RSF Association delays vote on RSF Golf Club locker room conversion

The Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club.

A proposed change to the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club’s locker room and lounge configuration has sparked lots of community conversation over the last month.

On April 1, the Rancho Santa Fe Association board’s decision on the change was continued to the May 6 meeting, to allow time for the board to gather further legal advice. While the Association’s attorney and the RSF Golf Club’s outside counsel have weighed in, RSF Association Vice President Sharon Ruhnau said she would like an expert opinion on whether or not the proposed configuration of converting an existing co-ed lounge into a men’s locker room space would be discriminatory.

“I don’t think that there is a rush to do this so waiting another 30 days is in our best interest,” Ruhnau said.

Director Rick Sapp said the Association board is looking to achieve the best outcome for golf club members, to ensure facilities provided to members are relatively compatible, equal and fair and that the amenities provided to them in terms of services are the same.

The locker room configuration changes were presented at the board’s March meeting and in a 5-2 vote, the board approved it for a 28-day posting for public comment with Laurel Lemarie and Ruhnau voting in opposition.

“The posting and the publicity that we’ve received has led to member input in a volume that I personally have not experienced at the Association,” said RSF Association Manager Christy Whalen, who has been with the Association since 2015.

In March, the board received 90 comments on the topic via email with 62% in support of the change (56), 31% voiced opposition (28) and 7% (6) with more comments or questions.

At the April 1 meeting, RSF Golf Club Interim Manager Shanon McCarthy provided a history of the use of the clubhouse spaces.

The RSF Golf Club’s plan of operation states that all property owners in the Covenant are social members if they have not yet joined the club—Association members have access to the pro shop and the restaurant (which the Association jointly funds) while only golf club members have access to golf facilities, including the locker rooms and Veranda Lounge in the Players Clubhouse.

Since 1987, all capital improvements, maintenance and repair of golf-related facilities have been paid solely by golf club members.

The Players Clubhouse opened in 2008 with three areas in addition to the pro shop: A women’s locker room and lounge called the Bougainvillea Lounge, a men’s locker room and lounge called the Vaquero Lounge, and a co-ed social gathering space called the Veranda Lounge.

According to McCarthy, the $6.9 million cost of the clubhouse project was and is being paid for by golf club members with repayment of the loan to be completed in about six years.

Shortly after the clubhouse opened, the men’s lounge was made a part of the co-ed space due to similar concerns being raised now. Doors were added to provide privacy for the men’s lockers and restroom areas. In 2010, an additional bar was added to the co-ed Veranda Lounge to serve all members and the Vaquero Bar was closed and reserved solely for special events—to this day it is not set up for service and it is not regularly staffed.

The Bougainvillea Lounge remains women-only.

The proposed change would restore the areas to the original layout and according to McCarthy, it is “strongly” supported by both men and women club members.

“The golf club feels that the men are entitled to a social area or lounge just as the women are,” McCarthy said.

Both the men’s and women’s lounges are equivalently furnished—the main difference between the two spaces is the unstaffed, built-in bar. In the new configuration, McCarthy said bar service for all areas would continue to be provided from the co-ed Veranda Lounge bar, which is open Wednesday through Sunday.

During public comment, Rancho Santa Fe residents Linda Leong and Ilia Christy shared their opposition to the proposed change that they believe to be discriminatory.

“I believe barring women from the Vaquero Lounge is wrong morally, ethically and legally,” Christy said.

The women believe all residents should have equal access to all Association-owned property including the golf and tennis clubs, whether they are members or not.

Deb Gustafson, a 12-year RSF Golf Club member, said she saw a lot of misrepresentation in the comments the board received, from people who are not familiar with the layout of the buildings and rooms involved. Gustafson said the current situation discriminates against the male members of the club as the women have a private lounge which is part of their locker room and the men do not.

“No amenities in this area are different than the Bougainvillea Lounge part of women’s locker room,” Gustafson said of the Vaquero Lounge. “Our golf club membership is thriving and growing and it is our desire to give everyone the best possible experience and changing the use of this space will help us to achieve that.”

As the bar in the Vaquero Lounge appears to be the major difference between the men’s and women’s spaces, Association Director Greg Gruzdowich said if the club physically removed the bar then both lounges become effectively just locker room extensions.

Blair Nicholas (speaking on behalf of himself, not in his role as president of the RSF Golf Club Board of Governors) said rather than removing the bar, he believes the golf club board would be open to discussing building a bar on the women’s side. Nicholas said he supported both the men and women having reasonable expectations of privacy in their locker rooms and bathrooms and maintaining the common Veranda Lounge as a “terrific space” that everyone shares.

In his comments, Sapp said the conversation has unveiled an already unbalanced situation at the club. He said it will be important to get “precise” legal advice that will help determine the best solution to make things fair and equitable.

“There is currently a discriminatory situation at the club but it’s not against the women,” Sapp said. “The question is how do we socialize this properly and how do we make a rule change that will benefit as many members as we can without violating whatever extant law there would be.”

At the meeting, the board also approved other operational changes at the club including suspending inactive status for the remainder of 2021 while the golf club is under renovation and a new inactive status policy that will take effect in January 2022.

Currently the inactive status policy is that for every five years of membership, members can take up to one year off for any reason without payment of dues. The policy has been revised to state that for every 10 years that a member maintains active membership, they can take up to six months of inactive status.

Gruzdowich and Lemarie voted against the new policy.

During public comment, resident Steve Leisher spoke out against the revised policy as he said it does not take into account member health issues that may force an extended leave from the course.

“There’s lots of complications that come out of various illnesses, it might be useful to take a different perspective from how to work with people that have had serious health issues that can linger on for a long time,” he said.

RSF Golf Club President Nicholas said he fully understands that unexpected health situations do occur and there is a mechanism in place for members to ask for accommodations.

“This is not at all to disenfranchise any of our members, it’s really to protect the financial viability of our golf club,” Nicholas said.

Another approved operational change regarded minors in the clubhouse. Per the rule change, unaccompanied children of members will not be allowed in the Players Clubhouse unless they have earned Junior Golfer’s privileges. Additionally, minors are not allowed in the clubhouse after 5 p.m.