By Terry McCartney, chairman of the Rye Golf Club Commission
I am writing to set the record straight on statements recently made about Rye Golf Club.
First, every Rye citizen should know that Rye Golf Club is an “Enterprise Fund,” required by law to be financially self-sufficient. That means none of your tax dollars go to Rye Golf Club. Like you, RGC is a taxpayer, one of the City’s biggest. Last year it paid over $400,000 in taxes. Meanwhile, the Club funds all its own staffing and maintenance costs. Thanks to an excellent general manager, skilled golf course superintendent, dedicated staff, and numerous member volunteers, the Club is very well-run.
Second, while the City owns the land (and essentially leases it to the club through the enterprise fund relationship), Rye Golf is a private, members-only club. No one can walk in off the street and pay to play golf or use the pool. There are currently 700 golf memberships and 554 pool memberships, which include many families, so the number of actual users of the facilities is close to 3,500 people. About 80 percent of members are Rye residents, that rate has been steadily increasing for the last several years. Non-resident members pay about double what Rye residents pay, and always have. The Club prides itself on being a good member of the Rye community, and, for many years, has welcomed the Rye High School Golf teams, Rye Rec summer campers, and senior citizens to use the facilities free of charge.
Third, to generate revenue to pay city taxes, as well as operating, maintenance, and course improvement costs, the Club charges members an annual fee. Our membership fees are fair, and our members feel they get good value for their money. Our golf course is excellent, and a bargain compared with other courses in the area. A family of five can join Rye Golf as a comprehensive member for just over $7,000 per year. The cost for that same family to join Harrison Meadows for similar amenities is close to $9,000 per year. The initiation fees alone at clubs like Apawamis, Westchester, and Winged Foot are well over $100,000.
Fourth, while we are an annual membership club, the large majority of members are loyal and renew every year. We have a few members that have been at RGC for over 40 years and a few, like Jim and Lois Codispoti, who go back to the very beginning in 1965. That loyalty is even more impressive given some of the hard times we’ve been through, including when a prior GM embezzled a large amount of money from us, or when a tainted fungicide product killed our greens. Thus, we value our loyal members and try to keep our fees as low as possible while still being good stewards.
To that end, after nearly a decade of level fees, in 2018, we imposed a modest 2% fee increase. Since then, to keep up with rising labor and material costs, we have gradually and prudently raised our rates each year. While other clubs in the area have imposed much larger fee increases, ours have been reasonable. This past year, we raised fees on renewing members 6% and kept new member fees the same as the previous year.
We don’t have initiation fees at Rye Golf, but we do charge new members a little more than renewing members in order to fund capital projects. Our renewing members also paid a little more in their first year as a member. We currently have about $8 million in capital projects to pay for — replacing the antiquated and inadequate irrigation system, renovating the bunkers, properly maintaining the century-old, historic landmark Whitby Castle, ensuring that our aging Olympic-sized pool is operating safely, and more.
Finally, we have a dedicated group of volunteers at Rye Golf who actively serve their fellow members in numerous ways. The Golf Club Commission is an elected group of seven volunteers who are involved in all aspects of the Club. Commissioners were involved in renegotiating the contract with Lessing’s to ensure that the Club received a better share of their profits as they continue to book weddings and other large gatherings at the Castle. The Finance Committee spends many hours working with the GM and his staff every year to prepare a fair and balanced budget. The Pool, Tournament and Greens Committees, among several others, are also very active.
As a result of these efforts, the Club operates smoothly, and its facilities are in good shape. Over the years, RGC members have put over $4 million into a reserve fund to pay for capital improvement projects. So, new members are getting the benefit of what that fund has already paid for, and what it is scheduled to pay for over the next several years. Thus, we think it is only fair that new members chip into the capital fund when they join. Since we currently have over 350 people on our waiting list, our fee structure does not appear to be a problem for potential new members.
Unfortunately, our new member fees have become a political topic of late. Some members of the City Council, led by Councilman Bill Henderson, a former RGC member and recent past president of Apawamis Club, have claimed that our policy of charging new members more than renewing ones is unfair and even “discriminatory.” In our 68-year history, this is the first time the City Council has challenged our net-positive budgets. Rye Golf Club is one of the best managed entities in the City and we deserve better treatment than we’ve been getting. Hopefully, the newly elected members of the City Council will resist the false rhetoric, ease into their new positions as they would any other important new job, make up their own minds, and allow us to do what we do best at Rye Golf: deliver a top-notch recreational opportunity to members at a fair price.