A highly visible in-cart mobile communications system has helped a bold new venture for a legendary brand make a strong and immediate impact.
Ensure a great golf experience” has become the mantra of every course operation that’s serious about earning repeat business and holding market share in an era of flat growth for overall industry rounds.
For any new property that’s come onto the golf scene in the past few years and hopes to attract players away from established destinations, those have become especially critical words to live by. And when that property represents a bold new venture for a legendary brand, and is located in an area known for extremely high service expectations and performance, failure to provide a unique and memorable time, in every facet of the golf experience, is just flat-out not an option.
That was the mission embraced by the staff of The Waldorf Astoria Golf Club in Orlando, when the brand-new property opened in October 2009 on 482 acres of previously undeveloped land in the heart of Disney-dominated territory. The team led by Director of Golf Rob Turner knew that being entrusted with the inaugural extension into golf of Hilton Worldwide’s luxury brand—not to mention the first new property of any kind to fly the famous name since the Waldorf Astoria on New York’s Park Avenue opened in 1931—meant that creating special touches for guests, and paying attention to every detail that could enhance their enjoyment of their rounds, would be a standard part of every staff member’s job description.
“The goal of our owners and senior Hilton management was to translate the responsibility that comes with the Waldorf Astoria name into the golf experience,” Turner says.
That translation was made a bit more challenging, however, by the nature of the Rees Jones-designed layout at the new club. “It’s not your typical resort course,” Turner says. “It’s longer [more than 7,000 yards] and more narrow, with smaller green sizes.” In addition, water runs along eight of the holes. All of this stood to pose pace-of-play problems if golfers had to spend too much time figuring out how to get around the course or play an individual hole.
So in preparing to open the course for play, the golf staff equipped the club’s fleet of 80 Club Car vehicles with a mobile communications system from GPS Industries (GPSI). From the outset, that helped to keep pace of play at an acceptable 4 hours and 30 minutes, for overall annual volume that has tracked at between 27,000 and 28,000 rounds, Turner reports.
An even bigger assist came in September 2010 with an upgrade to Visage RT+, a system developed through a partnership between Club Car and GPSI. The enhanced capabilities of Visage, Turner reports, have made clear contributions to the golf experience at both ends, both for players and his staff.
“It’s great for us at the back end, because it gives an instant overview of all 80 carts,” he says. “That not only helps us get in front of pace of play, it also provides valuable reports on things like audits of cart locations and individual cart diagnostics [for battery charge levels, etc.].”
The club’s staff can now access the intelligence gathered and organized by Visage from terminals at the golf shop counter, the golf pro’s office, and Turner’s office in the main hotel. “Soon we’ll set one up at the starter station, too,” he says. “Anywhere we have it, it gives us great, real-time information.”
Golfers on the course enjoy similar benefits as they use Visage to learn all about the course and its individual holes. “Without a doubt, what it gives players—flyover graphics, real-time yardage and not having to search for where the sprinkler heads are—all help with familiarity and pace of play,” Turner says.
The most evident benefit of the upgrade to Visage, Turner adds, is how its improved touchscreen and superior graphics have helped “make people even more comfortable [with the system].” Tangible proof of this added comfort level soon became evident after the upgrade, through a surge in orders for deliveries of on-course meals. “[The new screen] makes it easier for golfers to peruse our different menu options,” says Turner. “We quickly saw a real lift in food-and-beverage revenues that we didn’t expect—almost 100 percent over budget.”
Most guests seem to prefer on-course deliveries while they play, Turner adds, so his staff is now proactively using Visage’s messaging capabilities to send out prompts to all players when they arrive at the 8th and 17th tees, suggesting that they order meals that can be delivered to them when they finish 9 or 18.
“After we finish our first year [with Visage], we’ll have some benchmarks for setting new goals,” Turner says. “But I don’t have any reason to believe we won’t keep finding new ways to have it help us keep growing and ensuring a great experience here that is worthy of the Waldorf Astoria name.”