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What it's Really Like to Own Your Own Track

By Rebecca Larsen, Contributor

TEMPE, Ariz. - It's every golfer's dream: Owning your own golf course. Not only your own putting green and driving range, but even your own clubhouse and signature hole and hot dog grill.

For the past 18 years, Jane Neuheisel and her attorney husband, Richard, have lived out that fairway fantasy at Shalimar Country Club in Tempe, the Phoenix metro town that is home to Arizona State University. Jane has managed the nine-hole course ever since they bought it, and as you might expect, their personal golf games have become more limited as a result of the responsibility. Now the couple would like to sell Shalimar to someone else. "We're not in a big rush," says Jane Neuheisel, "but I have eight grandchildren I'd like to spend more time with."

Shalimar was built in the middle of a small housing development in the 1960s back when Tempe's population was only about 25,000. Now there are almost 160,000 residents in the city, and a busy residential and commercial area surrounds Shalimar. It's a mostly flat course with six par-4s, including the signature hole, No. 9 on an island green. The course is about 2,400 yards in length, but occupies 47 acres and is shaded by many huge palm and pine trees. Gary Grandstaff redesigned the original holes in 1985.

The Neuheisels took over Shalimar when the property became tied up in court due to some disputed development plans. They still live in a home at hole No. 3. "It's really handy to get to work," Jane says about her commute.

Managing the course while Richard practiced law, Jane Neuheisel (at right) basically learned golf-course management from the grass up, since her previous career background had been in marketing. There was a little bit of trial and error: What grass seed to buy, when to mow, when to fertilize, whom to hire, whom to fire? "It's been a fun ride," she says.

Jane likes to tell about the time that one of the many service clubs that lunches in the Shalimar clubhouse asked her to speak to members about her job. "I told them all about the maintenance crew and the equipment and the pro shop and the restaurant and bar and the golf carts," she says. "Then I talked about the insurance concerns. The maintenance is huge; something breaks almost every day. Then you have to keep your employees all pointed in the same direction. We have 42 of them, mostly part-time. I finished up by saying that I was glad I'd taken the time to talk to them because I realized that I wasn't paying myself nearly as much as I should get."

Like most smaller courses in the Phoenix area, Shalimar makes most of its green fees from senior and junior golfers and beginners who can't carry 100 yards of desert wash off a tee. "When winter visitors find us, they come back all the time," says Jane Neuheisel. "We're known as a very friendly place. Our course is not too hard and not too easy. We don't try to rush people along either."

Green fees during the winter are at their peak - $13 on Mondays through Thursdays and $15 on Saturdays and Sundays. Carts are $6 extra. During the summer they drop precipitously. Parents who think they might have the next Tiger Woods on their hands, can sign up a child to play unlimited golf for an entire month during the hot season for only $15.

Among the peak frustrations for Shalimar is the growing competition for the golfing dollar. Back when the Neuheisels bought the course, there were only 85 courses in the Phoenix area. Now there are more than 200 and more greens and tees pop up on the local landscape all the time. This year was especially tough for all course owners because not as many winter visitors showed up in Arizona as usual. "We usually get a lot of Canadians here," Jane Neuheisel says, "and many of them stayed home because their dollar has gotten so weak and they've had problems getting their national health insurance to cover them here."

But the course was jammed with golfers the day that we visited. And the Neuheisels have come up with creative ideas to draw visitors. There are clinics for kids and nine-hole scrambles for employees of local businesses. There are grandma-and- grandpa tournaments with a closing party where the golfers share stories about their grandchildren. There are special lunches for locals who come from particular places in the Midwest, like Lacrosse, WI. There's an arbor and lawn where weddings can take place. "And we're known for making the best hamburger in Tempe," says Jane Neuheisel.

So what's her asking price for the complex? Five million dollars.

"We're hoping that the city of Tempe will buy it. But they have a lot of issues they're working on right now, so we're kind of on the back burner," she says.

