TOP clubs in the greater Dublin area are bidding for the hearts, minds and money of the Luttrellstown Castle members -- and Solheim Cup venue Killeen Castle is the favoured venue.
The luxury resort near Dunshaughlin, which boasts a superb Jack Nicklaus-designed layout and the Dave Pelz Short Game school, has offered an attractive package and set a deadline of February 28 before the offer expires.
They want a minimum of 150 members who can join for a €5,000 entrance fee and an annual sub of €3,850 plus VAT.
Family membership -- a member and partner with options for children under the age of 30 -- is available for €10,000 plus VAT entrance fee and an annual sub of €7,000.
At this stage over 160 of the 368 Luttrellstown members have put their names on the list for Killeen Castle, and more could follow their lead.
This is a significant move for both parties.
Killeen Castle has up to now given no indication of a membership drive, but Luttrellstown's loss offers a potential win-win situation.
The Dunshaughlin resort could gain revenue and a large group of members in one fell swoop.
Luttrellstown's members can gain a new home and an opportunity to maintain the unity and friendships they have built up over the years.
As an added bonus, the annual sub is fixed for three years from 2009-2011, and agreement can be made to defer the entrance fee payment until the end of October 2009, or to pay the entrance fee over a number of years.
There are attractive incentives too for early payments and Killeen Castle will implement a full juvenile and junior programme.
Luttrellstown club officers have done huge work in assessing a plethora of offers from clubs, but Killeen stands out as the most favourable.
The Luttrellstown members were shocked and angered just before Christmas when Luttrellstown Castle announced they were closing at the end of 2009.
The reason given was the collapse in the corporate golf market and the lack of new membership. Losses of €500,000 were reported.
The members had no warning that this was to happen and though the club, owned by JP McManus, John Magnier and Aidan Brooks, is committed to staying open until the end of this year, many members are seeking alternative arrangements.
The bulk of the members want to maintain the identity and solidarity they have built up since Luttrellstown opened in 1993. They recognise that staying together en bloc represents the best opportunity to achieve their aim, and also to negotiate favourable terms.
Once the news came out, a host of suitors, including Killeen, sought to attract as many Luttrellstown people as possible.
The K Club offered exclusive use of the Smurfit Course and Smurfit clubhouse, and occasional rights on the Ryder Cup Palmer Course.
They were seeking an annual sub of €3,400 plus VAT and a levy of €500.
Neighbouring Castleknock is available at €2,750 plus VAT for membership and a levy of €250.
PGA National joined the race, and are charging a sub of €3,000 plus VAT.
Carton House gave a €2,500 (lease) membership offer and a €3,100 plus VAT limited membership. A joining fee would be part of that deal. South County has a joining fee of €7,500 or a share membership at €12,500, both negotiable. Their annual sub is €1,600.
Other clubs to make an approach included Powerscourt, Rathsallagh, Edmondstown, Hollystown and St Margaret's.
Luttrellstown Castle's sub plus levies for 2009 are €4,332, and the club is sending out invoices to all members.
They want to know by February 1 if people intend to renew, and have extended the payment-due date to February 16. Decision time now looms for club members. Chief Executive Colm Hannon and his staff are committed to keeping standards up for 2009, but Luttrellstown could face an emotional backlash over the decision to close.
On a practical level, members have to ask themselves key questions.
Who will be staying for this last year? Should I go somewhere else? Is there a better deal to be obtained by staying together as a large group?
What about the friendships and camaraderie built up in Luttrellstown?
It should be remembered that membership of an established golf club has as much to do with emotions and comfort with the people and surroundings as anything else.
Carton House already has 600 members and even an infusion of 100 or more Luttrellstown people could mean the latter losing their identity.
Luttrellstown, on a 567-acre site which incorporates the Castle dating back to the 15th century, near Castleknock, opened its golf facility in 1993.
In 2005 work began on renovating the course and clubhouse as part of a €20m upgrade. Tom MacKenzie of Donald Steel and Company totally redesigned the layout and the wooden clubhouse was extensively refurbished.
JP McManus and Co bought Luttrellstown in 2006. They did away with huge joining fees, worked on a basis of offering five-star service and charged corporates €7,000 annual subs. Existing members paid a basic annual sub of over €3,000.
The economic downturn, which has hit commercial and private members' clubs alike, hit income all over the country in the last few years, but McManus, Magnier and Brooks were not prepared to carry on losing money at Luttrellstown.