Clubhouse options head to council

Newport Beach Country Club will receive a new clubhouse. The question is what will it look like and how big will it be?

Two proposals will come before Newport Beach City Councilmembers at their Jan. 24 meeting for the East Coast Highway property.

One proposal, from the club's lease owner, Golf Realty Fund, has a clubhouse spanning 35,000 square feet and would eliminate 17 of 24 existing tennis courts and rebuild the tennis clubhouse, according to a project summary from the city's Planning Commission. The landowner, whose total project space is 145 acres, also wants to eliminate an access road to neighborhing Armstrong Nursery. The road runs parallel to Coast Highway.

The other proposal, from NBCC Inc., the club's management, calls for a 56,000-square-foot clubhouse on 133 acres. The NBCC proposal focuses only on the clubhouse and keeping the access road to Armstrong. Golf Realty Fund's proposal includes adding five single-family homes, 27 hotel rooms, and the golf clubhouse, which also includes 8,000 square feet of underground parking for golf carts. The hotel rooms would be built on land where the 17 tennis courts currently sit.

Here's what councilmembers will deal with:

In a Planning Commission report to city staff, commissioners say the "existing golf clubhouse (built in the 1950s) no longer meets the needs of the membership or Newport Beach community."

"This is an opportunity for us to have a club that matches the address — like a world-class facility to enhance membership," said Perry Dickey, the club's president said.

Dickey wouldn't say how much the renovation would cost because he said he doesn't know when work would start. The City Council still needs to give its feedback and the California Coastal Commission would need to approve the renovation, too. Both proposals call for demolishing the existing clubhouse.

"It could be one year or 18 months," Dickey said. "I don't want to overpromise and under-deliver."

The project has dragged. Dickey said they first began making plans two years ago, but he and Robert O Hill, Golf Realty's president, don't see eye-to-eye, in Dickey's words.

Dickey said in October that he and O Hill "agree to disagree."

O Hill bought the land from the Irvine Company in 1992 and started drawing plans for a new clubhouse. He and partners Allan Fainbarg and Arnold Feuerstein worked on plans for a new clubhouse. Two years ago, Feuerstein's son, Elliot, and Fainbarg's son-in-law, Irv Chase, came on board with O Hill and own 25% of the business, O Hill said by phone.

"They want the frontage road to stay, and they support [NBCC Inc.'s] plan," O Hill said of his current co-owners. In August, Newport Beach Country Club and the Balboa Bay Club & Resort were sold to Chinese businessman Winston Chung, who purchased the properties from former owner International Bay Clubs Inc.

"The main sticking points are the frontage road and the parking lot," O Hill said, adding that people have said the lot looks like a swap meet. He agrees.

"It's an eyesore," O Hill said.

Golf Realty Fund's proposal will have a new tennis clubhouse, a "stadium-style" court, a fitness center and swimming pool.

O Hill estimates the golf clubhouse project would cost $25 million, but is not sure how it would be paid for. Newport Beach Country Club is a private club for profit. This is opposed to an equity club, where members pay in to the club for services.

Both plans allot for 334 parking spots with an additional 544 stalls available at adjacent Corporate Park West as needed. The plans, though, differ in the layout of parking lanes. In the Planning Commission's Nov. 17 response to public comments, parking lanes in NBCC Inc.'s plan would run perpendicular to the clubhouse. Golf Realty Fund's proposal has the lanes running parallel to the clubhouse.

What Dickey wants is a distinguishing spot like Winged Foot's clubhouse is in New York or Big Canyon Country Club's tudor-style clubhouse. The new clubhouse features a fitness facility and enhance banquet facilities for a course that hosts the Toshiba Classic senior golf tournament each March.

"We've got a Frank Lloyd Wright prairie-style deal," Dickey said. O Hill calls the golf clubhouse proposed by IBC a "banquet facility designed as a golf clubhouse."

Planning commissioners are not all on the same page with either plan. According to a commission report presented to the City Council on Nov. 22, four of five commissioners favored Golf Realty Fund's proposal as it relates to the tennis clubhouse and hotel rooms. In that same report, commissioners voted, 3-2, in favor of NBCC Inc.'s plan that includes the frontage road with the stipulation that the road's width increase to at least 20 feet.

There's yet another element in play. Golf Realty Fund and Mesa Shopping Center-East LLC, Fainbarg Family Trust, are in arbitration regarding comments made about the NBCC property's ownership.

Alan Kessel, a lawyer with Baker & Hostetler LLP who represents Golf Realty Fund, wrote a letter to Newport Beach City Attorney Aaron Harp dated Oct. 5. In the letter, Kessel denies a claim he says John Olson, of Waldron & Bragg LLP, made about the NBCC property.

In his letter, Kessel claims Olson falsely said Golf Realty Fund no longer owns and manages NBCC.

Kessel includes a court document that says Orange County Superior Court Judge Linda Marks denied Mira Mesa's request for a preliminary injunction. Golf Realty Fund is suing for "conduct and interference" from Waldron & Bragg's September 9 letter and what Kessel writes is a "false" statement that Golf Realty Fund no longer manages NBCC.

A post-arbitration conference is scheduled for Jan. 19.

The council only needs a majority vote to move either proposal forward, said Kimberly Brandt, the city's community development director.

Lots to take in I know. Stay tuned.

BRYCE ALDERTON is the golf writer for the Daily Pilot. He can be reached by email at

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World