Article Courtesy of The
Palm Beach Post
By Alexandra Clough
Published August 8, 2019
The Bear’s Club lawsuits are a window into the world of elite private country
clubs. Membership in the Bear’s Club costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and
homes sell for millions of dollars. For all their money, however, residents fear
challenging Jack Nicklaus.
Maybe it’s the heat,
or maybe it’s the humidity. Whatever the reason, legal
issues at the Bear’s Club have reached a boiling point this
summer, with the filing of a third lawsuit against the
Jupiter community built by golf great Jack Nicklaus.
For months, some residents have been upset about the way
Nicklaus runs the community, which is home to numerous
professional athletes including NBA great Michael Jordan and
pro golfer Michelle Wie.
According to some residents, the cost of maintaining the
community increasingly has shifted to the Bear’s Club
homeowners, with no say from them, according to a lawsuit
first filed in December by a Bear’s Club resident, David
After residents began complaining about the expenses and
other management issues, Nissen alleged Nicklaus improperly
seized control of the homeowners’ association, dumped the
existing board members and appointed his own people to the
board. Nissen’s lawsuit calls on a judge to turn the
association back over to homeowners.
The entrance to the Bears Club in Jupiter.
The Bear’s Club, east of Interstate 95 and just north of Donald Ross Road, is
unique because it was designed by Nicklaus, who lives in the community and still
wields control. The community features about 80 homes, villas and cottages,
situated around The Bear’s Club golf course and clubhouse.
In November, Nicklaus wrote a letter to homeowners explaining that he replaced
the association board because the Bear’s Club was established in a particular
way to avoid disputes that afflict other residential communities.
The golf club, owned by 35 founding members, has majority voting power on the
association. This makes the Bear’s Club residential community a place where
homeowners “bask in the glory of adjacency to a spectacular golf facility,”
Nicklaus’ lofty language upset some people, including Nissen, who said in his
lawsuit that homeowners in associations still have rights under Florida law.
The letter “sets Nicklaus up as the king and residents should be lucky they are
his minions,” said Spencer Sax, Nissen’s lawyer.
Nicklaus lawyer Eugene Stearns said the letter was misunderstood. Stearns said
Nicklaus was trying to explain why exclusive golf clubs are “very special.
There’s a certain golf mystique about how you conduct yourself.”
The Bear’s Club lawsuits, filed in Palm Beach County Circuit Court, are a window
into the world of elite private country clubs. Membership in the Bear’s Club
costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. Homes in the community sell for millions
For all their money, however, residents fear challenging Nicklaus because they
are afraid they will be banned from the club.
An example is Gary Sellers, a resident and former club member. He’s a former
partner in the New York law firm of Simpson, Thacher & Barlett, serving as lead
counsel to Sirius Satellite Radio in its merger with XM Satellite Radio in 2009.
Sellers challenged the way Nicklaus ran the Bear’s Club, and was subsequently
removed as association president, according to a March lawsuit he filed against
the Bear’s Club founding partners; Jack Nicklaus; his son, Gary Nicklaus; the
Bear’s Club Development Co.; Golden Bear Properties and other Nicklaus entities.
In the lawsuit, Sellers said he also was ousted from the golf club and the
contents of his two club lockers were dumped onto his front lawn. Adding insult
to injury, Sellers alleges he then was “blackballed” from joining other clubs,
such as the Loxahatchee Club in Jupiter, after Nicklaus and other defendants
said false things about him.
Nicklaus called Sellers’ allegations “simply made up” in a June 27 motion
seeking to throw out Sellers’ lawsuit.
“Jack Nicklaus has never made any false or defamatory statements about Gary
Sellers to anyone,” the motion said.
Last month, on June 25, Sellers filed another lawsuit, the third against the
Bear’s Club and various Nicklaus entities. This lawsuit is a derivative suit,
filed on behalf of the Bear’s Club Property Owners’ Association.
This complaint seeks to protect Sellers and the Bear’s Club residential
community from the defendants, whom Sellers allege have “free reign to abuse
their powers to benefit them personally.”
The lawsuit came after Sellers sent the association a letter in March, demanding
an investigation into what he termed self-dealing by the people on the
association’s board of directors, specifically seeking the removal of Gary
Nicklaus and Robert Wesselman, the golf club’s general manger and chief
It seems the association isn’t particularly interested in having Sellers take up
In a letter to Sellers, an association lawyer said the association “simply wants
to remain neutral” on issues between Sellers and those he is suing.
Nissen now is also seeking redress for homeowners. In June, he amended his
lawsuit to also serve as a shareholders derivative suit.