By BURT GRAEFF
Sheldon (Red) Mandell is 88 years old going on 58 years old. The guy is a human dynamo.
Mandell, a native Chicagoan, is the majority owner of the del Lago Golf Club. Fifteen years ago, in 2003, there was no del Lago Golf Club, no Rancho del Lago community. “There was nothing, but sand, cactus, dirt, snakes, absolutely nothing on the property where all this sits,’’ Mandell said. “I got me a horse and rode around to see what was here.”
What was there was 1,600 acres for sale. “The asking price was $6 million,’’ Mandell said. “I offered $5 millon and they accepted.”
Today, the del Lago Golf Club is the centerpiece of the Rancho del Lago community.
Mandell was the least likely of candidates to okay construction of a golf course and the accompanying pro shop/restaurant/bar. “I’ve never played golf,’’ he said during a recent sit-down interview. “But, I thought a golf course on this site was a good idea.
“I had a feeling we could do something here. Maybe I was too dumb and didn’t know it.”
Mandell said his group spent $25 million to get the course and clubhouse/restaurant going. The golf industry has been lagging all over the country. Including the Tucson area. “The golf course business is a different business,’’ Mandell said. “You can’t make money no matter what you do.
“The problem in this area of the country is the hot summer months. When it’s 105 degrees, you can have $20 greens fees and still have trouble getting golfers to come out. Despite this, I have never thought of shutting the place down.”
There were many who thought the course might be shut down in late summer 2017. Del Lago was in need of a serious face lift. It was run-down. It was losing outings, memberships. “We had to do something,’’ Mandell said.
There was speculation Mandell ear-marked $300,000 to get the course back up to par. “I wish it was $300,000,” Mandell said. “It was more like $1.5-$2 million.”
A key hire during this period of the facelift was Golf Superintendant Reuben Proper. “Reuben has done an outstanding job,’’ Mandell said. “The course now looks great.”
Mandell’s resume includes much more than being the majority owner of the del Lago Golf Club. He is the Chairman of the Board of the Chicago-based National Wrecking Company, which has demolished more than 120,000 structures in 36 states since it was incorporated in 1954.
Mandell’s ties to Tucson originated in 1983. “Our company (National Wrecking) had board meetings in various cities,’’ Mandell said. “One of them turned out to be Tucson. I got out here and someone suggested we go horseback riding.
“I said, “’’I’m from Chicago. I have never been on a horse.””
Mandell eventually caved in, saddling up. “I rode for more than three days,’’ he said. “I rode with a group known as the Cowboys of the Desert.” Among the riders he got to know: Roy Rogers.
Mandell continues to aggressively invest in the Tucson area, particularly Vail. His Chicago-based RMG Vail II LLC recently purchased 400 acres at I-10 and US 83 for $475,000 at auction. Up to 600 homes are planned on the parcel, which is also partially-zoned commercial. “There are no plans for a golf course,’’ Mandell said, smiling.
Burt Graeff is a retired sportswriter from Cleveland who regularly plays the Del Lago Golf Course. He, his wife June, and their Jack Russell Terrier Skip, have lived in Vail for more than eight years.