EXCLUSIVE: Financially-strapped golf club owes ex-members thousands for years

Exclusive: Financially-strapped golf club owes ex-members thousands for years
Published: Feb. 25, 2014 at 7:00 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - An Oahu golf club that's run into financial problems has owed more than 100 of its former members hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of refunds for years.

Moanalua Golf Club was built back in 1898, and its 9-hole golf course is the oldest in the state.

More recently, club officials have said the club is in dire financial circumstances. Last year, the club explored an offer from Kaiser Permanente Hawaii, whose hospital is right next to the golf course.

Kaiser offered to pay the club $4 million for 10 acres of its land for eventual hospital expansion. A Kaiser spokeswoman said hospital officials briefed the club's board and it's still awaiting a response.

"They have to pay me back the membership money," said Thomas Chung, 77, who told Hawaii News Now he resigned from the club more than seven years ago and still is owed $5,000 from the club, half of his original initiation fee payment.

Since late 2006 when he left the club, he's been asking for that $5,000 refund. He was shocked when the club told him earlier this year he's the 91st former member on the list waiting for a refund, meaning the club could owe its retired members at least $455,000.

Club President Calvin Miyamoto told Hawaii News Now more than 100 of the club's former members are owed refunds of $5,000 or $8,500.

"We understand how each former member feels," Miyamoto said. "All of the clubs are suffering right now.  We just can't get new members with the hard economic times."

'We've looked at different ways to pay people back," Miyamoto said. "It will take a vote by all the members to have this taken care of."

"We are still doing our due diligence" on the Kaiser offer, Miyamoto said, figuring out tax consequences and how much golf course property would be lost.  Club leaders have yet to put the Kaiser offer to the membership for a vote, he said.

The club told Chung he was 100 on the list in early 2007, just after he resigned from the club, Chung said.  That would mean he progressed just nine spots in more than seven years toward reimbursement, since he's at 91 today.

"I need the money right now because I'm getting old and I got some physical condition is not well," Chung said.

Earlier this month, Archie Viela, the club's membership chairman sent Chung's daughter an email that said: "Pursuant to our bylaws, former members are paid in the order they appear on that list when a new member joins the club and pays the certificate fee for the class of membership he selects."

"To date we have been unable to recruit new members to allow us to redeem outstanding certificates in a timely manner," Viela wrote. "Until and unless we are able to recruit new members, we cannot redeem outstanding certificates."

Chung is worried that he and other elderly former members may not live long enough to get their refunds.

"How long going we wait from now? Five years? Ten years? When I gone?" Chung asked.

In May of last year, the golf club wrote Chung a letter "to investigate if there is any interest from 'certificate holders' to convert portions of their certificate fees into fee play cards redeemable at our course."  The golf coupons would be valued at roughly $50 each that could be used to play golf and rent a cart at Moanalua.  Chung said he was not interested.

The letter, also signed by Viela, said, "New initiation fee members have not materialized for many years and the membership committee is currently looking at possible programs to work with certificate holders."

Miyamoto, who took over as president in July,  said no former members were interested in the golf-for-debt proposal.

Miyamoto said Moanalua, which has about 302 members, has dropped its initiation fee to $1,000, from $10,000 20 years ago. In spite of that lower initial fee, he said he could not remember when the last new member joined the club.  He said there are a lot of "temporary members," but they don't bring in significant funds to help erase the backlog.

"My main concern is how to keep the club going," Miyamoto said. "We are exploring all avenue of what we can do."

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