If you like golf, tennis or swimming, it may make sense for you to become a member of your favorite course, club or pool. Once you pay the dues, you can use the facilities as much as you want. The more you go, the better value you are getting for buying a membership.
But what if the course, club or pool closes before your membership expires? Then you may not have gotten your money's worth, and want back some of what you paid.
There's no assurance that will happen.
Members of those types of clubs don't have the protections that members of gyms and health clubs do.
Gyms that sell long-term memberships must register with the state attorney general's office and post a bond that can be used to provide refunds to customers if the gym closes. Golf courses and other types of athletic clubs don't have to do that.
That means you may have to duke it out with the club's owner to get a refund, as a few members of the closed Center Valley Club are. The golf course in Upper Saucon Township closed last fall.
Ken Margraff and his friends bought memberships entitling them to unlimited rounds last year. They were regulars at the course for many years, playing in most of the club's tournaments and events and winning many of them.
"We were one of the more loyal groups," Margraff, of Upper Saucon Township, told me. "Any event that Center Valley had, we went. It was our place to play."
He said when the course closed in October, the manager told him she'd try to get members a prorated refund for the remainder of the year.
When that didn't happen, Margraff said he contacted the club's owner, and was told this month there would be no refunds because there is no money available. Margraff and member Mark Bennett of Quakertown questioned that, pointing to a March public auction of course equipment that netted more than $200,000.
"The amount of assets that they had that they sold off, there should be plenty of money to reimburse," Bennett told me.
Margraff contacted the Watchdog about the situation and I reached out to the course owners.
Greg Kessell, a partner in Center Valley Golf Management, told me this week the auction money had to be paid to the mortgage holder per the terms of their agreement. He said the club would have liked to have used some of that money to handle other financial matters, but it wasn't possible.
"There is no pot of money that myself or anyone else is enjoying," Kessell said.
He told me he would contact Margraff and Bennett and work with them privately to try to address their request for a prorated refund.
Margraff and Bennett said they paid about $2,000 for memberships at Center Valley Club and believe they're entitled to refunds of about $500, since they lost a quarter of the calendar year.
Kessell said it was hard to keep the course open because fewer rounds were being played.
"It was not making money, despite the fact it was a great golf course," he said.
Township officials said last year that Bank of America had inquired about building a data center on the site, at Interstate 78 and Route 309. That fell through. Kessell told me other development opportunities are being looked at, though there are no agreements in place.
"There's definitely a lot of interest," Kessell said.
Members of golf courses, tennis clubs and swimming pools that close can ask the state attorney general's office for help obtaining refunds. The office will look at the circumstances of the closure, including what members were told and when memberships were sold in relation to the closure, spokesman Nils Frederiksen said.
Refunds may or may not be warranted, he said.
"Unlike health clubs, there's no mechanism to require that organizations set aside funds in the event that they were to close, which is why individuals need to think carefully when they purchase long-term memberships," Frederiksen said.
The state Health Club Act requires gyms that sell memberships for more than one year or require you to pay more than one month's dues in advance to file a bond or letter of credit with the attorney general's office. Gyms can sell memberships of 12 months or less without a bond or letter of credit if they collect payments in equal monthly installments.
One way to protect yourself when buying any type of membership is to pay with a credit card. If the club or gym closes and you can't use the services you paid for, you can dispute the charge with your bank and seek a refund that way. Your other option is to seek a refund through the courts, or as a creditor if the club files for bankruptcy.
The Watchdog is published Thursdays and Sundays. Contact me by email at email@example.com, by phone at 610-841-2364 (ADOG), by fax at 610-820-6693, or by mail at The Morning Call, 101 N. Sixth St., Allentown, PA, 18101. Follow me on Twitter at mcwatchdog and on Facebook at Morning Call Watchdog.