Nils's passion for golf was tempered by the usual teenage distractions—"We'd download music and go to the mall to see movies and try to talk to girls," says J.P.—and by a rich family life. "Nils loved to travel," says Monica Beeman. Visiting the Monterey Peninsula, the Beemans did not play Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill. They stuck to Del Monte and Pacific Grove, where the greens fees are more reasonable. And there was always this trade-off: Whenever Nils took his clubs on a trip, his parents insisted that he also bring along a book or two. "He read a lot of Dickens, mostly at Scott's instigation," Monica says.
Nils's pronounced self-confidence reflected his academic success. Even as a freshman he took nothing but honors classes. He was also a natural extrovert. To some of his peers the combination was off-putting. On the first day of his freshman year at Mountain Pointe, Nils stood in the doorway of the classroom for honors English and welcomed every one of his classmates by extending his hand and saying, "Hi, my name's Nils," like a candidate for public office. Says Ramseyer, "I wouldn't say there were kids who resented him, but some may have thought he was a little cocky."
Like most kids in Phoenix, Nils had heard plenty about the need to drink a lot of water during the blazing summers, and according to witnesses, during the Thunder-bird Classic he liberally availed himself of water at the coolers provided by the course and at others brought in by the Junior Golf Association of Arizona. Nils showed no signs of illness after the first day of the tournament or the next day, a Wednesday. On Thursday evening the family even went to a Dairy Queen for Blizzards. When they got home, Scott and Monica turned on the TV while Nils jumped into his thrice-weekly workout on the weights.
The next morning Monica awoke first She nudged Scott, who went downstairs to wake Nils. Monica was startled by shouts and rushed to the downstairs bathroom and joined Scott in attempting to revive Nils. They were unsuccessful. When the paramedics arrived, Monica wandered through the house in shock. "You want to go back and keep on looking to see that he's not dead," she says, recalling that awful morning. "I kept saying, 'It must be a dream. I must still be asleep.' "
Nineteen days later area media reported that county health officials believed that the illnesses were linked to Thunderbirds Golf Club, and suddenly no golfer would go near the place. "We had almost empty tee sheets for weeks," says Scott Henderson, the president—or Big Chief, in the association's nomenclature—of the Thunderbirds. "It had a real impact for about four months."
The bad publicity, though, only added to the course's problems. Thunderbirds Golf Club was already in deep financial trouble, mostly as a result of the owners' conflicting interests.
The course was supposed to be set up in such a way that the Thunderbirds' half of the revenues would fund a nonprofit venture benefiting the First Tee program. But for Alkhaseh (who declined to be interviewed by SI) the course was always a for-profit proposition. For that reason the IRS refused to grant nonprofit status to the umbrella corporation, Thunderbird Golf LLC, under which the club operated. As a consequence, the owners could not collect the $2 million to $3 million promised by private donors to help fund the First Tee. A month after Nils's death, the First Tee facility—a nine-hole par-3 course and a modest clubhouse—was shut down.
Without the private donations, the 18-hole course was in trouble. Alkhaseh and the Thunderbirds had borrowed heavily to finance the club's renovation, and though the 7,013-yard layout was terrific—area pros Tom Lehman, Billy Mayfair and Howard Twitty acted as design consultants—it came at too high a price. "We built the course a lot nicer than it had to be," says Henderson. The owners owed $6.6 million to Bank One Corporation, and in September the Thunderbirds and Alkhaseh defaulted on their loan. Last month the course was sold at auction to Phoenix businessmen Ernie Garcia and Artie Moreno for $4.8 million. The First Tee facility, owned solely by the Thunderbirds, was not part of the sale, and Henderson says it will be reopened later this month with profits from last week's Phoenix Open.
Still pending is the Beemans' $20 million wrongful-death suit against the Thunderbirds, Alkhaseh and Western Golf Properties, the company hired to manage the course. The Beemans know the suit casts them in an unpleasant light and have found the proceedings distasteful. "You wouldn't believe what it's like," says Scott. "You sit down with an economist, and he tries to determine what your son's life was worth."
Less than a year after Nils's death, the Beemans' mourning process continues. Monica has coped well. "I don't have any sadness about who Nils was," she says. "I only have good memories." As' for the dissolution of her marriage and how much it had to do with Scott's relapse, she says only, "We had two different ways of grieving, and they were not compatible."