Other than that, no one else has been interested except developers who might build on part of the land and make the course much smaller. Another option might be for the Neuheisels to remodel the course. "We're considering that," Jane Neuheisel says.

Want to play nine?

Prefer to play nine instead of buying nine? The Phoenix area is loaded with nine-hole golf courses like Shalimar that often get overlooked by players who only hear the big names - Grayhawk, Eagle Mountain, and Troon North - tossed around. But as every player knows, a quick nine is a great way to tune up your short game skills before heading out to spend $200 on a life-changing golf experience. The downside is that some older nine-hole courses are over-used and poorly maintained and play can be slow.

Here are some short-course possibilities:

Shalimar Country Club, 2032 Golf Ave., Tempe: Fees in the high season are $13 weekdays and $15 on weekends with carts $6 extra. The course is about 2,400 yards in length from the back tees. Call 480-831-1244 for reservations. Another note: John Gunby, now director of golf at Trilogy Golf Club at Power Ranch, is coming on board next month to head the golf program at Shalimar. Gunby hopes to add services at the course, including adding a junior caddie program. Gunby says about his new boss, Jane Neuheisel: "She's one of the most wonderful people you'll ever meet."

Riverview Golf Course, 2202 W. Eighth St., Mesa: This course is a full-length nine: 3,114 yards from the back tees and 2,560 yards from the forward or women's tees and has a mix of par-3s, 4s and 5s. There is also a lighted driving range that managers are very proud of.

What's intriguing is that Riverview was designed in 1987 by Scottsdale golf course architect Gary Panks, now a red-hot designer who did the newly opened Whirlwind course (at right) in the Chandler area and also designed a course at Grayhawk in north Scottsdale. "It's one of his best," says head golf pro Mike Mooney about Riverview. "It's very playable and has everything - bunkers, trees, lakes. It's challenging for any level of golfer."

Although Riverview is owned by the city of Mesa, there is no discount for city residents, but they do get preferences on tee times. Fees are reasonable even in the high season: $17 for nine holes and $23.50 each if two people share a cart. They start dropping April 1. Call 480-644-3515 or 480-644-3516 for reservations.

Cypress Golf Course, 10801 E. McDowell Road, Scottsdale: Built way back in 1963, this facility was renovated three years ago. It actually consists of two nine-hole courses, the long nine (par 36 and 3,500 yards from the back tees) and the short nine (par 29 and 1,500 yards from the back tees). The short course is good for beginners, says manager Anne Tabach. "It's in great shape and it has no sand and no water."

The long nine has four par 5s, including one that measures almost 600 yards.

Cypress is on the Scottsdale-Mesa border and belongs to the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community. Fees in the high season are $15 for the long nine and $9.50 for the short with cart fees at $7 and $6. In the summer, Tabach expects green fees to drop to about $10 and $5. Call 480-946-5155 for reservations.

Rolling Hills Golf Course, 1415 N. Mill Ave., Tempe: When first built in 1958, Rolling Hills had only nine holes, but nine more were added in 1987 to this course owned by the city of Tempe. But Rolling Hills is still a short course experience: a par 62 that measures 3,828 yards from the back tees. There are eight par-4s and 10 par-3s but no water hazards. "It's a very scenic course," says manager Mark Rose. "Part of it backs up to the Phoenix Zoo so you get to see part of that. You can see part of Arizona State and downtown Phoenix. It's called Rolling Hills, of course, because it is fairly hilly."

This city-owned course gives discounts to Tempe residents. Fees: $21 to walk and $31 to ride for non-residents; $16 and $26 for residents. Call 480-350-5272 for reservations.

Rebecca LarsenRebecca Larsen, Contributor

Rebecca Larsen is a former features and assistant features editor for the Marin Independent Journal, a medium-sized daily paper located north of San Francisco. She has also worked for the Milwaukee Journal and for a Chicago public relations firm. She has a bachelor's in journalism from Northwestern University and a master's from the University of California at Berkeley.

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