Scarcity of golf memberships rough on newcomers


For newcomers to Vero who fall in love with the 32963 barrier island, one of the constraints on moving here at the moment is the long waitlists for golf membership at some of the top island clubs. The waitlists are causing headaches for agents who sell luxury property, too. The agents say that even if their clients love the idea of living in Vero and are able to find a house that suits them, they may not buy here if they can’t get into the club they want.

“The wait for golf memberships at Quail is eight to nine years and I think the Moorings is over five years, now,” says Dale Sorensen luxury agent Cathy Curley. “Golf is a big part of social interaction in Vero and the waitlists is a major issue for me in dealing with high-end clients who want that lifestyle. They don’t want to wait years to play golf and tennis and socialize at their club. They want to start meeting people and having fun.

“I haven’t had deals fall through because of interest rates or economic uncertainty but clients aren’t buying in some cases because they can’t immediately enjoy the lifestyle they are used to,” Curley added. “When there is a shortage of club options some people move on.”

A 2022 survey of 550 prospective club members conducted by Golf Life Navigators backs up Curley’s comments. The survey found that “70% of club prospects across all initiation ranges do not have intentions of joining a club where the wait is 12 months or longer.

“Golf Life Navigators’ partner real estate agents say their active golf clients are pivoting from an intended club to alternative clubs that have availability of both memberships and tee times . . . even if that means buying into another market across the state.”

“The club waitlists have affected the real estate market a little bit,” says Marsha Sherry, longtime broker at The Moorings Realty Sales Co.

“We try to find alternatives for clients – some clubs are offering different packages or limited membership – but I won’t say we haven’t seen some potential buyers move on, not just from The Moorings but from Vero because of waitlists.

“Even though they are disappointed they can’t join right away, I tell them to get on the list. You never know what will happen. Summer memberships are a wonderful way to get your foot in the door – you get a taste of club’s membership and the club gets a taste of you.”

Premier Estate Properties estate agent Lange Sykes says the long wait at island clubs is “on my radar daily. I dealt with a lot of disappointment this past season from buyers who wanted to jump right into the club lifestyle. When membership isn’t available or there is a long wait, it creates a significant objection.

“I do everything I can to help. I’m in contact with the club GMs and board members on a regular basis so that I’m up to date on procedures and availability and can provide my clients with an intimate knowledge of how all this works.

“But it is true that there have been buyers for whom membership was such an important element of their decision that they decided to look elsewhere, where they could immediately plug into the lifestyle they desire.”

A shortage of country club slots seems like a caviar problem to many people compared to other difficulties life serves up, but for buyers whose parents and grandparents were club members in Connecticut or Chicago and who have been members themselves much of their adult lives, it matters a lot. That is how they are used to socializing and recreating and joining in the life of the community.

For the clubs themselves, the backlog calls on membership directors’ diplomatic skills and creates some frustration but basically is a pretty good problem to have – people waiting in long lines to pay up to $100,000 or more to join and start spending money on greens fees, lessons, meals, spa appointments and other club services.

The problem stems from several Covid-related factors, including the rebound in golf’s popularity since 2020 and the pandemic migration of remote workers and others seeking a less restrictive environment with more outdoor recreation opportunities that has flooded the Florida real estate market with more than 1 million new residents and sparked intense competition for both houses and club memberships.

Compounding the influx – 1,000 people are still arriving each day – are two types of stasis. Inventory on the island and across Indian River County is low because many homeowners snagged ultra-low mortgage rates during the pandemic and aren’t willing to move and give up 2.8%. Others won’t list because, with the low inventory, they don’t see a place to go that appeals to them. This impacts the availability of club memberships in places like John’s Island, Sea Oaks and Orchid island, where homes come with membership opportunities.

In addition, many members are staying put longer, analogous to reluctant home sellers. In a time of club scarcity they want to hang on to their memberships.

“Since covid people are not resigning,” says Michael Gibson, general manager at Grand Harbor Golf and Beach Club just across the Barber Bridge on the mainland. “They are not leaving. They’ve found a refuge where everybody knows their name and everybody knows their drink. Some of the older members paid $20,000 or $30,000 to join and the cost is two or three times that now so they don’t want to make a move. Clubs typically want turnover but right now we don’t have much. Our attrition rates are about half of normal.”

