The gated community in Riverside County, Calif., will vote on a proposal to require the owners of its 1,400 homes to join Bermuda Dunes Country Club, paying $50 a month for a social membership. Proponents say the additional funding will help prop up the historic golf club, but homeowners say the community is attractive because of its low HOA dues, not its golf course.
Bermuda Dunes, a large gated community in Riverside County, Calif., will soon be asked to vote on a proposal to require the owners of its 1,400 homes to join Bermuda Dunes Country Club, the Palm Springs, Calif., Desert Sun reported.
In brief, the proposal asks residents to pay $50 a month for a social membership at the club. The Bermuda Dunes Security Association board said the proposed agreement with the club is on the agenda for a May 26 homeowners association meeting. If the board approves it, they hope to have members vote on the agreement by the end of June, the Sun reported.
As in other communities that have considered similar proposals, proponents say the additional funding will help prop up the historic golf club—which is facing a shrinking membership—and protect property values. But talk about the agreement has sparked outrage from other homeowners, who say they didn’t join the club when they moved in and aren’t interested in doing so now. They say Bermuda Dunes is attractive because of its low HOA dues, not its golf course, the Sun reported.
Bermuda Dunes Country Club was developed in the late 1950s. Houses then sprung up around the course — some on fairways, some in new gated communities and some further away, out of sight of the course. In 1989, residents of most of these homes agreed to build a gate around the neighborhood, the Sun reported.
The result was a variety of houses and condos inside, including 17 individual gated communities. The Bermuda Dunes Security Association, which now functions like the neighborhood-wide homeowners association, was given jurisdiction over the neighborhood’s gates and streets, the Sun reported.
Jon Dunlevie, son of the club’s developer, Ernie Dunlevie, has lived in the neighborhood for most of his life and sold real estate there for nearly four decades. He remembers the 27-hole golf course’s star-studded tournaments, which once included the Bob Hope Desert Classic. But today, he said, “it’s become a different animal.” The Bob Hope tournament, now the CareerBuilder Challenge, last used the course in 2009. Dunlevie said that some of today’s buyers don’t even realize there’s a golf course in the neighborhood, the Sun reported.
“We have a highly diverse community. This is not a golf course community, it’s a gated community with a golf course,” said Michael Emerson, a homeowner who opposes mandatory membership. “It’s not a Morningside, it’s not an Ironwood, it’s not any of those things.”
Bob Nelson, treasurer of the Bermuda Dunes Security Association board and a member of the country club, objected to that characterization. He argued that the 27-hole course is historic—a “national treasure” and a “golfer’s golf course”—and deserving of protection. And more than that, he said, he thinks the club could help foster neighborhood relationships, the Sun reported.
“There has never really been a strong sense of community within the (Bermuda Dunes) gated community. There has always been a division” between club members and non-members, Nelson said. “If you just look at the viability of the course, you’re defeating your purpose. Community has to be a goal.”
Wayne Guralnick, an attorney who represents the Bermuda Dunes Security Association, said Bermuda Dunes Country Club currently has about 160 equity members, and he believes a 27-hole course would need 400 to 450 equity members to be sustainable. Nelson called the club’s financial status “borderline” and predicted that on its current trajectory, the club will have “a real problem” within five years, the Sun reported.
The club declined to provide information about the size of its membership, since it is private.
Nelson said the golf club approached the BDSA about four years ago and asked them to consider a monthly payment from homeowners without membership in return, but the board declined. After years of back-and-forth, the board agreed to ask homeowners to vote on a proposed deal, the Sun reported.
Under the proposed agreement, homeowners would pay $50 monthly, tacked on to HOA dues, which are currently $155.50. In return, homeowners would get social memberships with access to the clubhouse, and the club would add community amenities, like an elevator to the clubhouse and a public park. The deal would last three years, with two possible one-year extensions, and then homeowners would vote on it again or consider a new proposal, the Sun reported.
Nelson and Guralnick believe the proposal would net $350,000 to $400,000 for the club annually, as current homeowner-members drop from more costly memberships to $50 ones. Tax filings in 2014 tax show the club took in $5.13 million in revenue but spent about $5.41 million—a difference of $281,000, the Sun reported.
