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Sonoma Golf Club seeks 70 percent hike in membership

The owners of Sonoma Golf Club last week filed a permit application with Sonoma County to increase the number of its members from 319 to 554, a 70 percent hike in potential membership. But club owners, the Texas-based Escalante-Sonoma, do not plan an expansion of its 36,000-square-foot clubhouse or the club’s 193-space parking lot.

Escalante first filed the paperwork with Permit Sonoma requesting an expansion of its membership in 2019. Its final application for an expansion of its permit will be considered by the Sonoma County Zoning Board of Adjustments this week at its June 25 virtual meeting at 2:30 p.m.

Escalante is currently proposing 125 new gold memberships and 100 new social memberships.

Heavy card stock invitations soliciting additional members began to arrive in mailboxes around the Sonoma Valley on June 21.

While public comment letters submitted in advance of the Thursday meeting were not available as of press time, a review of the letters sent to the Zoning Board of Adjustments in 2019 outline a litany of concerns with the expansion plans, including traffic, parking and sewage.

Norman Gilroy, of local watchdog group Mobilize Sonoma, expressed concern in a 2019 letter that the proposed expansion of the club’s social membership was in effect a change of use.

“The addition of [so many] members in the ‘social’ category will be a change of use that will introduce a more intensive use to the club than golf members,” he wrote, noting the traffic and parking impacts that would accompany such an increase in members.

Golf Club member Jason Fish expressed concern that the new social membership would overtax an already small fitness center at the club, as well as add to existing traffic and parking problems.

“People who go to fitness facilities do so far more frequently than golfers play golf,” he wrote. “Extrapolating fitness use from existing golf use as the most recent traffic study commissioned by the owner of SGC has done seems fully inappropriate.”

Neighbor Jerry Igra voiced similar concerns.

“The suggestion that [adding] 225 new memberships while projecting a very limited increase in automobile flow is disingenuous,” he wrote. “It is likely that anyone paying the high costs to join the Sonoma Golf Club as social members will use the fitness center, dining and pool areas extensively.”

He pointed out that the traffic survey by the club owners – which forecast an additional 51 new daily trips to the club – was conducted “during the dead of winter and during a period of heavy rain.”

Longtime member Steve Kyle is not concerned, however, and submitted a letter in support of the proposed expansion in 2019.

A current member told the Index-Tribune that the club’s golf membership initiation fee has ranged between $50,000 and $150,000 over the past decade.

“In the 17 years we have been members, we have rarely been inconvenienced by having too many members on site,” wrote Kyle. “It is my opinion that Sonoma Golf Club warrants the county approval for adding additional members.”

When reached by the Index-Tribune on Monday, Kyle said he continues to have no problem with the idea of the membership increasing and he isn’t sure what the fuss is about.

“A hundred new people won’t change a thing at the club,” he said. “And the traffic issue is bogus.”

The 177-acre Sonoma Golf Club runs along the west side of Arnold Drive, northwest of downtown Sonoma. Its 72 par course opened in 1928 in the site of the former J. K. Bigelow ranch.

The club was initially named the Sonoma Mission Inn Golf and Country Club as it served as an amenity for the Boyes Hot Springs resort. While the private course is no longer associated with the hotel, SMI guests can reserve a tee time for $225 to play in the summer, $150 in the winter. Tony Marshall is the current head pro.

Escalante has owned the club since 2014 – one of more than a dozen other high-end golf courses it owns and operates around the U.S.

Sonoma Golf Club amenities

18-hole golf course and driving range

690-square-foot snack shack

36,000-square-foot clubhouse

Outdoor swimming pool

Two unlighted tennis courts

20-foot wading pool

1,500-square-foot recreation building with locker room, pool snack bar, tennis pro shop and restrooms

The Club is open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

While some Sonoma Golf Club members declined to disclose the private club’s initiation fee, one current member told the Index-Tribune that the membership fee has ranged between $50,000 and $150,000 over the past decade – plus $1,100 monthly dues.

Requests for comment from applicant David Matheson of Escalanta Golf were not returned by press time.

According to Permit Sonoma, if Escalante-Sonoma’s use permit expansion for Sonoma Golf Club is approved by the Sonoma County Zoning Board of Adjustments on June 25, it can take effect immediately. If denied, Escalante can appeal to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.

Contact Lorna at lorna.sheridan@sonomanews.com.

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