James A. (Bob) Husband, the prospective new owner of the Country Club, met with captains of the golf and tennis clubs at a meeting Thursday night.
Club Q-and-A on the sale and club letter to members
Country Club members are learning Friday of a plan, subject to member approval, that would buy the club property from the North developers and move ownership to a golf company run by longtime industry leaders in Southern California. The prospective new owners say they'll build a pool and a fitness center – in a facility something like the community center that has been discussed here for years.
Country Club leadership laid out the plan Thursday night at a meeting with the captains of its golf and tennis clubs. Meetings for the full membership will follow on Feb. 27, 28 and 29, the club said.
An email sent Friday to all club members said the plan promises a “bright, enduring future” for the club, and it introduced the leader of the company that would take over – James A. (Bob) Husband, who has built four respected golf ownership companies. His latest company, Bellagio Road LLC, would own and operate the club.
Friday’s member communications listed commitments Husband has made in writing:
Providing a minimum of $2.5 million for a swimming pool/fitness center and for much-needed refurbishing of the clubhouse and other facilities.
No special assessments, no dues increase for one year, and no increase in the dues of more than 5 percent per year until completion of the improvements.
No change in privileges, no out-of-pocket cost to members.
Retaining the Country Club as a private club.
Lifting the present member assessment following the sale, and promising members will never see another assessment.
The club operates under a 55-year lease that expires in 2028. The present North developers purchased the club land, but not the club, in 2013, when they bought out the Pension Trust Fund of Operating Engineers’ Rancho Murieta holdings.
Vince Lepera, club president, said the club negotiated a change in its lease in 2008 with the Pension Trust Fund. He said the change gives the club the right to purchase its property for a price based on independent assessments. Lepera said the club will make an assessed-price offer to the developers, who must accept the club's price or deliver an assessed price offer of their own. Any difference in the two values would go to arbitration to reach the final price, he said.
“The developers cannot reject the deal,” Lepera told Thursday night’s meeting. “So they will have to sell the club, and they know that.”
The purchase money would be loaned to the club by Husband’s company. Once the sale closes, the club would sell the operation to Husband’s company for $1, Lepera said.
He said club officials will meet with the developers on Friday to discuss the transaction.
The club board is unanimous in support of the plan, Lepera said. A member vote will determine whether the sale happens.
“The club was never in a situation where it was ever going to go under,” Lepera said in an interview before Thursday’s meeting. “...We’ve always had enough money to keep the club running. What scares me is, if the roof fell tomorrow, or we lose a hole (to a storm).” He pointed to recent repairs of the 19th Hole kitchen, which were expected to cost about $14,000 but quickly topped $100,000. “That’s what kills us,” he said, “and we can’t absorb that.”
In a Q-and-A sent to members, the club said its ability to improve is limited, explaining, "The RMCC budget provides virtually zero resources to enhance our assets and operations. This likely will continue indefinitely."
Lepera told Thursday’s session that he has vetted Husband and gotten only glowing reviews. He said he has verified that Husband’s company has the funds to handle the deal.
“I feel 100 percent confident in what I’m saying because, again, we’ve been working on this for a while; we’ve had four different sets of attorneys’ eyes on this. I feel good about it. ... Bottom line is, this is the best thing that will be for this country club, to keep it for Rancho Murieta. ... This is what’s right for Rancho Murieta and the people who live out here. Bob Husband understands this clearly.”
In another question addressed in the Q-and-A and raised at Thursday's meeting, club officials made it clear that Husband has no connection to the North developers. "Bob Husband does not have any personal, business or financial relationship with the developers," the Q-and-A says.
Husband told the meeting Bellagio Road is his effort to run a boutique golf operation where he can be hands-on after years of heading larger companies and running dozens of courses at once. He said he favors the side of the industry that handles private clubs.
While he lives in San Diego, he said his company’s home office will be here. “This is it,” he said. “I’m not doing anything else in terms of the golf business, so this is it. I’ll be spending a lot of time here.”
He said he belongs to three private clubs. “I know the frustrations of being a member. I know the joys of a being a member,” he said.
Before Bellagio Road, Husband’s most recent company was the widely recognized Heritage Golf Group, which he founded and where, he said, he is still a stockholder but no longer involved in operations. Prior to Heritage, he served as founder, president and CEO of Cobblestone Golf Group. Prior to forming Cobblestone in 1992, Husband served as co-founder, chairman and CEO of a company that ultimately became CCA/GolfCorp, the public golf operations subsidiary of Club Corporation of America. Under his direction, GolfCorp grew to more than 40 facilities in 1991, making it the second-largest public golf facility operator in the country.
He was joined at Thursday's meeting by Gary Dee, Bellagio Road's executive vice president, who also has an extensive golf-ownership pedigree.
Husband played on the PGA tour in the late 1970s, and he said Rancho Murieta North was one of the favorite courses he played.
What are his views on course care?
“I have this thing for edges, OK?” he said. “I like edges. I like to see that things are clean and neat and that the bunkers are edged and that the cart paths are edged and that they’re maintained in a meticulous manner. I promise you that’s going to happen. ... Because the presentation of the golf course is crucial.”
As for a successful club overall, he said this one needs to be the social center of the community.
“At the end of the day," he said, "it’s about doing a good job, listening to people, and trying to provide them with the quality and service they want. ... The idea is to make it inclusive, to make people feel like when they join a club they’ve joined a group of friends.”