The idea of a new club has been floated around town, but a topnotch facility would cost $50 million or more and take years to complete – a big gamble in the cyclical golf industry.

“I have heard people talking about it, but it is like driving around in a taxicab in New York City during a bull market hearing the cabdriver’s plans for investing in the stock market,” says Bob Gibb, who runs the real estate operation at John’s Island Club, which has three 18-hole golf courses.

“There are a lot of factors to consider thinking of a new club, including location and convenience,” says Sykes. “If you build a club west of I-95 [where most of the available land is], who will go? Who will join?”

“If I was an investor, I would not invest in a new golf development here,” says Gibson.

Residential clubs like John’s island are a bit of a safety valve, but inventory is tight in those communities, too. As of Monday, John’s Island Real Estate had 18 homes listed and not under contract and Gibb says that there is no waitlist for new homeowners to join the club. “They have to be vetted of course, as with any private club, but basically anyone who buys a property has access to membership.”

The same is true at Orchid Island Golf and Beach Club, but as of Monday there was only one active listing in the community, which doesn’t create much space for would-be club members.

Club general manager Rob Tench says there were 15 non-resident memberships available at one time but that “they are all gone.”

It is measure of how desirable membership in a full-featured golf, tennis and beach club is that the non-resident members cheerfully paid $200,000 each to be part of the Orchid Island’s elegant seaside lifestyle.

The lure of membership actually helps explain the lack of inventory. Anne Torline, broker at Orchid Island Realty says the availability of a golf membership for homebuyers is “a major incentive” and part of her sales pitch. “It makes us very attractive to buyers.”

“A condo came on the market in Orchid recently, got multiple offers and went under contract in half a day,” recalls Curley.

The good news is Vero’s mainland clubs are ready to welcome new residents with open arms, providing a temporary or permanent solution to the shortage of island memberships.

At least four private mainland clubs have golf memberships available for approved members, including Grand Harbor, which has every country club amenity imaginable, including a recently remodeled beach club on the island.

Gibson says the club has spent $11 million upgrading its two golf courses and other facilities in the past several years since members took over ownership. “We have sold almost 300 memberships in the past three year – about 60% to island residents – but we still have plenty of opportunities.

“We can handle another 100 golf members,” Gibson adds. “I would love to have them. Anyone who is interested should contact the membership office.”

“Grand Harbor is a great option,” says Sykes.

At Indian River Club in south county General Manager Greg Martzolf told Vero Beach 32963, “I am available to meet prospective members and show them the club at any time. We renovated our course last year and were voted the best golf course on the Treasure Coast in 2023 by the readers of Indian River Magazine.

“We have golf and social memberships available and I invite any interested party to contact me. I am passionate about our club and I take people on tours on a regular basis. The eyes sell. When people see what we have here, they are very impressed.”

Chris Reiman, general manager at Pointe West Country Club tells a similar story. “We are a very welcoming club that excels in connecting people and providing social and recreational opportunities,” he says. “We have a couple dozen full golf memberships available, along with social and young executive memberships.”

Bent Pine is another mainland club where golf memberships are still available, according to multiple club managers.

Reiman says he has seen some “tire kickers from the island,” as he looks to expand his membership, but that many islanders think the club is too far inland.

That is a common knock on most of the mainland clubs. Sykes says that high-end buyers who passed on Vero because of long waitlists at island clubs wanted a club handy to their home.

Grand Harbor pretty much fills that bill. It’s beach club is on the island and its two newly renovated golf courses are only a four miles from the beach.

The other clubs are surprisingly close, too. Indian River Club is 9.4 miles from Sexton Plaza, Pointe West is 9.3 miles and Bent Pine is a mere 9.1 miles away from the Ocean Grill. All three are closer than either John’s Island West (10.6 miles from Sexton Plaza) and Quail Valley Golf Club (11.4 miles)

Of course John’s Island and Quail have magnificent facilities on the island, including two golf courses at JI, but you get the point.

For newcomers – or up-and-comers – who can’t get into Quail or The Moorings or Riomar – where golf memberships are not immediately available – there are attractive options.

“I encourage clients to get on the waitlist where they want to join and get out there and start enjoying our beautiful lifestyle,” Sherry says.


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