By Mark Smith
Editor in Chief
Definition of a golfing nightmare:
Seeing a six-some scattered around the first fairway – one golfer in it, two in the rough on the right, one in the weeds on the left and two searching for the balls out of bounds – as you and your partner walk to the first tee.
Definition of a golfers’ dreaSeeing a six-some celebrating in the lounge after a round at The Canyon Club.
One certain six-some, that is.
“It was the six owners and the concept they have that attracted me here,” said the club’s general manager Brian Dees, who came to Albuquerque from Cape Cod, Mass., after long stints with high-end facilities in Austin, Texas.
“The commitment they show is great. It is a different model from a regular club. The six of them wanted to plant a flagstick and show they could do something good for the community.”
That six-some formed five years ago in hopes of saving what used to be the Four Hills Country Club.
Four Hills – once the site of a PGA Senior Tour (now Champions) event – was down to its final rounds. The game of golf was struggling severely nationwide – still is – and Four Hills was one of its casualties.
Four Hills, built in 1959, was over the hill by 2013.
“We didn’t want the golf course to shut down due to foreclosure,” said Jerry Lujan, owner of Elevation 180, a peak performance and growth focused company, and a former Albuquerque City Amateur golf champion. “There have been too many things that have been negative in New Mexico. We wanted to make something positive.”
Lujan said a mortgage company based in the Midwest, had foreclosed on the property. He and a five other successful local businessmen formed a group to try and create a new club on the property. They were given one year to pay off the mortgage.
So the six – Lujan, his brother Larry Lujan, Bill Golden, John Heer, Paul Cauwels and Jeff Stuve – renamed the property to The Canyon Club and started selling shares to investors at $25,000.
“We kept getting told we couldn’t do it,” Lujan said. “They said, ‘You’re never going to sell shares for $25,00.’ We thought we could.”
The group raised $3.2 million and paid off the mortgage in one year. It’s one of Albuquerque’s biggest success stories this decade, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the Four Hills area who would disagree.
“When I found out Four Hills Country Club was going out of business, I did my homework on what closures did to home values in other communities and concluded it would do the same here,” said Karen Little, who along with husband, Lowell, are retired and live a block away from the country club. “I don’t play golf. I don’t play tennis. But I went online to see what happens to homes in an area when golf courses close, and they fell a minimum of 15 percent.”
The Littles decided it was time to do a lot. They purchased two of the $25k shares.
“We said we needed to sell 100 memberships in one year to pay off the mortgage,” Lujan said. “When we took it over, the Realtors told us it would be a 100 million impact in real estate value for people in the Four Hills neighborhood. There are 1,400 homes up here, plus 400 more right outside of here.
“The property values haven’t only stabilized, they’ve gone up,” Lujan said. “When we took over, there were so many houses on the market that weren’t getting sold. Now a house up here sells pretty quickly.”
Despite golf still struggling nationwide, The Canyon Club isn’t.
Its fifth anniversary is Oct. 3, and the ownership group has signed on for another three-year commitment.
“We’re still debt free and we’ve sold 170 of the 200 shares available” Lujan said.
DEAL ME IN
The restaurant and clubhouse are very important at the property, because not all members play golf.
Lujan said there were fewer than 200 golf members before they took over, but now there are about 370. He said they won’t allow more than 400 because “we don’t want it ever to be tough to get out and play on the course.”
But there are also memberships available for just swimming and/or tennis and there’s even a dining-only membership.
“Because of our food pricing, it’s well worth it for a dining membership because there isn’t another restaurant in the immediate neighborhood,” Lujan said.
In all, The Canyon Club has nearly 800 members.
Prices vary for memberships, and the club has specials for younger members and first res ponders.
“We have a lot of respect for first responders in town; police, fire fighters, EMTs, military,” Lujan said. “It’s an appreciation thing for all of us. We very much appreciate our first-responders.”
Something else the owners appreciate is the Albuquerque community.
And they were confident that they could do something to make that community better.
“People are really buying into to why we did this in first place,” Lujan said. “It wasn’t about the six of us making money. We were just tired of Albuquerque, New Mexico being stuck in things and going downhill. Our philosophy is that you can do big things in Albuquerque and for the community.
“We’ve stood by that pretty strongly, and it’s finally paid off.”
Jeff Siembieda, a member of Four Hills and The Canyon Club since the early 2000s, said there’s been a good vibe in the membership with the new ownership.
“People enjoy being part of the events and the golf course is been in great shape,” said Siembieda, the executive director of the New Mexico Bowl and host of KNML Radio’s The Opening Drive. “And on another angle, they’ve been a great partner for us for a number of years with the bowl game. So from two perspectives, one as a member and two as a partner, to me has been all positives. I think we have the same visions; being part of the community and contributing to the community. We’re all in this together.”
Karen Little couldn’t agree more.
“We knew we had to invest in this club, and I really can’t understand any of the homeowners in the area that didn’t,” said Karen, who retired from Southwest Airlines. “We knew if we lost the club, we would just lose more money. But so many people just think, ‘I’ll let somebody else do it.’ Too many people in life expect someone else will do the work.
“But Lowell and I believe that it’s not the hand you’re dealt in life; it’s how you play it. You just have to play it the best you can.”
To this point, everything has come up aces for The Canyon Club and its supporters.
Anyone interested in further details about The Canyon Club can email Brandy Smotts at firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact Mark Smith at EnchantmentSportsNM@gmail.com