published Friday, August 23rd, 2013

Henry Luken lands Valleybrook golf course for $950,000 amid Drake family feud (with video)

Valleybrook Golf and Country Club sold to Henry Luken
After family struggles over the future of the course, the owners of Valleybrook Golf and Country Club chose to auction the 137-acre property in Hixson on Thursday. Chattanooga businessman Henry Luken won the auction with a $950,000 bid. Luken said he will remodel the clubhouse and keep the development operating as a golf course, rather than establish it as a new subdivision.
Teresa Harrison sinks a putt Thursday morning during an auction of property and equipment at the Valleybrook Golf and Country Club. She and others were participating in Diamonds and Dough, a fund-raising tournament for the American Cancer Society.
Teresa Harrison sinks a putt Thursday morning during an auction of property and equipment at the Valleybrook Golf and Country Club. She and others were participating in Diamonds and Dough, a fund-raising tournament for the American Cancer Society.
Photo by John Rawlston.
  • photo
    Henry Luken talks with reporters Thursday morning after his auction bid was accepted for the Valleybrook Golf and Country Club.
    Photo by John Rawlston.
    enlarge photo

It took two Chattanooga police officers to ensure that a family feud would not get any uglier during the court-ordered auction of Valleybrook Golf and Country Club on Thursday morning.

A Davidson County, Tenn., judge had ordered the company co-owned by David Drake and his sisters, Nancy Drake Donelson and Carolyn Drake Snider, to sell its properties to settle a simmering sibling financial dispute that has dragged on for months.

“We’ll be duking it out for who knows how long over this and about 20 other properties,” Drake said shortly after selling the Hixson course that their father, Carl Drake, helped create in 1962.

Drake stood on one side of the clubhouse dining room while his sisters occupied a copper-topped table on the other side that was later auctioned off, as well. The awkward family reunion lasted the full 25-minute length of the course auction, which ended with Chattanooga investor Henry Luken’s winning bid, and into the afternoon as individual items were auctioned off.

Luken, who owns three other golf courses in the greater Chattanooga area, purchased the golf course and its buildings for $950,000.

He said his intent is to improve the course and the clubhouse and make membership private.

“You buy it, then you decide what to do,” Luken said before the auction of items inside the clubhouse, kitchen, pro shop and the maintenance barn, some of which he purchased as well. “I want everybody to come back and see it in the spring.”

Luken outbid Buddy Templeton, who owns Creeks Bend Golf Course across Hixson Pike from Valleybrook, and Paul Teruya of GreenTech Homes. Templeton would have kept the property as a course. Teruya likely would have developed some of the land.

“Vacant property in Hixson is hard to come by,” said Teruya, as a crowd of about 150 people including club members, real estate agents and curious golf fans began to dissipate from the dining room. “It’s not every day a piece of Hixson history goes up for auction.”

In the end, Teruya said, the price was “a little bit more than we wanted to spend because a lot of this land is in the flood zone.”

While the auction of a historic golf course that previously held PGA Tour events is certainly an unusual event, the tempestuous history between David Drake and his sisters is par for the course.

Court documents filed this year portray Drake as a colorful, often profane character who attempted to cut his sisters out of the family business, but who ultimately had the tables turned on him after they banded together against him.

Drake’s sisters accused him of refusing to turn over financial records after the sisters noticed discrepancies, secretly changing the company’s registered address with the secretary of state and failing to turn over any of the course’s profits.

While Drake was drawing a salary as the course manager, his sisters earned only $500 each — ever — from their share of the course, which Drake valued at roughly $3 million in assets, Donelson and Snider wrote in a court filing.

“It doesn’t take a shrewd businessperson to understand a $500 return on a million dollars is simply not worth the investment,” his sisters wrote.

Drake claimed that it was his sisters who refused to turn financial records over to him. And while Drake and his sisters agreed on dissolving the course, Drake said he should be the one to sell it, not some third party.

But that wasn’t the only dispute involving Drake. He also came under fire for improperly terminating Ron Simpson, the golf course superintendent, after Simpson accused Drake of stealing golf course equipment.

“Mr. Drake had a reputation and history of disagreeable behavior and a questionable management style,” Simpson wrote in a complaint alleging that he was fired for speaking up. “At times, Mr. Drake’s violent outbursts would cause Plaintiff and other employees to fear for their personal safety.”

Donelson and Snider told Simpson to keep an eye on Drake after the superintendent relayed complaints from customers and employees who said they had been subjected to what they called Drake’s “verbal assaults.” When Drake was spotted loading golf course maintenance equipment in the back of his truck, Simpson notified one of the sisters.

Two weeks later, Drake fired him for coming “between him and his sisters,” according to the complaint.

“Mr. Drake exhibited a hostile and threatening attitude towards plaintiff and approached him in an aggressive manner, and verbally assaulted plaintiff, forcing plaintiff to retreat from the situation out of fear for his safety,” Simpson said.

Eventually, the Davidson County Chancery Court ordered the auction of all DASAC property, including Valleybrook and parts of the Drake Forest subdivision in East Brainerd.

“When you dissolve a corporation, you just sell everything, so it’s not that complex,” said Drake’s attorney, John Cavett Jr. “What makes this complex is that the parties involved in the case are pretty adverse to each other.”

Ironically, Drake lost the course after he sued his sisters, not the other way around.

“He sued us,” Donelson said. “I wouldn’t have sued anybody in my family to try and settle something. I don’t think that courts solve family issues.”

Drake and Donelson initially attempted to revive the course after terminating a lease with Gibby Gilbert II and his son Gibby Gilbert III in the spring of 2011. The family partnership worked for a while. But it didn’t last.

“When David and I took it over in 2011, we did many improvements,” Donelson said. “David and I tried to work together and make a go of it. I hope that maybe now, we can all interact as a family in the future.”

It could be awhile. Shortly after the auction, Drake took one last dig at his sisters, who live in Nashville.

“The problem is that if you never work and never put any sweat equity into it, you never feel the loss,” Drake said. “My daddy would not be happy. He’s twisting in his grave.”

Contact David Uchiyama at duchiyama@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6484. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.

about David Uchiyama...

David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...

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