Leading-Edge Event Concepts
Ocean Edge management has become well-known for finding creative ways to capitalize on the unique appeals of its property by promoting imaginative events not only to club members, but also resort guests and business meeting participants. Here’s a sampling of some inspired packages recently offered:
Heritage Cooking Package—Also billed as “culinary preparation adventure weekends,” these offer the chance to hear Chef Michael Gregory’s “instructions on turning fresh local ingredients and Southeastern flavors into inspired harmonious fare.” Participants are also lured by promises of “exclusive access to signature recipes” and breakfasts that include “petite Belgian waffles created with a unique waffle making system.” The packages, for a two-night stay in a one-bedroom villa, also include a wine-tasting showcase, a hands-on class with Ocean Edge’s resident pastry chef; a “create-your-own participatory lunch”; and a cookoff contest for a cooking equipment gift certificate.
Haunted Mansion—Taking full advantage of its signature building, this offer, for every weekend in October, gave families a two-night stay in a one-bedroom villa with daily breakfast and dinner for the parents on Saturday night while the kids were taken through a tricked-up Mansion.
Columbus Weekend—This three night package included complimentary bike rentals and apple-picking.
Surf & Turf—Two-night stay and meals combined with activity vouchers for golf, tennis, biking, kayaking and seal cruises.
End of Summer Celebration—For Labor Day weekend, a threenight stay that included a Sunday evening clambake and a lawn party with music.
New Year’s Eve Extravaganza—The Mansion will be turned into the Moulin Rouge for a Cabaret-style party. Packages for both two-night and three-night stays are offered for couples, and 10% discounts are granted to groups of four or more.
Parents Night Out—Offered Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evenings from 6:00 to 9:00 PM at an additional cost of $39 per child. Parents dine at one of the on property restaurants while children (ages four to 12) are served pizza and entertained with games and movies at the resort’s EdgeVenture Clubhouse. In addition to these packages, the Ocean Edge daily in season schedule includes activities such as sand castle building, photo scavenger hunts, crab races, beaded hair braiding and face painting, family Olympics, family beach fires and marshmallow roasts, and softball, croquet and bocce on the lawn. Special kids’ programs include Insect Safari, Wacky Woodland Walk, and Turtle Tracking.
By their nature, resorts tend to be the liveliest properties in the club and hospitality business—with sprawling grounds hosting a wide range of activities for a diverse mix of vacationers, groups attending large social and business events, and in many cases locals who not only have membership affiliations, but residences within the premises.
From a management perspective, though, resorts can actually tend to get a little too lively—and in fact take on a life of their own that can be hard to keep on course. The challenge can be especially great at resorts that grow up around established attractions; the zeal to build conference centers and condos around a location’s natural appeal can sometimes overshadow the need to frequently step back and assess the best ways to maximize a property’s full potential. Historic Landmark
On the inner Bay side of the “elbow” on Massachusetts’ Cape Cod, the pace of life has always been decidedly old-fashioned in the quaint village of Brewster, known for its antique shopping and art galleries. And time literally stood still for nearly 100 years on the grounds of Brewster’s most famous property—the estate of Samuel Nickerson, a direct descendant of one of the Cape’s first families.
After amassing a banking fortune in Chicago, Nickerson returned to Brewster in 1890 to build a summer residence. This was hardly your standard-issue shore property. It included a scenic bluff overlooking 700 feet of prime beachfront on the Bay, a carriage house for 22 servants, and a grand mansion, Fieldstone Hall, that quickly became the social center of the Cape.
The south end of the property extended to the historic Old King’s Highway (now Route 6A), which links storied Bayside towns such as Sandwich, Barnstable, Yarmouth, Brewster, Dennis and Orleans before connecting with Route 6 to go up the Cape Cod National Seashore to Provincetown and the tip of the Cape. The huge expanse of lawn running from the road to the striking Nickerson mansion and carriage house atop the bluff has long been a landmark for cross-Cape travelers.
