation across the country,” Knudson said. “There’s been about a 5-percent drop in the past five or six years, so that part is not great.
“It’s going to happen where Maricopa is going to hit its stride again. And The Duke is in an excellent position to capitalize on it.”
This story was published in the November issue of InMaricopa News.