Steamboat Springs The Sheraton Steamboat golf course is making a move to tap into an elite customer base.
The Sheraton has turned management of its course over to Troon Golf, and the push is on to elevate the playing surface and the level of service at the Sheraton course to luxury status.
Troon expects its elite courses to be visited by close to 3 million affluent guests in 2002.
"It's a demographic that's incredible," Troon's John Easterbrook said. "They are people who stay in five-star hotels. Our brand has the ability, in remote markets, to bring in a more discriminating golfer with higher expectations."
As Troon's executive vice president of operations, Easterbrook oversees all of Troon's 115 golf courses. In addition to 22 U.S. states, there are courses in Australia, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Japan and the Bahamas.
Hotel Manager Chuck Porter said head golf pro Gary Crawford and course superintendent John Haller will remain in their posts.
"All of the key staff are staying," Easterbrook agreed. "We're going to provide support for them."
Easterbrook said Crawford and Haller will have significant outside golf expertise to draw on at Troon's headquarters in Scottsdale, Ariz. The company has a staff of 85 experts. For example, Haller will get advice from a Troon staffer who specializes in evaluating the water reservoir needs of golf courses. It's likely that some of the company's golf pros from Arizona will come north to escape the summer heat and work with Crawford in Steamboat Springs, Easterbrook said.
Troon's association with the Sheraton came naturally, but not automatically, Porter said. Troon began working with luxury golf courses associated with hotels in the Westin chain. Both Westin and Sheraton are now part of a hotel management group called Starwood.
Starwood is a managing partner of the Sheraton Steamboat together with a half dozen individual interests, Porter said.
Still, the decision to put the Sheraton golf course under Troon management wasn't a slam dunk.
"We had to look and make sure it would add value to this property," Porter said. "It wasn't automatic."
The Sheraton has approximately 520 members who own real estate within a geographical boundary surrounding the Sheraton. Porter said the arrival of Troon will be "fee neutral" to members, and he expects them to enjoy the benefits of the course's association with Troon through improved service and course conditions.
Easterbrook summed up Troon's approach to golf course management: "You have to absolutely exceed customer expectations every time someone steps on the course. And you have to make sure that when people walk off your course, they're saying, 'I want to come back here and play again.'"
Troon is concerned with every detail of a guest's visit, Easterbrook said. The company takes the level of detail down to ensuring range balls aren't scuffed and yellowed. In fact, when a guest steps up to a tee at the driving range, he or she might even notice that the range balls are stacked exactly the same way they were at the last Troon course they played.
But the first mission is to ensure the playing surface is the best it can be, Easterbrook said. Troon has a large staff of agronomists who will work with Haller to improve the condition of the tee boxes, fairways and greens.
Troon uses a 100-point checklist to help ensure all of the details are being attended to.
Customer service is fairly straightforward, Easterbrook said. It's as simple as ensuring that guests are greeted with a smile and asked to return when they depart. It also means there is always someone ready to take a golfer's bag as soon as the golfer arrives.
Troon Golf's sales and marketing efforts are focused on delivering guests to the facility at the highest possible rate, Easterbrook said. They also seek to maximize seasons or days when the golf course is more difficult to fill.
Easterbrook said Troon is likely to focus on its Front Range client list to build traffic at the Sheraton Golf Course. The company has rewards programs for its frequent golfers. Sheraton members will also find they have newfound privileges at some of the finest golf courses in the world.
The number of members at the Sheraton Golf Course is likely to grow in the near future as the existing Sanctuary and Stonebridge Park subdivisions build out. Another new subdivision, Greystone Park, is in the planning stages and would wrap around the east side of the current golf course.
The current initiation fee for new members is $30,000.
Porter said those fees are being banked to help fund a new clubhouse.
"Initiation fees are going into the capital fund," Porter said. "It's not income to the owners."
Porter will rely heavily on Troon to guide the Sheraton course in deciding what facilities a new clubhouse should have and what is appropriate for a mountain course with a limited season.