On November 8, without adequate notice, the two-tiered membership fees for Rye Golf Club appeared back on the agenda for the first City Council meeting after the people of Rye delivered a clear message on Election Day in favor of a pivot away from divisive faction politics towards good governance. At the November 8 meeting, Councilman Bill Henderson, an advocate for fairness, presented a proposal that would have all Rye citizens who join Rye Golf Club pay the same rate in each membership category. Under the Henderson proposal, first-year members, like renewing members, would pay roughly $5,800 for a comprehensive pool and golf membership, rather than the nearly $7,200 proposed for first-year members by the Rye Golf Club Commission.
Councilman Henderson’s proposal raises the exact same revenue as the two-tiered proposal (around $175,000) and is rooted in fairness and equal access for all Rye residents who join Rye Golf in 2024.
Because RGC is a city-owned facility, whose rates are approved by the City Council through official government action, the two-tiered structure violates fundamental principles of fairness and equal treatment every Rye resident is entitled to from municipal government. The Council’s approval of the unfair rates through official action is what makes them improper. The fact that this rate structure has only recently been challenged has no bearing whatsoever on its legitimacy. History is replete with examples of longstanding bad policies being revisited and revised and the two-tiered rate structure at RGC is not exempt from such scrutiny.
Unfortunately, along its all-too-familiar fault lines, the City Council rejected Councilman Henderson’s fair rate proposal 3-4 and, yet again, adopted the unfair, two-tiered rate structure 4-3. As it stands today, a first-year comprehensive member at RGC in 2024 must pay $1,700 more during the first year for the same privileges as everyone else in that membership category. That $1,700 difference may seem insignificant to some, but for young families who just purchased their first home, enrolled young children in nursery school, and/or have childcare obligations, among other competing financial priorities, that $1,700 could mean the difference between joining the club or not joining. For longer term residents, the unfair first-year premium may weigh against joining (or re-joining) after years of school tuition or other outlays pushed a summer golf and pool membership off the list of family financial priorities.
In response to the Henderson proposal, the opponents of fairness at Rye Golf – both on the City Council and on the Rye Golf Commission – invoke red herring arguments about value and proffer whataboutism comparisons to other clubs in the area. Additionally, these anti-fairness advocates claim the fair rates in the Henderson proposal will harm long-term members, some of whom no doubt would qualify for a senior rate if the RGC Commission adopted one, which it should. Perhaps most problematically and offensively, the opponents of fairness misconstrue the position in favor of fairness as attacks on the quality of RGC’s facilities, the RGC staff, and volunteers (a truly disingenuous position completely bereft of self-awareness when uttered by any Councilmember who sued the volunteer Ethics Board in 2023, as nobody advocating for fairness at RGC has resorted to litigation). Tellingly, none of these off-point arguments address the issue of fairness at the heart of Councilman Henderson’s proposal.
Furthermore, the opponents of fairness have lobbed inappropriate ad hominem attacks on Councilman Henderson as a member and former leader of a different golf club. These tactics have no place in civil discourse and expose the extreme weaknesses of the position against fairness. Rye Golf Club is a beautiful community asset with a wonderful staff and dedicated group of member volunteers who deliver a fantastic experience for members year in and year out. The Club should be accessible, within its membership size constraints, to every member of Rye who wants to take part in the incomparable amenity our Sound Shore city has to offer. The Henderson proposal for equal and fair rates at RGC would ensure that fair access for all Rye families, no matter when they choose to join the city-owned club.