The Estancia Club opened in 1995 on 640 acres of the northern slope of Pinnacle Peak.  Our 32,000 square foot clubhouse features dining, a wine cellar, fitness center, tennis courts, swimming pool, massage, and fully-appointed men's and ladies' locker rooms.
 

Club History

Estancia traces its beginnings to Jerry Nelson, who struck water and went on to develop the area around Pinnacle Peak. A native of Hollywood, California, he had built a thriving construction business in northern Michigan, and he and his wife Florence liked to travel to warm climates to escape their harsh Michigan winters. In 1969, they moved to Arizona and acquired 160 acres at $1,100 per acre, at the southwest corner of Pima and Pinnacle Peak Roads. At that time, Pinnacle Peak Road had only been paved for three years, and there was no food, water or electricity nearby.

Mr. Nelson master-planned the square mile that became Estancia property, making deals with banks and lumber companies, but in the beginning didn’t get much encouragement. His biggest moment was when he, with the technical help of a young ASU student of hydrology, drilled 550 ft. into the earth to find a huge reservoir of water.

Through improved engineering, he was eventually able to produce at the rate of 5,000 gallons per minute. This led to Nelson’s Pinnacle Paradise Water Company, one of the first companies that would make him a rich man.

In time, Nelson was granted rights to the Maricopa County franchise, dug seven more wells, and sold water to his competitors. Taking the advice of a local native, he bought more property, which led to his development of Pinnacle Peak Village and Pinnacle Peak Country Club. He pioneered ways to save the environment or decrease the impact on it. With an assured water supply, he purchased land for Troon Village, at the center of which was the Troon Golf and Country Club.

Estancia evolved in two stages: the first was a search to build a master planned, members only resort and residential community.
The second was the completion of a very high-end exclusive private club, The Estancia Club. Part one began in 1987 when John Lang received a call from long time friend and business associate Al DuVaul. A president of IDG Resorts and a creative and dynamic real estate professional, DuVaul cast the original vision for the Estancia Club.

Lang, an Arizona transplant from Long Island by way of Virginia and Florida, had built a solid career in real estate development. He was adept in the sales and marketing side of the business, and he had teamed with DuVaul on The Racquet Club at Scottsdale Ranch, a $62 million project by IDG Resorts and Dixons Group. As DuVaul wanted to do another Scottsdale Project, Lang contacted Doug Simonson, a partner of Jerry Nelson’s. In May 1989, IDG, under the name of Pinnacle Peak Partners, paid $14.384 million for "title to the land."

The property consisted of 620 acres zoned for residences, 12.5 golf holes (the remaining 5.5 holes were added in 1994), a resort hotel, equestrian facilities and a desert discovery museum.

Funding for the project was from the Industrial Bank of Japan (IBJ), as much of the investment capital pouring into Arizona and the rest of the country in the late 80's and early 90's was Japanese. After considering several name choices, John Lang noted a small town in New Mexico called Estancia. The group thought the word had a nice ring. Technically, an "estancia" is a large, grassed private estate used to raise cattle and horses and is most often associated with Argentina. However, nailing down the rights to "Estancia" didn’t come cheap. Pinnacle Peak Partners invested $20,000 for a trademark, which formally took place on February 19, 1991. Lavish promotional materials were created, and touted Estancia as "an exceptional value for those families or individuals who are looking for an outstanding member-only resort experience." As of June 1990, with IBJ funding to back him, Lang was fully engaged in a fledgling enterprise.

In September 1990, he met someone instrumental in helping him succeed, Michael Grady. Over the long haul, Grady proved a stalwart partner in the looming four-year battle to build Estancia. Grady, a native of Phoenix and a CPA with experience at a Big Eight accounting firm, had learned club development at the Marbella Golf and Country Club, San Juan Capistrano. His financial skills would be critical every step of the way.

In October 1990, the Japanese government put a moratorium on lending worldwide and IBJ was pulling its money out of the Estancia project. Lang responded by asking DuVaul to buy the company, and DuVaul agreed. IDG’s interest was acquired by an entity controlled by Lang and took over the $12.8 million note with the State of Arizona.

From 1991 until 1994, Estancia was on hold, waiting for the revival of Arizona real estate development. A story in the Wall Street Journal, August 1993, proclaimed "Rising from Ashes of Its Bust Years, Phoenix Housing Market Soars Again", and the lead read "The greater Phoenix region’s big housing bust has turned into a boom". A local paper ran a story about the hot spots for development in North Scottsdale.

Lang and Grady met with Brian Franke, an investment banker and protégée of Lyle Anderson at Desert Highlands. He was supportive of their plan, and offered them credibility. His father, Bill Franke, had played a key role in bringing the Bass Brothers to Lyle Anderson as a part of the Desert Highlands deal, then involving Mobil Land Company. Franke senior was then the chairman of America West Airlines, and he kept an eye on Estancia and provided sound advice.

1994 produced a turnaround in the Estancia saga. In December, Grady got a call from Mark Sollenberger, a veteran of Phoenix real estate. He had a client interested in hearing the development plans. The client was Haas & Haynie Corporation of San Francisco, and the individuals representing them were Paul Fay and Michael Meldman. The final piece of the Estancia puzzle.

