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Richard Payne a Fixture at University Club of Santa Barbara

General manager carries on a longtime tradition and strives to ensure members feel right at home

Driving up Santa Barbara Street recently, I decided to stop in at the University Club of Santa Barbara, get a tour and meet the general manager, Richard Payne.

Raised in Sonoma County, Payne came to Santa Barbara to study film at UCSB. During college, he worked in various capacities for the Miramar Tennis Club. With plans to become a television executive, he moved to Los Angeles and worked in the studios for several years.

One day, he received a call from the Miramar offering him the manager position, and he says the rest is history.

“I realized that in L.A. everyone’s goal was to move to Santa Barbara, and that I had the opportunity of a lifetime,” Payne said.

He said it was a dream job, as he spent many of his days on the beach, hosting parties, kayaking, swimming and playing tennis around guest functions. So a job he planned to do until he was 30 had a 13-year run, which ended only when the hotel shut down for everlasting renovation.

Next, Payne was tapped by the University Club of Santa Barbara — known locally as the U-Club — to be its general manager, a position he has held since 2003. Founded 90 years ago by 11 local men, each representing a different alma mater, the U-Club was formed as a place to meet, dine and discuss news of the day, shoot billiards or play cards.

Bill Rohrbach, a longtime club member and former UCSB art professor who is well into his 80s, chimed in about both Payne and the club over the years. When asked about Payne, he said, “He has an easy, outgoing personality. He’s not closed or nervous, and he simply makes people feel good.”

In the 1980s, the U-Club admitted women as full members, several of whom have since served as club president. The curtains were opened up, and the old, smoke-filled red leather in the living room was replaced with more suitable fabrics. Today, women make up half of the U-Club’s membership.

“We have a range of interesting, high-achievers, from scholars and politicians to entertainment executives and judges,” Payne said. “I have been able to build long-lasting relationships with phenomenal people.”

Calla Gold is a local jeweler who uses the club as a place to meet clients and show them new pieces. She raves about how Payne and his staff made her feel welcome from the beginning.

“Sometimes it feels like the Cheers bar because everyone greets me by name and makes me feel incredibly welcome,” she said.

She recalls the murder mystery game night and a cookout hosted by the U-Club, and says Payne goes out of his way to make introductions and facilitate conversations among members.

Today, the club is used for brunches, board meetings by local nonprofit organizations and other various gatherings. It hosts weddings and recently added wireless Internet to accommodate the needs of younger members. Payne said the the U-Club is member owned, and that his priorities are really set by the members via a committee.

The University Club of Santa Barbara, 1332 Santa Barbara St., is actively recruiting younger members with discounts and incentives on dues. Click here for more information.

Noozhawk contributor Jenn Kennedy can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here to see more of her work.

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