The Wilds Golf Club – Customer Service Becomes King

By R.J. Smiley

When the developers of The Wilds Golf Club retained Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish to design a very upscale public golf course on a beautiful piece of property southwest of the Twin Cities, they knew they would get an excellent golf course that would enhance the value of the upscale housing that would be discretely located around the golf course. Golfers loved this new golf course that was the first in Minnesota to require soft spikes. Since those “glory years of golf” the market has changed, the number of golfers is shrinking, and the total number of rounds played annually is decreasing. This dilemma has golf operators, including those at The Wilds, pulling their hair out searching for the right combination of price, course quality and level of service.

With all the discounted golf rounds available on the market, the management of The Wilds knew they did not want to get into a price war. When the snow melted in the spring of 2013 The Wilds’ management was shocked to find that most of their greens had suffered from snow mold (winter kill), a grass disease, which is the equivalent of cancer. The disastrous experience in 2013 proved that the quality of the course could not be comprised. (Good news: the greens and the entire golf course are perfect in 2014.) That left one area where the operation could be improved, CUSTOMER SERVICE!

How Do You Improve Customer Service? Think for a minute, if you owned a golf course, what would you do to improve the customer service experience? There are several options that don’t work. The Wilds chose an option that would work. What did The Wilds do? They hired only golf professionals who understand that “each individual customer” is a vital part of the golf course’s success. That means that golfers who play The Wilds one time per year (in a corporate outing) receive the same VIP treatment as the regular golfer who plays twice per week.

Management of The Wilds began their search for a customer service oriented golf professional in the fall of 2013. They knew that the person who would earn the job of Head Golf Professional would have intimate knowledge of every aspect of the complex list of duties required to operate a top tier public golf operation. Knowledge and experience were required along with a deep understanding how each of the various segments of staff interaction with golf customers meshed with the others. That professional would develop a teamwork mentality. The goal of The Wilds management was to elevate the customer experience level to country club quality. So management brought in Andy Gerber, who has years of private club experience at clubs like TPC Twin Cities, TPC Sawgrass and Town and Country Club.

Have The Wilds accomplished their goal of improved customer service? In a recent round at The Wilds (knowing that I was going to write about improved customer service), I watched with interest how each staff member that I encountered treated me. The results?

The first person I met was the bag attendant at the bag drop. He was friendly and used my name when addressing me when I informed him of my tee time. He handled my clubs with care and seemed to want to assist me…. not just hustling a tip. In my 60+ years on the golf course I have encountered a few bag attendants who care. This one did! The carts were exceptionally clean lined up in an orderly fashion, they reminded me of new cars at a dealership.

Both people behind the counter in the pro shop smiled at me when I entered. They used my name when addressing me, once I identified myself. They seemed to be enjoying their job (there is a big difference between someone working to earn a check and someone actually earning one), and asked me if there was anything special that I needed. As I browsed through the women’s merchandise, one of the people behind the counter asked if I needed any help. “Just looking for now.” But I was really watching if they were as friendly with the next person to enter the shop. They were.

The range and practice area was beautifully set-up and adequate to allow me to get a good feel for the course conditions I was about to encounter. The turf was perfect and there were enough targets to practice all the clubs in my bag. The tee area was set up perfectly, like someone had used a transit. I thought back to something the smartest man in golf, in my opinion, once said, “I can tell the condition of the golf course I am about to play by the condition of the golf carts and the driving range.” So far The Wilds gets an A.

The starter (How many courses have starters these days?) was pleasant and knowledgeable and informed me of the special playing conditions I would encounter on the golf course. He treated me with respect and made me feel welcome.

When I noticed the beverage cart girl (No not for that reason.), she was attentive to those of us playing the course. She was not driving when we were hitting a shot and knew her job was to serve us, but most important she thanked us for playing The Wilds.

As I think back about my experience at The Wilds, the thing that I was most impressed with was the knowledge, about the women’s merchandise, shown by a member of the pro shop staff – a male staff member. I was looking for something for my wife. Not only did he know the product I was looking at, he also knew the sizes that were available in that garment. But most of all, he was able to justify why one particular item was priced at $110 when another was only $75. He explained the price difference with examples. Guess which I purchased?

The Wilds’ team of experienced professionals has trained a quality staff who know how to make their job look easy and make you feel welcome. They have to been trained to use the customers name whenever possible. But most important the quality staff feels like a valued team member who’s job it is to make their customers feel welcome. “To make them feel like members of a private club.”

When you play The Wilds, you will not feel overwhelmed by overly friendly staff members. You will not feel like you are a part of a sideshow. There are a lot of “the little things” that you might not notice right away, but you start to recognize throughout your day. And, as you leave The Wilds you will feel that you had a fine golf experience where they appreciate your business! Congratulations to the management and staff at The Wilds for developing and implementing a successful customer service strategy. While this strategy will benefit The Wilds with more rounds being played, more events, more people stopping in for a meal, more weddings, etc., the real winner is you, the customer!

Bag Drop At The Wilds

The Wilds #16 Photo Courtesy of Peter Wong Photography

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