Nelson said he feels the board has defended homeowners’ interests in negotiating the deal. But those objecting to it think the board should have been open about the negotiations from the beginning, according Kent Knobelauch, a homeowner and the opposition group’s de facto leader. They maintain that about two-thirds of the community’s homeowners have not yet joined the club, and they don’t want to be forced to, the Sun reported.
Knobelauch detailed a variety of additional objections, many centered on the belief that the BDSA doesn’t have the authority to negotiate with the club at all. Others included concerns about elderly homeowners and those on fixed incomes, the Sun reported.
Club Manager Perry Dickey said the country club board president was unavailable to speak to a reporter, but said in a statement: “BDCC has worked for almost five years to create a bulk agreement for our community, offering a social membership through the Security Association for all residents at a very reasonable cost. We have agreed and fully support the efforts of the security association to put this proposal to a vote of their members benefiting what we believe is the entire community.”
Tensions have manifested in brazen homemade signs with messages like “No welfare for BDCC” in front yards. Homeowners on all sides of the issue have slung insults on Facebook and community websites. Knobelauch’s group and the BDSA met for a legal mediation in April, and opponents have threatened litigation, the Sun reported.
In neighborhoods across the desert, homeowners associations and golf clubs have argued that collaboration will protect property values. Ron Rowell, president of the Bermuda Dunes Community Association, another body supporting the plan, said his mother-in-law lived in Palm Springs Country Club for 35 years. After that course closed about 10 years ago, he said it became “miserable.” Recently a developer proposed a plan for homes on the land, the Sun reported.
“This isn’t a pipe dream. It’s happening in our midst, here in the valley,” Rowell said. “It’s not a fear, it’s a reasonable consideration and concern.”
Further, Rowell said, he thinks the $50 membership is a great deal, estimating that a social membership today costs $100 or more, the Sun reported.
Marcin Green, a real estate broker and former BDSA board member, said she empathizes with people who don’t want to join. But she feels that’s short-sighted. “I just worry that they’re worried about $50 a month and it’s going to come back to haunt them,” she said.
Real estate agents estimated that 400 to 600 of Bermuda Dunes’ 1,400 homes sit on the golf course. They agreed that the value of fairway homes would sink if the course became, in Jon Dunlevie’s words, “anything other than a golf course,” the Sun reported.
But they were split on what could happen to homes off the course, where median prices are about half what they are on the fairway, Coldwell Banker agent Nadine Elliot estimated. The proposal’s opponents said they’re suspicious of these arguments. They say the club should find other ways to protect its finances, like accepting public players, before turning to homeowners, the Sun reported.
Alex Schreiner, a geologist who’s lived in the community for 30 years, said he thinks the club assumes homeowners want to join, and that its success is critical to the community’s survival. He disagrees. “Nobody wants to play the damn golf anyhow,” he said.
The BDSA board’s Nelson said he wants the community to start treating the golf course like a community asset, because of its impact on the neighborhood’s properties. Nelson called the proposal a “bridge” that would help the community “buy time” to figure out a long-term solution—one that includes all homeowners, the Sun reported.
Guralnick, who represents a number of country clubs, predicted that “somewhere in 10 to 20 years, the model will be that the HOAs will have to absorb the golf clubs and make different uses of the golf clubs.”
“Some people are obviously going to leave” if the proposal goes through, Nelson said. And four homeowners who oppose the deal told the Sun they would. But, Nelson said, he still feels like he’s fighting for his community. “This is where I live. This is where I retired. I worked 40 years, I had a dream, I don’t want to see it go down the tubes,” he said.
Bonnie Jerman, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1985, said she has served on the boards of both her homeowners association and the country club. But she believes this proposal aims to restore a bygone era. When current homeowners moved in, she argued, they knew they wouldn’t have access to the clubhouse, and moved in anyway. And she added that for some of her neighbors, $50 a month is a lot of money, the Sun reported.
The board said it hopes the community will vote on the proposal before the end of June, the Sun reported.