Deeds and WeedsFebruary 13, 2009

Initiation Fees Plummeting in Sacramento

The Sacramento area has been one of the hardest hit by real estate downturn -- house prices falling, foreclosures rising -- so it should not come as a surprise that the area's private golf club market has been heavily impacted, as detailed in this story in Thursday's Sacramento Bee.

The article focuses mainly on plummeting initiation fees at private clubs in California's capital city: Catte Vadera, from $47,000 down to $20,000 ($15,000 of which is deferred); Sierra View ($25,000 to $3,000); Sunset Whitney ($14,000 to zero); Catte Vadera ($36,000 to zero). Of course, the real goal for the clubs profiled here is to grow their membership and, thus, the dues they collect each month.

"The initiation could be $1 million or $1. It's really all about the dues," Jerry Poley, general manager at Catte Vadera, told the Bee.

As a person with more than a little local knowledge of Sacramento -- I grew up there, learning the game at two of its outstanding public courses, Haggin Oaks and Ancil Hoffman, and drawing my first paycheck as a bag room attendant at its oldest private club, Del Paso -- I might toss out another factor in this membership crunch besides the real estate slump and the struggling economy. Sacramento (like a lot of cities in America) underwent a dramatic golf course construction boom in the 1990s, and now -- it seems obvious -- the golf market there is contracting.

Any avid golfer in Sacramento in the '70s and '80s knows the city needed more golf courses. And it sure got them. Public courses, private courses, golf course developments -- you name it, someone built it.

On my all-too-infrequent trips home in the early- to mid-1990s (I've lived in Connecticut for the better part of two decades), I always tried to make golf with my old buddies a part of the visit. And it seemed as though each reunion took place at a new course, including places like Winchester, Morgan Creek and Catte Vadera -- all three of which are having business problems to one degree or another in recent months.

"Contraction?" one old golf buddy said to me this morning when I called to ask him about the Bee story. "It's more like a correction."

-- G.R.