One of the oldest and most exclusive private golf courses in the region, Sonoma Golf Club, was sold Thursday to a small but fast-growing Texas-based golf course owner and operator.
Crescent Real Estate Equities, a real estate investment firm that purchased the 177-acre course in 1998, sold it Thursday to Escalante Golf of Fort Worth, Texas, for an undisclosed sum.
The course, built in 1928, is a good fit with the company's growing stable of 16 other high-end golf courses around the nation, said David Matheson, Escalante's vice president of communications and marketing.
"It's a great asset and we're extremely excited to be a steward over it," Matheson said.
The course's relationship with the nearby Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa remains intact, allowing guests continued access to the exclusive course, said inn spokeswoman Michelle Heston.
Sonoma Mission Inn guests pay $225 to play in the summer, $150 in the winter.
Heston called Escalante a "growing organization that is well-run and well-respected in the industry." The firm added four new clubs in Texas to its portfolio last year.
The club's approximately 300 members pay one of the steepest initiation fees in the industry — $150,000 — plus $875 monthly dues, according to one current member.
The current initiation fee is refundable if new members buy in. But that hasn't been happening frequently in recent years, leaving nearly 100 members looking for the exit, the member said.
Matheson declined to discuss membership details, but acknowledged there are people on the resignation list who have been waiting to get their initiation fee refunded. After a certain period on that list members no longer have to pay dues, harming cash flow, he said.
Matheson attributed the challenge of recruiting new members to the uncertainty over ownership of the club, which has been for sale for several years, he said.
"When (potential members) know the club is for sale and they don't know who is going to buy it, there is a certain resistance to joining," Matheson said. "The veil of uncertainty has been lifted and the club can now move forward."
Escalante plans to increase membership by offering a new initiation fee. The refundable initiation fee will remain $150,000, but a new non-refundable fee of $50,000 is now also being offered, he said.
Members who pay the $150,000 initiation fee will replace members on the resignation list on a one-to-one basis. New members paying the non-refundable $50,000 fee will replace resigning members on a four-to-one basis, Matheson said.
The new fees have already motivated some prospective members to say they'll be coming this weekend to join, he said.
Unlike Crescent, Escalante will own and operate the course, which had been managed for Crescent by the Highlands Group. Those employees now work for Escalante, with the exception of General Manager Mike Kosak, who announced his retirement to members Wednesday after 11 years at the helm. Golf pro John McMullen was named the new general manager, Matheson said.
Escalante's philosophy is to own courses for the long-term, he said. In the 23 years since the company has been in business, it has only sold one course, he said.
The firm's 16 other courses are located in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Ohio and Texas.
(Staff Writer Kevin McCallum can be reached at 521-5207 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter @citybeater.)