Skyline Country Club faced falling revenues, declining membership and the threat of foreclosure in 2013.
But more than a year after partnering with a third-party manager, the club has more than 100 new members and is on track to be back in the black by the end of the year.
Arnold Palmer Golf Management has turned things around by recruiting families and young people through monthly dining and music events that are open to members’ family and friends.
The new management has also increased kids’ activities like summer camps, offered free fitness classes and a broader array of activities, and added a modern bistro restaurant “where you aren’t afraid if the kids are there having fun,” said Todd Froehle, Arnold Palmer Golf Management’s regional vice president of operations.
“That’s a component you didn’t see at old, established, private clubs. It’s a more inclusive environment, as opposed to an exclusive environment.”
The club has also significantly lowered membership fees.
Golf membership monthly dues were slashed from $690 to $482.50, and members under age 55 get a cheaper monthly rate of $380, Lister said. That’s because younger members are more likely to still be working and have less time to utilize the club, he said.
Lowering membership rates was a smart strategy, said longtime club member June Hussey.
“Some clubs in town think, ‘We need more money, we’ll just raise the dues.’ I think that’s what Skyline had been doing for a while, and it clearly wasn’t working,” she said.
The club has also completed about half of the $1 million in renovations it needs, with the main focus on the dining areas. Still pending are improvements to the par-71 golf course, tennis courts, pool and infrastructure, said club general manager Lonnie Lister.
“We want to touch every area of the club,” he said.
TURNING SHIP around
Over the past year, country club membership has risen from 495 to 605, Lister said.
And 307 of those memberships are more-costly golf memberships, up from 243 last year.
“The most exciting numbers are membership,” Lister said last week. “That’s very promising news, considering the state of country clubs.”
In 2013, Skyline Country Club’s revenues had fallen to $4.1 million, compared with $6.6 million in 2006. But in 2014, with the help of the influx of new members, revenue rose to $4.7 million, Lister said.
The club still faces fiscal challenges: It has been operating at a loss since 2007, documents provided to the Star show, and current membership is still well below 2006, when Skyline had 787 members.
Skyline should be back in the black by the end of this year, Lister said. He declined to provide the most recent net-income figures. The documents provided to the Star show that, in the first 10 months of fiscal 2013, the club had a net loss of $357,000, compared with a gain of $345,000 in 2006.
Last year, with the club’s survival in question, Skyline leaders and the homeowners’ association formulated a plan to contract with Arnold Palmer Golf Management to turn things around. But that plan required the support of homeowners in Skyline Country Club Estates, the neighborhood surrounding the private country club.
APGM insisted that homeowners — even those who weren’t members of the club — pay higher homeowners’ association fees for the next 25 years to help fund the contract.
The contract — which pays APGM $164,731 in the first year, rising to nearly $600,000 in Year 3 — required that homeowners’ annual fees increase by 20 percent annually for three years and remain there for the following 22 years.
After the country club defaulted on its $3.5 million loan in 2013, a separate fundraising campaign also helped the club settle its debt with Northern Trust bank to avoid foreclosure. Supporters said that campaign — and the Arnold Palmer contract — helped protect property values and maintain neighborhood character for all Skyline Country Club Estates homeowners.
Not everyone agreed. Some thought the increased fees — which the homeowners’ association approved in December 2013, with support of 86 percent of residents who voted — were an unfair burden on homeowners who were being asked to bail out a private club. Others thought the golf course should be turned into open green space.
Ralph Richard, who lives in Skyline Country Club Estates and is a member of the country club, says a few of his neighbors who aren’t club members are angry about having to rescue the private club but are reluctant to speak out publicly about their concerns.
“It does put a financial burden on them because they’re living on fixed incomes,” said Richard, 84.
He’s been a club member for more than a decade and voted against increasing homeowners’ association fees, saying: “I thought the members of the club should handle it and shouldn’t put the burden onto homeowners who are not members of the club.”
One resident, Magda Urban, filed a lawsuit against the homeowners’ association. The case, still pending in Superior Court, alleges that the homeowners’ association should not have implemented the higher fees without unanimous support of homeowners.
Lister said club leaders expected controversy. But he thinks homeowners, even those who aren’t club members, are seeing returns on their investment.
“It’s such a positive attitude, and there’s a lot of club pride and neighborhood pride going on right now,” he said.