Eagle Bluff golf course shuts down; Chattanooga businessman Henry Luken plans sale of 417-acre site

In this 2014 staff file photo, Henry Luken is shown at the Valleybrook Golf and Country Club.
photo In this 2012 staff file photo, Henry Luken, new owner of Battlefield Golf Club, talks about the renovations and changes undergoing the facility at the golf course in Ringgold, Ga.

Seven years after buying the Eagle Bluff golf course in Harrison, Chattanooga businessman Henry Luken shut down the 18-hole course this week.

Luken said Wednesday he has had to subsidize operations of the course since he bought Eagle Bluff for $1.4 million in 2012 so he decided last month to close the business. Luken had quit adding new members for the course earlier this year and gave notice to golf course workers he might shut down the facility. Luken said he finally decided to try to sell the 417-acre site after he claims the Eagle Bluffs Home Owners Association worked to devalue his property by hiring an attorney and meeting with county officials to ensure the land was not subdivided and sold as more home lots.

Luken told home owners around the course of his decision last month in a brief and terse meeting with the Eagle Bluff Home Owners Association and the course closed Sunday after a tournament last weekend.

"I'm going to sell the property, which is what the home owners there don't want me to do," Luken said Wednesday. "I'm sure they will fight me, but I am equally sure they will lose."

Cort Dondero, president of Dondero & Associates and head of the Eagle Bluff HOA, said Wednesday night the HOA is eager to enhance the value of the course and to discuss with Luken the options going forth for the property.

"The homeowners are certainly very disappointed that the course has closed," Dondero said. "We had hoped to talk with Mr. Luken about the course and its possible sale and we still hope those talks can occur because we both want was it best for this property."

But Luken cited a letter to homeowners by Dondero that he says have hurt his efforts to sell the property and enhance the value of Eagle Bluff. In a newsletter, Dondero that said that neighborhood leaders at Eagle Bluff "have met with the heads of several county departments (county mayor, Zoning & Planning, Deeds and Assessments) to determine how we could make it difficult for the developer to purchase the golf course and then shut it down and develop it." Dondero said the homeowners had acted to restrict access to the course "to make it difficult" for any other development of the course property.

photo Staff file photo by Erin O. Smith / Gibby Gibert III lines up a shot on the putting green at Eagle Bluff golf course in the Harrison area this past January.

Dondero said Wednesday night that the HOA has been advised by attorneys hired by the association that the course must be reserved for recreational use, "which I don't think Mr. Luken knew when he bought this property."

Luken estimates he has had to subsidize the golf course every year he has owned it " to the tune of $200,000 to $250,000 a year and if the HOA is going to fire shots across my bow, I don't really care about them anymore," Luken said. "I don't need to fight with anybody, but when they start kicking at me, I'm going to kick back."

In a facebook post to Eagle Bluff homeowners, Luken said "your HOA has intentionally tried to damage the value of the golf course" by limiting its use. But Dondero said deed restrictions on the site already limit how the property can be used.

Luken said he still plans to try to sell the course and expects developers to create at least some home sites on the ridge-top course, which was originally developed by Don Williams as part of his Eagle Bluff subdivision.

Luken estimates only a handful of the neighborhood homeowners in the neighborhood were members of the golf course. Luken said because of its location and the difficulty of the course, attracting other members to Eagle Bluff also was hard.

"Eagle Bluff is off the beaten track and it has no chance of surviving if the homeowners who live around the course won't support it," he said.

Dondero said the course had not been as well maintained by Luken as it had in the past under its previous owner, Jim Sheets, who bought the golf course after winning the Tennessee Lottery. Sheets and others also were unsuccessful in making money on the course, however.

Dondero also said some homeowners didn't join the Eagle Bluff course because they didn't like Luken putting the membership of Eagle Bluff together with other golf courses Luken owns in the area.

"The good news is that my Battlefield Golf Course (in Ringgold) is opening soon with brand new greens and that course is supported by its customers and the local homeowners," Luken said.

Luken, who has sold most of its downtown office buildings in Chattanooga, also sold his ownership of the Champions Club LLC to a group organized by local homeowners at the end of last year for $2.1 million. Those homeowners also had complained about the maintenance under Luken of that 18-hole course in Ooltewah.

Luken continues to own and operate Valleybrook Golf and Country Club in Hixson, the Montlake Golf Course north of Soddy-Daisy, and the Mount Airy Golf Course in Dunlap. Luken also has a lease with the city of Cleveland and runs the Waterville Golf Course.

Eagle Bluff includes 147.3 acres and 15,858 square- feet of building, including a clubhouse, restaurant and a golf cart garage built in 1996, according to the Hamilton County Assessor's office.

Eagle Bluff features several distinctive bluffs overlooking Chickamauga Lake and Harrison Bay. The 18-hole course had been managed by Gibby Gilbert III, who at age 53 qualified this year for the the PGA Tour Champions, formerly the Senior Tour.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340.