High-Priced Country Clubs and Solvang Theater

Coral Casino Price Going Up: When the Four Seasons Biltmore opens the Coral Casino club to new memberships later this year, expect to find that the price has skyrocketed. Although Biltmore officials say nothing has been decided, I hear from reliable sources that the “deposit,” in lieu of a membership fee, could be around $75,000. That compares with the $22,000 membership fee in effect before the beach club closed for renovations a few years ago. And some longtime members got in originally for only a couple of thousand dollars. The Coral Casino is expected to open on a partial basis around August 1.

On the Beat

And if you’d like to enjoy not only Ty Warner’s Coral Casino but also want access to his three area golf courses, the rumor is that you’d have to tee up about $250,000 as a “deposit.” Although this might seem a stiff price to pay-along with monthly fees, of course-Warner right-hand man Greg Rice calls it a “bargain,” although he’s not revealing what the final figure might be. Consultants are working on that.

“There’s nothing like this anywhere else in the U.S.,” Rice told me. I’m not aware of any other combination of a beach club and three 18-hole golf courses, including the hilltop Montecito Country Club, which will be redesigned to become a Jack Nicklaus elite signature golf course. Rice expects it to be ready in about a year after permits are obtained. Montecito Country Club will remain a members-only club.

Although the waiting list for Coral Casino membership is around 250 names long, there are only 88 openings, according to Rice. I’ve heard some grumbling about the stiff new prices, to the effect that “only entertainment industry people and hedge fund managers” will be able to afford the high costs. On the other hand, Warner has spent millions on the Four Seasons Biltmore and renovating the Coral Casino and purchasing Montecito Country Club, San Marcos golf club in the Santa Ynez Valley, and the Sandpiper course in Goleta.

Although $250,000 seems like a staggering amount, it’s actually lower than the membership costs at some primo country clubs around the U.S., I found. One club at Jupiter Island, Florida has a founder’s fee of $1 million and regular membership price of $350,000. At Palm Beach, a country club with one 18-hole course and four tennis courts asks $300,000 of new members. A country club in Nantucket, with one 18-hole course and 12 tennis courts, has a price tag of $325,000. Another East Coast country club with one 18-hole course has a $550,000 price tag. A club in Thousand Oaks, with two courses, asks $300,000 from new members.

It can and no doubt will be argued, of course, that some East Coast clubs come with quite a pedigree. With his immense investments in the Four Seasons Biltmore, the Coral Casino, San Ysidro Ranch, and the three golf courses, Warner is clearly reaching for a moneyed clientele not only from Southern California but the East Coast and internationally.

Warner demands the best when improving his properties and spares no expense. But some close to the hospitality scene in Santa Barbara believe that he’s sunk so much into his favored projects that it’s doubtful if they can ever show a profit.

But with a fortune estimated at around $6 billion from the amazing Beanie Babies marketing phenomenon, Warner can satisfy his high standards without answering to a board of directors or stockholders. He is also sparing no expense in creating his own residential compound behind high walls near the Biltmore.

Warner has become a phenomenon since arriving in Santa Barbara a few years ago. Despite his multimillion-dollar projects-some controversial-he’s managed to keep a low personal profile. I know of no interviews that he’s given.

And he’s no one to mess with. When he believed that some community critics were ready to rough up his proposal for a new Miramar Hotel, he put the long-closed resort up for sale rather than go through what he felt was going to be an unfair hearing process.

Ty Warner, for all his high-profile projects and quiet community philanthropies, remains an enigma.

Boots: On July 4, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Santa Barbara Veterans for Peace and other volunteers plan to place about 300 pairs of boots on Cabrillo Boulevard, “to symbolize and honor California’s warriors killed in Iraq.”

Importance of Earnest: It was well worth it-the trip to Solvang and the late-night drive back home and chill open-air theater-to revel in Oscar Wilde’s comedy The Importance of Being Earnest. PCPA Theaterfest, always good for a sound professional performance, did Wilde proud, spouting off his epigrams like popcorn from a popper. Earnest runs through July 14 in repertory with the musical Company, in Concert. Info at 922-8313.


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