CANTON, Mass – Expelled. Terminated. Fired. Discharged. Booted. Kicked out. Shown the door.
Take your choice of words but in a certified letter dated Nov. 5 to me from Blue Hill Country Club, I have been “terminated by the Club.”
The letter is filled with grammatical errors and signed by the general manager instructing me to “reach out to Aaron Straub, Director of Member Relations” at Concert Golf Partners, corporate owners of Blue Hill CC and 20 other golf properties throughout the United States.
My first reaction was shock. What is this about? Could it have been it something I did?
I’ve been a member at private golf clubs for most of my life and have heard some horrific stories of members deservedly terminated for gross misconduct, mostly involved in alcohol-fueled incidents.
Over the course of my 2 1/2 years at Blue Hill CC, I have enjoyed the outstanding golf course, modern clubhouse, cordial pro shop staff and golfing and engaging with other members with similar interests. In 2020, I spent significant time there including over 50 rounds, although this year was only about 30.
Being a member at Blue Hill CC is expensive. I spent $10,000 on the initiation fee, $12,000 for annual membership, then another $2,500 for unlimited golf cart privilege with waived food minimum of $1,200. When you add up tournament fees, guest fees, food and beverage my cost was close to $18,000.
In a 20-minute call on Friday Nov. 19 Mr. Straub informed me that I am not welcome back to Blue Hill CC for the 2022 season and that my $10,000 initiation is non-refundable.
“We have received 37 complaints from members of Blue Hill that are not happy with the way you presented the club in recent published articles,” said Straub, from his Concert Golf corporate office in Lake Mary, Florida. “Concert Golf has many options in deciding what’s best for the club. Based on the feedback of members and other criteria we made a decision that you are not welcome there and that we will not renew your membership for next year.”
So, I asked, “Is this retaliation?”
“We believe that your published article in August on the Massachusetts SJC decision against Blue Hill contained some inaccurate content, and reflected more as a hostile opinion piece,” added Straub. “That type of journalism should not be coming from a member. You can use your media platform to do whatever you want and I’ve already been informed you plan to make this issue public. That is not the way Concert Golf does business. We handle these matters confidentially for the benefit of both parties.”
In a strange twist by Concert Golf management, apparently, I can use the facility until January 1, 2022 but after that I am “prohibited from visiting the Club in any capacity, including as the Guest of another Member.” Which raises the question if my conduct was so egregious to impose a lifetime ban why wait several months to impose discipline? Probably, didn’t want to reimburse any money. Those familiar with Concert Golf know it’s always about money.
Straub did not cite any specific rule violation for termination of my membership other than the anger and public opinion from within the club. My review of court decisions on these types of legal disputes found that the private club usually wins and private golf clubs can kick out whomever they want, for whatever reason they want, even if it is based on retaliation!
At this point I’m not sure whether I’m relieved or happy to move on. How would you feel if informed you just saved $15,000 on your golf budget for the coming year? And I don’t lack golf opportunities. Wish I could say I’ve been thrown out of better places, but I can’t.
Two takeaways from this fiasco.
First, when you speak out you become a target, don’t I know that after 29 years of writing about golf. At the time the articles appeared my email box was filled with dozens of negative and positive feedbacks, including social media bullying, but that goes with the territory. Bottom line is most private club members are proud and passionate about their club and when the club is in the news for all the wrong reasons, naturally they get upset. Here, the retaliation was to take out the messenger (me) and they succeeded. Only they know if there is a sense of accomplishment on their efforts? Is this part of “cancel culture?”
Second, and, before I head over to Blue Hill to clean out my locker for the final time, this petty drama show can be summed up nicely by the inimitable comedienne Groucho Marx who famously said “I refuse to be a member at any club that would accept me as a member.”