Members of the Castlewood Country Club in Pleasanton rejected a proposal to negotiate a letter of intent for the Bay Club to take over ownership of the club and its two 18-hole golf courses.
Castlewood members recently voted 250 to 211 against moving ahead with negotiations with the Bay Club. A total of 555 members were eligible to vote.
For the last few years, the club’s Board of Directors and committee members have been analyzing how to address a number of challenges facing the club. Heading the list is that the 1970s vintage clubhouse and its older pool facility were built before the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed in 1991. Both facilities do not comply with the ADA and need major renovations to come into compliance.
In addition, like many country clubs, its membership is shrinking. The dated facilities are limited in what can be offered.
After a series of town hall meetings and its general membership meeting in January, the board had narrowed down potential options to three: the Bay Club takeover; doing ADA only improvements to the clubhouse and pool area; or investing significant money to renovate both areas in addition to bringing them into compliance with the ADA.
Earlier this year, the board asked the membership to decide which clubhouse option to pursue: just ADA improvements or ADA improvements with major remodeling to update the clubhouse. In that March 5 vote, members voted 211-189 for the more expensive option.
Some supporters of the more expensive option openly campaigned against the Bay Club option, with one member putting up a sign outside of his home on the golf course while others wore buttons advocating against the Bay Club option. The Bay Club purchased ClubSport last November, including its facilities in Pleasanton and Danville.
When asked about what’s next, Castlewood General Manager John Vest emailed that it was an internal club matter and they would have no comment.
In a May 22 email to members, the board laid out the next steps:
“We are in the process of forming various new Committees, all member driven, to facilitate the design, financing and construction of the ADA+Remodel plan as well as implementing the new Membership and Marketing programs. We will share these ideas with you very soon and will be reaching out to ask Members, with the necessary expertise, to join these Committees to ensure that we remodel our Clubhouse and other facilities in the best way possible to help attract and retain Members.”
With the Bay Club option now off the table, the club is shifting into high gear on the remodel. Documents distributed to members indicated that the remodel option would result in a member assessment of about $200 per month for 20 years because the club would have to borrow the money.
Sustainability could be a key challenge moving forward, particularly with dues already around $1,000 per month without the additional assessment. Over the last 15 years, membership has fallen from more than 800 to 555 that were eligible to vote in May (down three from March’s total). For older members, who are thinking of selling their membership as their ability to golf lessens with age, the Bay Club offered the opportunity to cash out. That’s now in limbo as the club develops and executes on the remodel.
It’s not a problem unique to Castlewood — many private clubs are struggling for members.
The Club at Ruby Hill in Pleasanton, which Arcis Golf purchased from developer Jim Ghielmetti in 2015, has launched an aggressive membership campaign. Arcis remodeled the main clubhouse to improve dining options for members and offers tennis, bocce and swimming programs.
An email outlined the May specials that included an initiation fee of $10,000 for the full golf categories and $5,000 or young professionals (39 and under) with five months of free dues; free golf carts for a year, interest free financing and 12 free golf guest passes.
It listed in bold caps “NO ASSESSMENTS EVER,” presumably a reference to what’s now facing Castlewood members.
Crow Canyon Country Club in San Ramon also is offering special programs to attract new members, while nearby Blackhawk Country Club, which boasts two 18-hole courses with one large clubhouse/banquet facility on the Lakeside Course, last year opened a 9,400-square-foot fitness center in its sports complex with tennis courts, pickle ball courts, bocce ball lanes and a bar and grill. That speaks to the interest in family-oriented country club offerings.
Nikki Ericksen, Blackhawk membership director, reported in an email that the fitness center has paid off in increased memberships. The club started pre-selling memberships before the Fitness and Wellness Center opened and finished 2018 with 245 memberships with access to the center. About 100 were upgraded social memberships. The sales pace this year through the winter has pleased Ericksen with 84 new membership through the first four months.
Meanwhile, the Diablo Country Club has launched a phased $31 million program to renovate the golf course, building two new facilities and remodel the historic clubhouse.
Last year, while evaluating options, Castlewood representatives entertained a conversation with Ponderosa Homes of Pleasanton about a potential joint venture to develop the Valley Course into homes. That faced numerous hurdles, including the Arroyo de la Laguna that borders three holes, the railroad tracks, and the likely need to annex it into the city of Pleasanton and change the agricultural zoning to residential.
From a membership standpoint, the Valley Course is a critical offering for the club because it is walkable (as it takes a well-conditioned person to walk the Hill Course with its elevation changes and slopes on the fairways). The Valley Course gets about 60% of the play.