SKVARLA: Dormie Club leaves its conscience at the door

Dormie Club in Pinehurst, North Carolina (PRNewsfoto/Dormie One Properties)

Golf is ostensibly the game of gentlemen. A self-policing sport where players call penalties on themselves. One would associate these tenets with sportsmanship as its hallmark feature

The Dormie Club in West End, North Carolina was founded on these principles. A private club in the American home of golf — Pinehurst — was designed to attract people who had a love for the game and were genuinely respectful of its history. The name “Dormie” itself reflects that moment when a contested match becomes “dormie” when a participant is not in a position to lose.

The Dormie Club was to be that bucolic place where one could find contentment in knowing you could not lose no matter what was going on in the rest of the world

The club was inspired by a gentleman with a deep appreciation for golf and who also was a member of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in St Andrews, Scotland — the original home of golf. This gentleman knew the American home of golf needed such a facility. At the original cost of $120,000 for a membership, no small fee to find contentment, to be sure, Dormie was established to attract members who had that same love and appreciation for the game.

In life and in business, timing is critical. The founders tasked heralded course designers Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw to construct the masterpiece which they achieved. The course is without doubt one of the finest in North Carolina. Unfortunately, however, the 2008-2009 financial crisis prevented Dormie from becoming what it was intended to be. Virtually all of its members demanded refunds of their large initiation fees.

Dormie thereafter operated as a public facility.

In 2017, a wealthy family from the west acquired the course and a young family member was designated as CEO. After the acquisition, Dormie continued to operate publicly but began to recruit members from North Carolina to a club which promised to ultimately convert to a private facility. A more modest initiation fee of $5,000 to $15,000 plus monthly dues secured a membership.

The new owners invested heavily in a clubhouse and overnight cottages to align the business model with its five other “off-market” facilities around the country. These five facilities had, and will continue to have, a traditionally private membership model. The network is sold as interchangeable among the six clubs so members could play on any of them at any time.

Approximately 35 new members were recruited to Dormie at the lower initiation fee level. None were alerted that their memberships were to ultimately be eradicated and all their fees lost. Why, I am unsure. In essence, they became “useful idiots” for short-term cash flow. Two Pinehurst residents in particular, both of whom had paid the $120,000 initiation fee prior to 2010, stuck with the Dormie Club believing the original vision would ultimately be achieved. Both articulated this belief to Dormie’s management on numerous occasions. Both recruited new members, helped clear hurdles to the property’s development, and facilitated events and trips that boosted annual revenue for room occupancy.

In late September 2021, the big blow came. The CEO notified all members there would be no play at the Dormie Club unless a dues-paying member also rented an overnight room from the club. Imagine being a young family from the area, having recently paid $15,000 for a membership plus dues, now being required to rent a room to play at your club 30 minutes from your home.

Even worse, how about being one of the two local members having paid $120,000 for a membership, sticking by the club for a dozen years, having facilitated its membership growth, only to learn you had to rent a room to play at your course ten minutes from your home.

Written inquiries to the CEO have all gone unanswered.

The one undeniable hallmark of golf and business is great leadership, understanding and appreciation. The loss of any of those components is the genie that cannot be put back into the bottle. It appears the owners of Dormie have never understood the true fundamentals of the sport.

John Skvarla is a resident of Pinehurst and is former N.C. Secretary of Commerce and N.C. Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.