What exactly are you subscribing to when you join a private club?
Is there a fully comprehensive set of bylaws or simply some rules and regulations? Is the club a limited corporation, proprietorship, member owned or something else?
Is each member an equal shareholder with the same voting rights, rights of ownership and share as equal partners? Or, are the shareholders and members different entities?
Before you pay into joining a club, association, organization or company, you should find out what your personal exposure is to liability.
It should include long and short-term debt, unpaid taxes and acts of the directors including labor disputes and whether shareholders/members can be held liable “jointly and severely”.
Study the financial statements of the club, even if you have to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Find out the status of ongoing legal disputes in their potential implications regarding future assessments.
Speaking of assessments, what is the possibility of an assessment for upcoming projects, improvements, back taxes or lawsuits?
Another question you should ask of membership marketing personnel is what your responsibilities are as a member.
Is there an expectation for you fulfill certain duties, serve the club in some way and/or provide support for club-sponsored activities, both inside and outside the club, including obligations to the surrounding communities and various charities.
In short, you should completely understand what you are signing for when you apply for membership.
You should also know what rights you have under any agreements, contracts or policies. Does your category of membership entitle you to use the club storage, the driving range, the locker rooms etc?
What is your prescribed method for booking starting times and is it different from other member categories? When and how many guests may you invite and at what rate? If yours is a semi-private club, does the rate differ from pay-as-you play? What about golf cars? Can you pay a fee and own your own?
When joining a club, it is important to ask everything you wish to know before you pay your dues, but what does one do if their enjoyment as a member becomes conflicted with goings-on at the club?
Suppose, a member feels they have been wronged by the board of directors or finds the board acting in contravention of the club’s bylaws? Of course, they can write a letter to the board, but the board is in a position of conflict.
You can ask for a face-to-face meeting, but remember, the board can be the problem and what can you do if it decides to stonewall you, either with statements like “we’ll take that under advisement” or “we aren’t at liberty to discuss it.”
Like it or not, this is allowable under the law, called the Parliamentary System. It may be distasteful and help escalate minor issues, but it is not illegal.
When a member raises legitimate questions of concern and proceeds through the proper channels and then meets with a closed-minded board; there isn’t much they can do.
Take the example of a highly successful interior designer in California who joined a country club. She found that women were only allowed to play in the afternoon and on Sundays, there was only one starting time available for women.
When she objected through letters to the board of directors, she received death threats, avoidance by the other members and experienced cancellation/withdrawal from starting times by all members scheduled to play with her.
Most certainly this is a problem that was much bigger than any decision the club could make and was settled by a lawsuit she launched.
Some clubs maintain their authority and conformity to the rules by use of a “membership by invitation only” policy. Just as quickly as one can be invited, they can become uninvited.
In this case, the no longer invited former friend can entertain thoughts of a lawsuit, but to what avail? Even if he/she wins, the heavy, pungent smell cast during the disagreement will still linger, tainting those who failed to treat every member fairly.
The worst of these situations is when the club is controlled by a behind-the-scenes group of “old boys,” who manipulate the club’s affairs to suit themselves. At least, with a board of directors, you can see their eyes.
The average country club member joins the club to get away from turmoil and politics. Unfortunately, when the Board acts unethically, immorally, disrespectfully or in a discriminatory manner, they do so in the name of every member.
Unless members put forth their objection to acts of impropriety, they are complicit because they have not objected effectively. Through their silence, they condone the acts.
People joining private clubs are doing just that – joining.
They join legally, responsibly, ethically and socially. During the period of membership, they have various times to show their moral support for the club when they complete an application to join, at an AGM when the vote is taken to approve the acts of the directors and when they pay their annual dues.
This is the season for most membership renewals. It is time to ask yourself which is most important? Your inner integrity and beliefs or playing golf with others who have none.