Castlewood members vote against pursuing negotiations with Bay Club

Plans for future unconfirmed, though members supported extensive clubhouse remodel in March

Castlewood Country Club leaders and members have been exploring options for addressing costly ADA compliance concerns with the clubhouse, but members have now voted down a bid to pursue negotiations with the Bay Club to take ownership of the Pleasanton complex. (File photo)

Members of the Castlewood Country Club in Pleasanton rejected a proposal to negotiate a letter of intent for the Bay Club to take over ownership of the club and its two 18-hole golf courses.

Castlewood members recently voted 250 to 211 against moving ahead with negotiations with the Bay Club. A total of 555 members were eligible to vote.

For the last few years, the club's Board of Directors and committee members have been analyzing how to address a number of challenges facing the club. Heading the list is that the 1970s vintage clubhouse and its older pool facility were built before the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed in 1991. Both facilities do not comply with the ADA and need major renovations to come into compliance.

In addition, like many country clubs, its membership is shrinking. The dated facilities are limited in what can be offered.

After a series of town hall meetings and its general membership meeting in January, the board had narrowed down potential options to three: the Bay Club takeover; doing ADA only improvements to the clubhouse and pool area; or investing significant money to renovate both areas in addition to bringing them into compliance with the ADA.

Earlier this year, the board asked the membership to decide which clubhouse option to pursue: just ADA improvements or ADA improvements with major remodeling to update the clubhouse. In that March 5 vote, members voted 211-189 for the more expensive option.

Some supporters of the more expensive option openly campaigned against the Bay Club option, with one member putting up a sign outside of his home on the golf course while others wore buttons advocating against the Bay Club option. The Bay Club purchased ClubSport last November, including its facilities in Pleasanton and Danville.

When asked about what's next, Castlewood General Manager John Vest emailed that it was an internal club matter and they would have no comment.

After the March 5 vote, the board outlined two next steps for members:

1. The clubhouse committee will begin to develop a plan to implement the remodeling plan and bring it to the board and eventually the membership.

2. A second committee would continue to evaluate the Bay Club option and develop additional materials evaluating the sustainability of the club, potential Valley course land use options, an asset valuation of the club and summary of the water rights owned by the club.

With the Bay Club option now off the table, presumably the clubhouse committee will move into high gear. Documents distributed to members indicated that the remodel option would result in a member assessment of about $200 per month for 20 years because the club would have to borrow the money.

Sustainability could be a key challenge moving forward, particularly with dues already around $1,000 per month without the additional assessment. Over the last 15 years, membership has fallen from more than 800 to 555 that were eligible to vote in May (down three from March's total). For older members, who are thinking of selling their membership as their ability to golf lessens with age, the Bay Club offered the opportunity to cash out. That's now in limbo as the club develops and executes on the remodel.

It's not a problem unique to Castlewood -- many private clubs are struggling for members.

The Club at Ruby Hill in Pleasanton, which Arcis Golf purchased from developer Jim Ghielmetti in 2015, has launched an aggressive membership campaign. Arcis remodeled the main clubhouse to improve dining options for members and offers tennis, bocce and swimming programs.

An email outlined the May specials that included an initiation fee of $10,000 for the full golf categories and $5,000 or young professionals (39 and under) with five months of free dues; free golf carts for a year, interest free financing and 12 free golf guest passes.

It listed in bold caps "NO ASSESSMENTS EVER," presumably a reference to what's now facing Castlewood members.

Crow Canyon Country Club in San Ramon also is offering special programs to attract new members, while nearby Blackhawk Country Club, which boasts two 18-hole courses with one large clubhouse/banquet facility on the Lakeside Course, last year opened a 9,400-square-foot fitness center in its sports complex with tennis courts, pickle ball courts, bocce ball lanes and a bar and grill. That speaks to the interest in family-oriented country club offerings.

Last year, while evaluating options, Castlewood representatives entertained a conversation with Ponderosa Homes of Pleasanton about a potential joint venture to develop the Valley Course into homes. That faced numerous hurdles, including the Arroyo de la Laguna that borders three holes, the railroad tracks, and the likely need to annex it into the city of Pleasanton and change the agricultural zoning to residential.

From a membership standpoint, the Valley Course is a critical offering for the club because it is walkable (as it takes a well-conditioned person to walk the Hill Course with its elevation changes and slopes on the fairways). The Valley Course gets about 60% of the play.

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