Newstrack: Amana Colonies Golf Club owner optimistic

'I knew I was going to have to put some money into the clubhouse'

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Background

An early morning fire on Nov. 6, 2015, destroyed the landmark 8,200-square-foot clubhouse of the Amana Colonies Golf Club. The cause of the fire was ruled “undetermined origin” by the state fire marshal.

What’s happened since

Stephen Kahler, a Des Moines native and Class A member of the Professional Golfers’ Association of America, was negotiating to buy the golf club from the previous owner, Greenback LLC, at the time of the fire.

“Initially, there was some disappointment because it completely threw a curve ball at everything I had been working on over the last four or five months,” Kahler said. “I had always wanted to own my own golf club and I had enjoyed playing this course when I was attending Kirkwood Community College.”

The club had been on the market for about $1.4 million, he recalled. Ahead of making that kind of investment, he had been having some conversations with Ken Ellingsen, who had been the superintendent for the past 27 years.

“I wanted to know about the condition of the cart paths, the irrigation system, the bunkers and all the capital expenses I would end up taking on,” Kahler said. “Ellingsen had told me in August 2015 that the clubhouse was beautiful on the outside, but the interior was looking dated.

“I knew I was going to have to put some money into the clubhouse, which he said had not been laid out very well when it was built.”

Kahler, who has managed golf courses from Arizona to the East Coast, formed Kahler Golf LLC, which bought the club. He also signed a 99-year lease with the Amana Society, which owns the land under the 18-hole golf course.

When the clubhouse burned down, half the golf carts were destroyed. Kahler elected to buy 64 new golf carts and maintenance equipment after he was unable to negotiate a satisfactory purchase agreement with Greenback, which auctioned the remaining golf carts and maintenance equipment.

At the time of the fire, Kahler was head golf pro at Troon Golf Management’s Ocotillo course in Chandler, Ariz. Putting in many early mornings and late nights, the 15-year veteran of the golf business designed a 2,200-square-foot clubhouse and engaged local general contractors Mike Sandersfeld and Nick Grimm to construct it.

“They told me they could build it. I told them that it had to be done in six weeks and I didn’t think that was possible,” Kahler said. “They assured me that was possible.”

Amana Colonies Golf Club opened for the season on April 15. The clubhouse, which has a 600-square-foot patio, features a fully stocked pro shop as well as a bar and a kitchen that will soon begin offering a wide variety of sandwiches.

While the weather has not been the best in recent weeks, Kahler is confident that momentum will build as more people become aware that the 18-hole course is open.

“We are working to attract more people, make the course more friendly and offer a quality experience,” he said. “We have an opportunity to grow our wedding and banquet business. I want us to be recognized as one of the top golf courses in the state of Iowa.”

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