Second-Home Covenant Members Shouldn’t Be Treated Like Second-Class Citizens

I recently attended and spoke at the monthly Board of Directors meeting to discuss the disparity of Covenant members not having access to “partial play” at our neighborhood Rancho Santa Fe golf course. Although my primary residence is in Minnesota, I have owned a home in the Covenant for 25 years. When I bought my home here, one of the benefits was being able to play a round of golf, especially when my family came to visit. I would buy a 12-pack and maybe use only four a year. It was a win-win: The club would make about $5,000 from what I paid in greens fees, and I enjoyed having that amenity available to me. 

In recent years, as a homeowner who only lives here part time, I have come to feel underrepresented, as do several of my neighbors. So they asked me to speak on their behalf at the April Board meeting to inquire about reinstating “partial play,” or the six- and 12-pack program. The following are my thoughts in response to arguments made at that meeting by RSFA Board Directors, the interim Golf Club Manager Shanon McCarthy, and Golf Club President Todd Neal.

Covid and increased dues

Mr. Neal believes the club ending the six- and 12-pack program was the reason for the recent growth of the membership, publicly stating: “It’s true that years ago that opportunity existed, but the golf club realized that by offering that, it was suppressing its membership. And after the ability to buy the packs of rounds was discontinued, we have added 175 new members, and our membership has grown more than 30%.”

Now I may not be the brightest bulb on the tree, but from a 30,000-foot view, what would someone with average intelligence say were the key motivations for the increase in membership? Could it have been the imminent rise of the initiation dues from $50,000 to $75,000 that caused residents to get in before the price went up? How about a worldwide pandemic with masses of people under lockdown clamoring to join golf clubs? But Mr. Neal believes that ending the “partial-play” privilege forcing landowners to become golf club members, was the reason for their growth?

I am a member of the Interlachen Country Club in Minneapolis. After the onset of Covid, the waitlist for golf membership ballooned to over six years. The club finally shut it down and stopped adding names, since it was at capacity and members were not leaving.

Mr. Neal also warned that allowing Covenant members to have “partial-play” privileges on the course would hinder available tee times for the regular members, saying: “We have an access problem to our golf course. Many of our dues-paying members are dissatisfied with the level of access they have to the golf course. And this problem would be greatly exacerbated if the six-and 12-package of rounds was reinstated.”

Of tee times and casual acquaintances

As a “partial player” I could only reserve a tee time after 1 p.m. and never on a Saturday. These tee times were often wide open. What regular golf member signs up for a 2:00 p.m. tee time hoping to finish by the time the sun sets, when they can reserve time in the morning?

Then I was told if a Covenant member wants to play golf, they only have to ask a current golf club member to sign them up for a tee time. I’ve owned my home in the Covenant for 25 years, and because I’m seldom here, I’ve only gotten to know one golf member whom I greet on my morning walks. Is this now the culture of Rancho Santa Fe? Covenant homeowners are supposed to ask a casual acquaintance for a tee time?

Another argument was made that allowing “partial play” through the six- and 12-packs will negatively affect the status of being a Rancho Santa Fe golf member, which, in turn, will negatively affect property values. I contend it is the opposite. Does the Board really want to send a signal that Covenant members who live here part time are unwelcome? By taking that attitude against this group of people, they are not enriching the community, but stifling it. Those looking to purchase second homes here will think twice if word gets out they are unwelcome on the course, and underrepresented by the Board.

Conflicting interests

I find it so strange that those Board Directors who are also golf members don’t recuse themselves from votes concerning the golf course. It is a very clear conflict of interest. The golf club is financially benefiting from Association loans and monies. Why would the Association have anything to do with an independent golf club’s renovation of its restaurant or snack bar, thus keeping members’ dues lower? I think the answer is the Association wants to have the property be part of a “community.” So, they should hold true to that cause and allow “partial play” to all Association members, showing some degree of inclusiveness to that “community.”

Finally, I very much appreciate those brave and passionate volunteers who give their time and energy to oversee the Rancho Santa Fe Covenant. It’s a special place and has been my family’s oasis.

Ralph Savage is a Covenant member.