Haas & Haynie has a storied history. Founded in 1898, it was commissioned in 1901 to dredge the channel at Pearl Harbor. It went on to do a series of large water reclamation projects and was known primarily as a construction company. Paul Fay joined them in 1980 and eventually became their CEO. He guided them to focus resources on land development and construction management.

Mike Meldman was born in Milwaukee but raised in Phoenix, so he always considered himself an Arizona native. He majored in history, but found his successful calling in real estate. He joined Haas & Haynie in San Francisco and became Executive Vice President, working closely with Fay. When Sollenberger called, their interest was piqued.

By acting as a matchmaker between the two groups, Sollenberger assumed an important role in the Estancia story. Raised in Scottsdale, he found his true calling in golf. He was a member of the Arizona State University golf team, then an aspirant pro. Eventually, he went on to win the Arizona State Amateur four times. He was a highly respected member of the golf community, whose opinion and advice was much valued. He would become known as "the golf guy" he was on board with Lang and Grady’s concept for a top-tier private club.
Working to secure a course designer, they accepted a bid from The Winchester Group, then working on The Quarry with Tom Fazio. They signed a contract with Winchester in July, 1994. In September, modifications were filed to its original zoning plan, and all parties involved gave their blessing, including Jerry Nelson and Lyle Anderson, the Greater Pinnacle Peak Homeowner’s Association and the Scottsdale Parks and Recreation Commission. In October, San Francisco-based Farallon Capital Management, Inc., entered into a joint venture with Haas & Haynie and Pinnacle Peak Partners. Farallon committed up to $22 million toward development of the property. The image below-right depicts Estancia's pre-Fazio master plan.

The soul of all world-class golf clubs is its course, which relies on the property on which it lies, and the hand of the architect who shapes its contours. Estancia knew the best designer available was Tom Fazio, and one visit convinced Fazio that the property nestled next to Pinnacle Peak was an extraordinary venue. Fazio would be paid top dollar, but worth every bit of it. He was the winner of "Best Modern Day Golf Course Architect three times over. His courses won Best Private, Best Public and Best Resort course awards over a number of years and all three in a single year, an unprecedented achievement. He had more courses in Top 100 American and World Courses lists than any single living practitioner. Fazio’s approach to Estancia .... "Design the course so the regular player can enjoy his rounds but still feel challenged...." (click the image to enlarge)

In December, 1994, with final approval of an amended Master Development Plan from the City of Scottsdale, the four year struggle was finally over. Through a tangle of financial moves and land regulations, the vision of Estancia was underway.

The initial Master Plan called for a private golf and country club and residential community. There would be a golf course, clubhouse, and approximately 384 lots which would include 211 estate lots and 173 hillside villa lots. The financial strategy underpinning the real estate part of the plan involved strategically acquiring land that could be sold as lots; also, through the sale of golf memberships, the company would recoup the costs associated with acquiring the land and developing the golf course, and therefore own the property free and clear. Final payment for the State of Arizona land loan was to be made in full by mid-year 1997.

Golf course construction was to take eleven months, with play commencing in November, 1995. A temporary clubhouse would be constructed, with a permanent facility completed in 1997. Upon completion of the golf course and commencement of member play, the golf course and all other club property would be turned over to Estancia Country Club, an Arizona non-stock corporation. This focus on the eventual turnover of the club to its members was a near and long term key to Estancia’s success.


Site development commenced in January 1995 and was done in phases predicated on overall real estate sales.

Equity memberships were offered by invitation only and were limited to 375 full equity golfing members, 120 social members, and 30 founding members. The price for an equity membership was $80,000 and social memberships were $25,000.

With the course nearly completed, members received an invitation for a special tour and presentation of drawings for the Tuscan-themed clubhouse (below) in November 1995. Rather than emulating the common Southwest look common in the area, the designers of the Estancia clubhouse looked to Europe for an Old World feeling. They found it first in the pages of a magazine, in a picture of a Spanish town molded around a mountain. They explored similar scenes in Tuscany, and this information drove them in their design.

The developers and members of The Estancia Club shared the same vision and spirit.... To build a combined Pine Valley and Augusta National in a desert setting near an Arizona landmark. That vision was realized, and The Estancia Club now ranks among the finest golf facilities and residential communities in the world, with a membership roster to match.

The Estancia Club story is part business drama, part visionary quest. The drama involved battling economic odds with financial acumen. The quest was for a golf course and clubhouse exemplifying the highest levels of excellence. The right people in the right place with the right timing led to a rare creative experience that changed the lives of those who lived it. Where once existed Pinnacle Peak and the Sonoran Desert, appears a golf course and clubhouse as solid and venerable as the rock and stone of which they were made.
 

In its first decade, Estancia has done something more than build a fine course and clubhouse.
It has infused a soul into both of these and made a place that touches people’s lives.
A place where they can relax and be themselves among peers and engage in life’s little pleasures.


- - Excerpts taken from The Estancia Club by author Michael Bartlett, Photos by Tony Roberts - -