Dominion Club files Chapter 11

A Richmond golf club has entered bankruptcy protection, unable to refund millions of dollars in initiation deposits owed to current and former members.

The Dominion Club, a 19-year-old country club that includes a Curtis Strange-designed golf course in Western Henrico County, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Monday evening. It notified members at a meeting at the club.

The Dominion Club did not have the money to pay back $1.7 million in initiation fees that were contractually supposed to be returned at the end of December to current and former members, said Vernon Inge, a lawyer from LeClairRyan who is representing the club. (You can see a list of the members and former members, and what they are owed in a filing here.)

Other members were supposed to eventually be paid back $10 million to $11 million that they paid in initiation deposits. But those funds weren’t due just yet. That will make those members unsecured creditors, Inge said, adding that it’s unlikely unsecured creditors will get much money back.

Some vendors might also not get all they are owed, Inge said. Despite these problems, the club has been mostly up-to-date on its bills and will keep paying them after the filing.

The country club, which opened in 1992 and was developed by HHHunt, is operationally on better financial footing, Inge said. HHHunt is owed $10.6 million from the club and will turn that credit into equity, Inge said, meaning the developer will lose that sum.

“It’s business as usual,” said Inge. “It will be completely transparent to the users of the club that we are in Chapter 11 and the club will be providing services when the weather permits, just like it’s always been.”

Dominion is the second local course to enter bankruptcy in recent years. In October 2009, the Federal Club filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. That course was eventually sold for less than half of what it cost to build it.

Other golf clubs have filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in Williamsburg and Lynchburg. And even courses that cater to the wealthy are struggling to find enough new members to replace ones that have given up their memberships. (You can read about that in an RBS story here.)

Compared with the Federal Club, the Dominion Club has far more members (more than 700 compared with fewer than 150) and has enough cash flow to maintain the course, Inge said.

Inge said the Dominion Club has paid back $6 million in refunds. However, the club does not have enough to keep paying.

Members were first notified that initiation deposits would not be refunded in a letter that went out last week.

HHHunt has been operating the club, Inge said, and might try to turn over control to the members. That move was also tried at the Federal Club, but the member-group did not end up bidding.

“The members will basically be the only creditors,” Inge said. “Ultimately, we want to find a way for the current members to control the golf course.”

HHHunt considered selling the club to the members last decade, but the deal fell through.

Dale Austin, the chief financial officer for Patient First and a member at the Dominion Club, said he paid an initiation of $16,000. Austin said members were supposed to get their money back after a certain number of years or when they left the club.

“If you resigned from the club, you had to do it on Aug. 1 and it was effective Dec. 31,” Austin said. “Typically, a member only gets his or her money back when the club can sell the membership.”

Aaron Kremer is the BizSense editor and covers the golf business. Please send news tips to [email protected]

A Richmond golf club has entered bankruptcy protection, unable to refund millions of dollars in initiation deposits owed to current and former members.

The Dominion Club, a 19-year-old country club that includes a Curtis Strange-designed golf course in Western Henrico County, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Monday evening. It notified members at a meeting at the club.

The Dominion Club did not have the money to pay back $1.7 million in initiation fees that were contractually supposed to be returned at the end of December to current and former members, said Vernon Inge, a lawyer from LeClairRyan who is representing the club. (You can see a list of the members and former members, and what they are owed in a filing here.)

Other members were supposed to eventually be paid back $10 million to $11 million that they paid in initiation deposits. But those funds weren’t due just yet. That will make those members unsecured creditors, Inge said, adding that it’s unlikely unsecured creditors will get much money back.

Some vendors might also not get all they are owed, Inge said. Despite these problems, the club has been mostly up-to-date on its bills and will keep paying them after the filing.

The country club, which opened in 1992 and was developed by HHHunt, is operationally on better financial footing, Inge said. HHHunt is owed $10.6 million from the club and will turn that credit into equity, Inge said, meaning the developer will lose that sum.

“It’s business as usual,” said Inge. “It will be completely transparent to the users of the club that we are in Chapter 11 and the club will be providing services when the weather permits, just like it’s always been.”

Dominion is the second local course to enter bankruptcy in recent years. In October 2009, the Federal Club filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. That course was eventually sold for less than half of what it cost to build it.

Other golf clubs have filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in Williamsburg and Lynchburg. And even courses that cater to the wealthy are struggling to find enough new members to replace ones that have given up their memberships. (You can read about that in an RBS story here.)

