When Michael Finney moved to Northern New Mexico more than a decade ago, the avid golfer invested in a VIP membership to the Black Mesa Golf Course outside Española.
“It was right down the road,” Finney said of the 18-hole championship golf course, which is owned by Santa Clara Pueblo.
He paid $13,000 for the membership, which would give him golf and practice range privileges at Black Mesa during the 20-year lease between the pueblo and Santa Clara Golf Services Corp.
“I actually financed [the membership] with my mortgage when I bought a house,” said Finney, who works as a mailman.
But 10 years into his membership, Finney feels like anything but a VIP.
Black Mesa Golf Enterprises, the new entity that took over the golf course after a dispute between the pueblo and Santa Clara Golf Services Corp., sent him a notice terminating his membership.
Finney wasn’t alone.
Dozens of golfers who spent thousands of dollars each on what they believed to be lifetime memberships to the golf course also received termination notices.
“We sincerely regret having to take this action,” Mark Thompson, chairman of Black Mesa Golf Enterprises, wrote in the letter.
Based on the language in their contracts, the golfers may have no recourse.
“I’m disappointed,” said state Rep. Carl Trujillo, District 46, one of the golfers whose membership is no longer valid.
Capital City Golf Services LLC, which developed the golf course and used to manage it under a contract with Santa Clara Golf Services Corp., sold the lifetime memberships to the golfers.
The contracts stated that the memberships would be honored by Capital City or its successors “for the term of the lease.”
Last March, the pueblo terminated the lease after Santa Clara Golf Services Corp. “failed to meet its obligations,” largely because of unspecified problems with Capital City’s management of the golf course, the letter states.
“The term of your agreement with Capital City for golfing privileges was tied to the term of SCGSC’s lease with the Pueblo and, that leasing having been terminated, we regret to inform you that we can no longer honor that agreement,” Thompson wrote in the letter.
Neither the pueblo nor Santa Clara Development Corp., the business arm of the tribe, “was aware at the time of Capital City’s offering of these VIP memberships,” the letter states.
In an interview, Thompson said he hoped the golfers whose memberships were terminated would continue to play at the course.
“We hope that those lifetime members would see it as a business decision and return to play at Black Mesa Golf Course,” he said. “We apologize for any inconvenience, but the true entity and the true liability lies with Capital City Golf [Services].”
Developer Eddie Peck, who owns Capital City Golf Services, said he has “no control” over what the tribe decides to do.
“The agreements say what they say and, from my recollection, they’re tied to the length of the lease and if the lease went away, then I don’t know what you do,” he said. “I didn’t make the lease go away.”
When asked where the money for the memberships went, Peck said, “it was just used for the business,” including to help finance the golf course when it was under construction.
Tom Velarde, golf course director, said he knew nothing about the memberships.
Standing in the loft of the golf pro shop at Black Mesa, which was mostly quiet one recent morning except for a couple of workers mowing the greens, Velarde said he didn’t want to talk to a reporter.
“Every time I see my name in the paper, it’s never good,” he said.
Velarde referred media inquiries to Elijah Baca. When a reporter asked who Baca was, Velarde replied, “You’re a reporter, aren’t you? That’s your job.”
Baca, who is the chief financial officer for Santa Clara Development Corp., did not return a message seeking comment.
Peck said he’s had no communication with anyone from the golf course or the tribe since they parted ways in May 2014.
“We were tying to work out a buyout where the tribe would buy Capital City Golf Services out,” he said.
“We had gone back and forth several times with different offers because it was obvious that they wanted to go in a different direction than where we were going, that they wanted to run the golf course themselves,” Peck said. “We were trying to work a way out of that was friendly and amenable. But it just got to the point where it was just easier to walk away than to try to continue forward.”
Peck said he’s sorry the golf course is no longer honoring the memberships, but that he’s not personally liable.
“If I was still there, I would still be honoring whatever agreement they had, but I’m not,” he said. “I have no control over that.”
Thompson said Peck and his Capital City Golf Services were the “sole entity” responsible for issuing the lifetime memberships. Thompson estimates that Capital City sold 40 memberships, though he said he didn’t know how much money was collected.
“We understand that the community and those members would be upset,” Thompson said. “We knew that this would happen, but we just ask their understanding that those lifetime memberships were issued by Capital City and Eddie Peck and were not authorized by us.”
Trujillo, the state representative from Santa Fe, said he paid $10,000 for his membership.
“It was supposed to be a lifetime membership,” he said.
Despite being disappointed, Trujillo said he wasn’t entirely surprised when he received the letter from Black Mesa Golf Enterprises because Velarde, the golf course director, had mentioned “that this might be coming.”
Trujillo said he figured the decision not to honor the memberships issued by Capital City was a business decision.
“I know that playership is down there significantly,” he said. “I just thought this is probably a way for them to look at more revenues. I guess if we go play, now we pay.”
The golf course, recently ranked as one of the 10 best golf courses in New Mexico by Golf Digest, was designed by Baxter Spann of the architecture firm Finger Dye-Spann, which also designed Piñon Hills, PAA-KO Ridge Club and the city-owned Marty Sanchez Links de Santa Fe golf courses.
Finney, the mailman who bought a membership, said the golf course is “basically throwing us to the curb.”
“I think they’re trying to [recoup] their loss from Capital City, so they’re taking it out on the members and trying just to do away with [the memberships], saying they didn’t know about them,” he said.
“I lost $13,000,” Finney added. “I paid for a lifetime membership. That’s what I should have, and if Capital City LLC didn’t give them the money for these memberships, they need to go after them, not us. Just because they fired them isn’t my problem.”