Fieldstone House burned to the foundation in 1906, but was faithfully rebuilt by 1912 to recapture its most striking features: an intricately carved oak staircase, leaded glass windows, and terraces overlooking the bay. While the “new” mansion (and carriage house) were modified from their original Victorian style to evoke more of an English country manor feel, the property still retains more than enough tradition to be included on the National Register of Historic Places. Its history with the Nickerson family, however, ended in 1942, when the estate was purchased by the LaSalette Fathers, who used it as a novitiate and seminary.
In 1980, the Fathers sold the property to Corcoran, Mullins, Jennison, Inc. (now Corcoran Jennison Companies), a Boston firm. A subsidiary, Corcoran Jennison Hospitality, was formed in 1986 to open and operate Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club, which was created not only on the initial property, but also spread over additional land acquired on the other side of Route 6A—including space for a 6,665-yard, 18-hole golf course created by an innovative New England designer, Brian Silva.
Over the next 15 or so years (with much of the development occurring almost immediately), the original property—including the mansion and carriage house—and adjacent areas were transformed into a full-fledged resort and club complex, with over 330 guest rooms and suites and more than 17,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including one 5,000 sq. ft. room. A variety of bars and restaurants were opened to serve all occasions, from casual to elegant. In addition to the golf course, top-rate facilities were opened for tennis (both clay and hard courts), swimming (indoor and outdoor pools), and a full range of fitness- and spa-related offerings. And of course, there was access to that 700 feet of private beach, in addition to hiking and cycling trails and a host of other attractions.
Beyond the facilities created for resort guests and club members, the expanded property was also developed to include a residential community of 1000 homes, villas and condominium units that were distinguished from the red-roofed resort buildings by their grey roofs, but otherwise conformed to the same architectural styles.
All of this development took place while keeping the front of the original property looking exactly the same from the road—and in fact, because of its historic nature, the resort managers were restricted from altering the appearance of the mansion, carriage house and lawn; even temporary structures like tents could only be used under strictly specified
Making Great Even Greater
But certainly, behind this still-familiar facade, a major transformation had taken place. And from the moment it opened, the raves for what Ocean Edge now offered came loudly and frequently. The property quickly made a name for itself as a premium vacation destination, and many prominent corporations in New England immediately embraced it as their location of choice for training sessions, regular sales meetings, staff retreats, and other events. On the club side, business was also brisk, both in terms of membership growth and how members were making full use of the facilities.
As the resort neared its 20th birthday, Corcoran Jennison was certainly pleased with how Ocean Edge had grown up to date. But the management company still felt that more could be done to get the most out of the property.
So in 2004, a club enhancement project was conceived and launched. Phase One, completed earlier this year, spent more than $5.5 million to upgrade guest rooms and public areas in its lodging accommodations, create a new 12 seat boardroom, and equip meeting facilities with cutting-edge presentation technologies such as LCD projectors, plasma TV screens, and remote-controlled lighting, drapes and sound. Dining venues were also enhanced, and new services such as “beach butlers” were introduced.
Plans for remaining phases of the enhancement program, to be carried out over the remainder of the decade, include these improvements:
• At the Bay Pines Pool and Beach area (the closest to the Bay), adding umbrella covered dining, food and beverage service for the beach, additional bathrooms, a sundries stand, and a water-sport kiosk for kayak and sunfish rentals.
• Bringing back Brian Silva for a new round of course renovation, including bunker work, fairway regrading, reworked green surrounds, laseraided tee grading, an upgraded double/multi-row irrigation system, and new cart paths.
• Construction of a completely new full-service spa and fitness center.
• Additional pool deck space and furniture, and new foodservice facilities, at the two pool complexes on the non-mansion side of the property.
• Additions such as tot lots and video arcades to the resort’s already popular Kids Club area.
• And as by far the most dramatic change, construction of a new ballroom that will be built out over the bluff from the rear of the mansion, offering spectacular Bayside views while allowing Ocean Edge to host larger weddings and events.
