Don’t gamble with Oakmont’s future
By John Williston
The August 1 edition of the Kenwood Press carried a “Guest Editorial” by Julie Cade and Bruce Bon (C/B) who urged that Oakmont Village residents not pay to help the Oakmont Golf Club (OGC). Their argument is questioned here as deceptive and incomplete. For example, their editorial opens with a description of a golf community in Arizona with a private golf club (Skyline Country Club) which was in financial trouble and facing foreclosure. This community decided to support the club by increasing their dues by 20 percent per year for three years. C/B suggested that the positive decision was prompted by the use of “scare tactics” claiming homeowners would suffer a major loss of real estate values if the golf club failed. The extra dues money was used to hire a professional golf management company which began a number of changes. A news story written several years after the management company took over described a business turn-around and a successful resolution of the crisis. C/B did not mention this positive result or the news story which announced it, and just used the dues increase as an example of what could happen here in Oakmont.
There are clear differences between Oakmont and Skyline CC, which make such a huge dues increase here in Oakmont unnecessary, and the chances that Oakmont golf will fail far less likely. For one thing, Skyline CC is a private club, which means that the members pay the bills. OGC is semi-private, which means that it does have members, but it also invites the general public to play and pay. It is a fact that two thirds of OGC golf income is supplied by non-members, which means that income can be boosted by increasing public play instead of just raising dues on its members. While OGC membership has dropped, in large part because of the aging of the former members, income from the public has increased as a portion of the total. Another major difference between Skyline CC and the OGC is that we already have a professional golf management team, the highly regarded KemperSports, an enormous national company considered one of the very best in the business. In other words, we have professional management now, the major reason for the Skyline CC dues increase. The question is why were these facts not mentioned in the C/B presentation?
Later on in the opinion piece C/B then proceed to describe the OGC as “unsustainable”, and which used “fear tactics” in town hall meetings to convince OVA to contribute to a for-profit business. This is essentially a fear-based argument itself. Uncertainty about the future already has been mentioned by home sellers in Oakmont as having a chilling effect on sales. Phrases like “Oakmont IS unstable,” “too costly to keep,” and “will inevitably fail” are liberally sprinkled throughout the C/B editorial. The lack of explanation why something is “undeniably true” is troubling. The sentence “our analysis predicts that OGC needs at least three to four times that amount of money ($5 per month) and probably much more, indefinitely” is unsupported. In fact, Oakmont Village Association (OVA) Board Vice President Tom Kendrick, who has been working closely with the OGC to address the club’s request for financial help, has made it clear that OVA is not considering a $5 per month assessment.
However, there is indeed a potential threat to property values that should be discussed rationally. Any golf community that loses its foundation sport faces the threat of looking out the window at weeds which are infrequently cut, if at all, and for years at a time. This reality can certainly cool interest in a property quickly. Having a closed golf course doesn’t help a community’s image in the public’s eye (or as a self image).
Golf has survived, and later prospered, through a series of economic downturns, like wars, a deep depression, and a number of recessions. The effects of the “Great Recession” of 2008-2010 still linger on for many Baby Boomers who lost much or all of their retirement savings and had to postpone retirement. Still, there are golfers playing, buying houses, and moving to Oakmont, although not yet in the numbers expected before the economic turmoil. The downturn in golf did not begin until after the 2000 recession and accelerated after the beginning of the Great one of 2008. Research done by the National Golf Foundation confirms that the core golfers are still around and their number seems to be growing again. Programs recruiting new golfers have been geared up and new alternative versions of the game designed to make the game more user-friendly have shown great promise. Giving up on golf here in Oakmont could be a bad mistake when the growth of the game resumes.
John Williston has been a member of the OGC, its board of directors, and various committees, including the OGC Long Range Planning Committee, for many years.