Compared with the Federal Club, the Dominion Club has far more members (more than 700 compared with fewer than 150) and has enough cash flow to maintain the course, Inge said.

Inge said the Dominion Club has paid back $6 million in refunds. However, the club does not have enough to keep paying.

Members were first notified that initiation deposits would not be refunded in a letter that went out last week.

HHHunt has been operating the club, Inge said, and might try to turn over control to the members. That move was also tried at the Federal Club, but the member-group did not end up bidding.

“The members will basically be the only creditors,” Inge said. “Ultimately, we want to find a way for the current members to control the golf course.”

HHHunt considered selling the club to the members last decade, but the deal fell through.

Dale Austin, the chief financial officer for Patient First and a member at the Dominion Club, said he paid an initiation of $16,000. Austin said members were supposed to get their money back after a certain number of years or when they left the club.

“If you resigned from the club, you had to do it on Aug. 1 and it was effective Dec. 31,” Austin said. “Typically, a member only gets his or her money back when the club can sell the membership.”

Aaron Kremer is the BizSense editor and covers the golf business. Please send news tips to [email protected]

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Mike
Mike
11 years ago

This is a total shell game (feels almost ponzi like). You have one one of Virginia’s most successful developers (Harry Hunt) and development companies HHHunt bankrupting a single entity they own to get out of paying deposits to past members. The club owned by a HHHunt entity is incredibly financially viable with 700 members and many years $1,000,000 profits. Now what makes it look bad on paper is there is another HHHunt entity (Loch Loven or something random like that) which owns the land the club and lake sit on and that other HHHunt entity draws out $800,000 to $1.1… Read more »

Tim Edwards
Tim Edwards
11 years ago

It is sad that debts and obligations can be washed away in bankruptcy court when the debtors have the resources to ‘pay-up.’ However, as a Realtor who was asked by a client that was interested in a home on the course 6 years ago, ‘who owns the golf course’? I soon found out from H H Hunt via phone, that they owned it, never intended to be in the business of owning a golf course and said if the members did not purchase it from them, they would sell it to another golf company, or something, to get it off… Read more »

Kevin Anderson
Kevin Anderson
11 years ago

There’s really no way to say this without sounding rude, but the members likely didn’t protect themselves because most of them have never been members of another club before and have no idea how one is supposed to operate. If what Mike is saying is true that would have made me very skeptical long ago, why would the members not buy the club if it was pulling in millions in profits a year?

Mike
Mike
11 years ago

The vast majority of the golf members were/are members at other clubs. Many are members at 2 clubs today like Kinloch, Foundry,Hermitage etc. Why didn’t the members buy the club? We tried about 3 years ago and thousands were spent on evaluations and appraisals by golf management consultants. The value came back at about $13 million. Hunt offered it to the members for about $25 million. They were not motivated to sell because they were making so much money off the lease of land and knew they could get out of paying back the deposits. Remember Hunt says they don’t… Read more »

Former TDC Board Member
Former TDC Board Member
11 years ago

This smells bad. The perfect way out for Hunt and their banks is to dump their contractual member deposit obligations and then get the members to buy the club while sticking them with monthly obligations to Hunt for $83K for land rent and $100K for water charges. What a sweet deal for them. Maybe this was their original plan. My suggestion would be to completely reject the first, sweet heart deal and wait for the banks to step in without Hunt. Right now the banks are hoping Hunt gets the members to buy the club. They could clear at least… Read more »

Mike
Mike
11 years ago

The judge seemed very upset with HHHunt at proceedings! They tried to push through a motion that no one could sue HHHunt or entities moving forward in this case. Sneaky but it didn’t work! They also tried to get a $1.1 million annual rent provision through to set an annual rent if they ever leased the club to the members. Again sneaky but it didn’t work. The million dollar land lease from one Hunt entity to the other which basically put the club in bankruptcy and which they tried to continue through motion could not be produced when the judge… Read more »

J
J
11 years ago

Looking for others on the resigned list to join a class action lawsuit. Would some attorneys in RIC who believe they can win this please step up?

Greg
Greg
11 years ago

I don’t know why anyone would think the refundable deposit structure would last forever. It was based on an endless supply of new members joining and paying the full deposit in order to pay out the older members that are still there or who have left. It works of a while but eventually you run out of new members since there is not an endless supply of them. That is the definition of a pyramid scheme. How could the members not realize that?