By Doug Strasser
Las Campanas is the realization of a vision by developer Lyle Anderson. Anderson is a native of the Seattle area. He earned an electrical engineering degree from the University of Washington and went to work as a management trainee for a telephone company.
He later became part-time sales manager and broker for a Seattle area golf residential community, where he got his start in real estate. By the late 1960s, he was acquiring vacant land in Washington state and forming limited partnerships.
In a 2018 interview from Dreams Magazine, Anderson said, “My childhood experiences with the family’s nine-hole golf course in Seattle that flooded and ruined my family financially has been a major part of my soul and passions.”
Anderson moved to Scottsdale, Arizona in 1975 at the age of 32. His land partnerships (land syndication) there were successful enough that by the early 1980s he ventured into residential development. “I started to buy land for investment groups and had good success.”
He then progressed into just buying land for his own investment. “The Desert Highlands property was one of the first pieces I bought on my own. I just bought it as an investment, to buy it, hold it, resell it.” But one day while playing golf with a friend, Lyle thought out loud and said to his friend, “Well, wait a minute, I might do a golf course,” remembering the days with his dad.
Lyle had a vision and a dream that was based on his belief that people were aspiring to be a member of a private club; they aspired to having some privacy; and they aspired to live in the beautiful desert where homes and the golf courses were folded into the environment and not just bulldozed flat lots.
According to Martin Kaufmann of Golf Week, Lyle Anderson’s reputation as the “Father of Desert Golf” is the result of the three master planned golf communities in greater metropolitan Phoenix/Scottsdale area and his fourth on the high and dry arroyo-carved plain outside Santa Fe—Las Campanas.
Kaufmann states in an April 2011 article about Anderson that, “It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Lyle Anderson literally put Scottsdale on the map.” In the early 1980s, nearly two decades before construction was completed on the Loop 101 highway around Scottsdale, Anderson took over a failed, 850-acre development northeast of town, up on East Happy Valley Road. Starting in 1982 he began building Desert Highlands at this location. It was one of the first high-end desert communities, included a Jack Nicklaus designed tournament quality golf course and established the Anderson template. It was the first Anderson golf community, followed by Desert Mountain and Superstition Mountain in the Phoenix area.
His fourth community was Las Campanas. In the mid 1980s, Anderson was made aware of a potential desert residential golf opportunity on a large ranch just outside Santa Fe, N.M. Anderson began as an advisor to the Las Campanas project, but once he got involved and saw the opportunity he quickly came over as a partner.
In 1985 the partnership included PNM’s Meadows Resources, EF Hutton’s Franchise Finance Corp. and Anderson. On Sept 30, 1987 the partnership purchased 4900 acres of Bob and Zannie Weil’s Santa Fe Ranch just northwest of Santa Fe.
Anderson named it Las Campanas (The Bells) because he said it was so quiet there you could hear the church bells ringing from miles away. Anderson then brought in Jack Nicklaus to design and build two championship golf courses.
In 1987, EF Hutton dropped out of the partnership, as did PNM in 1989, leaving Anderson the sole owner. He brought in the Bass brothers from Texas, initially for additional financing and later as 50/50 partners in 1991. In 2000, Anderson bought out the Bass Brothers, leaving him the sole owner of Las Campanas. By 2008, $150 million had been invested, sourced from Anderson, his partners, and land sale proceeds.
Las Campanas was different from Anderson’s other projects. It utilized an open-space design with 1717 large lots divided into 13+ neighborhoods. The Las Campanas Sunrise golf course opened for play in 1992 and the Sunset course opened in 2001.
For his fifth and sixth projects, Lyle ventured far from the Southwest, transforming the historic Loch Lomond in Scotland in 1994 into a golf community and beginning creation of Hokuli’a on the big island of Hawaii in 2002.
At Hokuli’a, a lawsuit filed by Kona local residents claimed that the property, which was zoned as agricultural land, needed to be reclassified as urban land, a process that can take years. In 2003, more than five years after Anderson secured zoning permits to build Hokuli’a, a state circuit court judge sided with the residents and ordered a halt to development.
In 2006, the judge approved a settlement of the lawsuit but the damage had been done. “We won, but really (the activists) won because they took six years of the greatest market we ever had and we were (left) on the bench,” Anderson says. “That really hurt. It certainly ran up my debts with the bank. That was a difficult thing.”
By the time sales resumed at Hokuli’a, the housing market was collapsing along with the broader economy. “I’ve got a lot of scars from that one,” Anderson acknowledges. Hokuli’a was particularly damaging because financing for all of Andersons developments was intertwined. Problems at one development affected his other properties. In January 2008, according to The Wall Street Journal, Anderson defaulted on a $1 billion mortgage with his lender, the Bank of Scotland. Later that year, the bank took control of Hokuli’a, Superstition Mountain, Las Campanas, and Loch Lomond via the terms of their agreement.
There was no bankruptcy, but Anderson was out. A management firm was retained by the bank to run the properties. The Club at Las Campanas members were notified of the situation by letter from Anderson in the fall of 2008 and in 2010 the Club was turned over to them debt free, thanks to excellent member planning.
Anderson remains an active developer. Projects proposed or in development include:
- Pali Kai,Hawai—One of Anderson's previous land acquisitions of approximately 400 acres on the coast of the big island divided into six parcels of land averaging 60+ acres per parcel with private beach access.
- La Privadaat, Chileno Bay, Los Cabos, Mexico—Anderson is developing a small enclave. He has been going to the area for 20 years and has a home there.
- Quivira, Los Cabos, Mexico—2000 acres, one golf course. Anderson is developing 200 acres within the facility at the beach.
- Santa Fe—330 acres just outside of the city limits. Anderson proposed a residential development on this site but has since put the project on hold.
Sources and Credits
- Steve Tobia, 2018 Dreams Magazine article; "The Lyle Anderson story”
- Martin Kaufmann of Golf Week, April 4, 2011
- The Wall Street Journal, Jan 2008
- Executive Golfer, Feb 1997
- CLC25 Book Committee interview with Lyle Anderson and other former execs, Scottsdale at Lyle Anderson Company's offices, April 12, 2016
- John Yabtis, “Build It and They Will Play," Mar 13, 2005 East Valley Tribune