The Kenwood Press
News: 03/15/2019

What’s next for Oakmont golf?

Jim Brewer

In the beginning, there was a vote.

Given the opportunity to take over the Oakmont golf courses in 1989 from developer H. N. Berger, residents voted to decline the offer even if it was considered a “pretty sweet deal” at the time. The idea of a $1,500 per household assessment apparently just wasn’t that sweet.

Now, like the Little Engine That Could, the Oakmont Village Association’s (OVA) Board of Directors is chugging in the direction of asking residents to pay something for the golf courses after all. And it all could well end up in another community vote.

At a March 5 workshop, OVA directors joined President Steve Spanier in declaring they are open to finding a way to keep local control of golf course land to minimize a drop in real estate values for Oakmont homeowners when the golf courses are sold. Judging from the applause, the 200 residents in attendance also appeared to be strongly in favor of the association getting involved. Yet despite the strong general consensus, there was far from unanimity on what actions the OVA could – or should – take on an issue which Spanier acknowledged could become “more divisive than pickleball.”

Spanier resigned his Oakmont Golf Club (OGC) membership Feb. 28 in an effort to remove any conflict of interest from his active involvement in golf club discussions and votes. His action followed a February OGC decision to put the two courses and restaurant up for sale with national broker Marcus & Millichap (M&M).

“Many of the barriers to open discussions and fact-finding with the OGC have been removed,” Spanier said. “Thanks to the honest, open approach of the new OGC board, we are all now free to engage in a factual, community-wide discussion of this issue.”

OGC sustained large losses in 2017 and 2018 due to fall wildfires and winter rains. The membership just approved a stopgap $750 assessment aimed at covering a 2018 operating deficit and making the club more attractive to a buyer interested keeping golf alive in Oakmont.

At the workshop, the board and several speakers discussed OVA options that were outlined in a President’s Message released by Spanier prior to the meeting. Possible options included providing financial aid to support a sale, purchase of the golf facilities by the OVA, or taking no action. Spanier said he does not know which options should be pursued but said he “is setting the table” for broader community discussions.

Spanier argued that doing nothing would be a dangerous choice. “If OGC membership doesn’t approve the sale, or OGC is forced to file bankruptcy prior to sale consummation, OGC’s new owner will be an insurance company that doesn’t want to own golf courses. The insurance company will sell OGC ASAP to the highest bidder without regard for what that buyer plans to do with the land and facilities.”

Steve Ekovich, M&M senior vice president, has told OCG members that failed golf courses reduce home values by 20-30 percent for homes not on courses and by 30-40 percent for homes on the golf courses. Others claim those numbers are wildly inflated and simply amount to blatant scare tactics.

OVA Vice President Tom Kendrick, who has been working on the golf issue, stressed that the board will move cautiously and with community involvement. “I just want to make sure people understand that the board is not planning to do any action in the short run, and that any action we might take at some point down the road will be completely examined both by the community and by our legal advisors to make sure we are not stepping out of bounds in some way,” he said.

State law governing homeowners associations requires a membership vote for an annual dues increase of 20 percent or more, or when a special assessment would exceed five percent of the association’s budgeted gross expenses – in Oakmont’s case a little over $200,000. Approval by at least a majority of a quorum of Oakmont’s roughly 3,200 households – just over 800 “yes” votes – would be needed for passage.

Two current initiatives are aimed at gathering information for the OVA Board and Oakmont members. As part of the sales process, M&M is producing a business plan for prospective buyers with expected success scenarios, including associated investments and returns. At the same time, a subcommittee of the OVA Finance Committee is also developing options for OVA to consider if no acceptable buyer emerges or if OVA decides to explore financial help, such as a bridge loan.

“The results of these two efforts will provide hard data on what it will take over what period to get the club to a financial stable position,” for sale, Spanier said. “If we choose to take action to help the OGC in some manner, time is of the essence.”