Working People Into the Plans
At the same time Corcoran Jennison has been making these financial commitments to enhance the property and facilities, it has been actively recruiting new management executives to team with experienced staffers and drive the bold new initiatives at Ocean Edge. The new arrivals over the past two years have included General Manager Steve Lambert, Executive Chef Michael Gregory, Director of Sales & Marketing Andy Ross, Director of Food & Beverage Bill Carroll, and Membership Director Peter Dykstra.
Chef Gregory came from The Cloisters Resort on Sea Island, Ga., while Lambert and many of the others have hotel backgrounds, reflecting Corcoran Jennison’s ability to tap talent from its network of hospitality properties and contacts (it also operates two Bostonarea Doubletree Hotels, a Hampton Inn & Suites, and the Glen Ellen Country Club).
These new managers are now working with popular veterans of the Ocean Edge team, notably Head Golf Professional Dale Morrison and Fitness Director Heidi Van Amburgh, to pursue aggressive new agendas in all aspects of both the resort and club sides of the operation. Lambert and Ross, in fact, recently put the finishing touches on a 50-plus-page marketing manifesto that details how growth can be achieved going forward. Asked to summarize its key components, Lambert says simply: “Drive revenues, in all areas.”
With further probing, Lambert and his team say they now see some of the greatest opportunities in these areas:
• Club membership—Of the 1000 homeowners on the property, only 30% currently hold an Ocean Edge membership of some form. Director of Membership and Club Development Katie Graham is directing the introduction of a new, simplified membership structure designed to appeal not only to more of this “captive” group, but also to residents—both seasonal and permanent— of surrounding Cape communities.
In particular, Graham is working closely with Van Amburgh, a fitness celebrity and tireless promoter who has hosted shows on MTV, to extol the values of Ocean Edge’s planned new fitness center as a reason by itself to join. “[The new center], combined with the great programs Heidi runs and is well-known for, will help us be much more of a draw during the offseason to people who live on the Cape year-round,” says Graham. Ocean Edge management is also instituting some new policies, such as restrictions on how homeowners’ pool passes can be used by summer renters of resort properties, to try to foster a more exclusive image for club membership and highlight the benefits of access to its amenities.
And Morrison feels the improvements planned for the golf course should also generate renewed interest in membership, and perhaps eventually lead to it going completely private. He also thinks more can be done to push the benefits of offseason play. “I grew up on the Cape and played a lot of winter golf,” he says. “You’ll maybe get two in 10 winters that will be bad, but we generally try to stay open year-round.”
• Upgrading corporate clients—In just 20 years, Ocean Edge has already developed a strong base of business customers that routinely send dozens of trainees or managers to the property for extended stays. It’s good steady business, but it tends to repeat at the same level year after year. Lambert and Ross see an opportunity, with the enhancements being made to Ocean Edge’s meeting facilities, to pitch the benefits of more elaborate events. “It’s something you have to get top executives to buy into and push down,” says Ross. “Otherwise meeting planners will just stay with the status quo.”
• Offseason appeal—Beyond the specific appeal of offseason fitness or golf,Ocean Edge management feels much more can be done to use the unique appeals of the property to generate honeymoon/anniversary business in the fall and family gatherings over the holidays. Chef Gregory, who apprenticed at the Colonial Williamsburg Inn, sees no reason why Ocean Edge couldn’t be hosting Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s events on the same scale. Lambert and Ross are planning to be extremely aggressive in promoting travel packages and partnerships with airlines and other travel-related vendors.
In the end, though, Lambert, an admitted search-engine junkie, says he doesn’t plan to overlook any opportunity. “There are so many great online sources now for finding out who’s trying to plan a meeting or a reunion,” he says. “So there’s no shortage of possibilities out there.We have to do everything we can to keep the pipeline filled; we can’t consider anything to be ‘bottom feeding.’ The Elks, the Rotary Club—there’s no reason to dismiss any group, and in fact it’s often surprising to find out just how appealing we can be for them. And once you can get new groups like that in here, there’s no end to what it can lead to.” C&RB