Donald Trump has hit it into the rough with three former members of Jupiter’s Ritz Carlton Golf Club & Spa —even though Trump said he is spending millions of dollars to upgrade the golf club, which he purchased last year.
The members claim Trump refuses to return their refundable membership deposits, despite a contract when the club was owned by the Ritz that required him to do so, according to a lawsuit filed May 3 in U.S. District Court in West Palm Beach.
The lawsuit follows the December 2012 acquisition of the Ritz golf club by Trump’s Jupiter Golf Club LLC.
The club now is known as the Trump National Golf Club, Jupiter.
In the lawsuit, filed against Trump’s Jupiter Golf Club LLC and the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, members Matthew Dwyer, Norman Hirsch and Ralph Willard say Trump breached agreements by terminating their “refundable” category of membership. They say this should have triggered an automatic refund of their deposits within 30 days. The deposits range from $35,000 to $210,000. The memberships include golf and social/spa memberships.
The plaintiffs allege Trump National still is charging them dues despite a promise not to do so and also is denying them access to club amenities as of Jan. 1. The lawsuit alleges breach of contract and an injunction seeking to release money owed to members, as well as class-action certification.
In a telephone interview Tuesday, Trump called the allegations “totally without merit.”
He said “a vast majority” of former Ritz club members have signed on to his club under his ownership and many other people want to join, too. “The club is doing fantastic,” Trump said. “We’ve brought it to the highest level it’s ever been at.”
But an attorney who filed the lawsuit said a deal’s a deal.
“Our clients believe they followed they terms and conditions of the membership agreement, and they expect the club owners to do the same,” said Seth Lehrman, a Fort Lauderdale attorney.
Trump said he’s spending millions to upgrade the club. The Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course will see about $2 million in upgrades this summer, including new traps and tees, repairs to fairways and a larger driving range.
The clubhouse also will be upgraded, again for what Trump said will be “millions,” and a ballroom will be added.
According to a Dec. 17 letter sent to the club’s golf members, Trump said upgrading the club would only work financially if members agreed they could no longer have their money refunded. This provision, he said in the letter, is one of the reasons Ritz Carlton experienced trouble.
In exchange for opting in to Trump’s new terms, club members would receive reciprocity at Mar-A-Lago, Trump International Golf Club and 12 other golf centers in the U.S. and Scotland, Trump said in the letter. Dues also would be reduced for three years.
On Tuesday, Trump said there may be cases where people cannot afford to be members of the club “and we would look at individual cases.”
He also pointed out he’s had success winning lawsuits against two members of his Mar-A-Lago club who have sued him.
The lawsuit against Trump National Golf Club Jupiter seeks class action status for the former Ritz Carlton club members. It’s unclear how many there are, but the lawsuit says there could be hundreds.
Staff writer Jane Musgrave contributed to this report.