By Rob Carey
Tanglewood Resort–set on the Texas-Oklahoma border–isn't like other golf facilities in its region, and longtime golf director Mike Fish makes sure it stays that way through a service philosophy focused on memorable experiences
For the past 23 years, Mike Fish has been director of golf at the 248-room Tanglewood Resort, set alongside Lake Texoma on the Texas-Oklahoma border about 75 miles north of Dallas. During that time, he’s seen the city’s northern suburbs that are within 45 minutes of the resort—Plano, Allen, Frisco and McKinney—blossom into upscale communities with great potential to provide his facility with members, vacationers and group outings.
On the other hand, there’s a good number of private clubs and destination golf facilities throughout the Dallas Metroplex. As a result, Fish has taken two major steps in the past several years to carve out a specific niche for Tanglewood’s golf club. First, the Arnold Palmer/Ralph Plummer layout received diamond zoysia on its greens to better withstand the salty local water and overpowering summer heat. “It’s so hardy that the cost to maintain it is much lower than bentgrass or bermuda,” he notes. “The only thing we have to watch for is thatch buildup that can make the surface too hard. Other than that, the quality of our greens in the hot season has definitely improved.”
Then, two years ago, Fish shifted the club’s service philosophy to focus on delivering a memorable experience to every customer, so that his staffers are always reinforcing the unique charm of this independent resort. “Every guest is an opportunity to create a good memory of our place, so we use 100 percent guest satisfaction as our goal rather than driving maximum revenue. Because if we get 100 percent satisfaction, the revenue we desire will come,” he says. “So our goal is to not lose a single golfer—we must have every member stay and have every individual guest and group event return to us. When you give yourself no room for error, it really changes how you look at things.”
While that sounds a bit daunting, the concept was well-received by the staff, some of whom are longtime employees along with Fish. And it’s working: Golf membership is at 175 and is projected to reach 225 within five years, while social membership is nearly 1,200. The facility’s junior segment is robust, and its women’s segment has turned around nicely. What’s more, Tanglewood recently landed an annual multi-day event hosted by a prominent local group which will boost revenue and visibility for the foreseeable future.
In addition to training employees on how they can deliver standout service, Fish exhibits those traits himself as he actively engages with customers. For instance, one area where he found growth potential was with juniors and their families. Honoring the partnership between the PGA of America and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Fish runs a sports academy one afternoon each month for 25 kids between ages eight and 14. “Most of them are just getting started in golf, and the program gives them a starter set of cubs at the end,” he explains. “It’s been a huge success not just in creating new players, but also in getting their families to the facility.”
Fish is also the tour director for the Texoma Junior Golf Association, coordinating five events each season for 75 kids, with hopes to reach 100 players soon. And with the help of his wife and four outside instructors, Fish runs a three-day golf camp each summer for dedicated juniors, plus a one-week recreational camp that teaches golf but also provides time for swimming, arts and crafts and other activities. “We don’t push golf too hard so they won’t get turned off to it, and we give them a wider taste of the property, too,” he says. One measure of program success: More and more families from outside the local area are using the camps as the centerpiece of an extended resort stay.
Fish also threw himself into another situation where he saw opportunity: female players. “We really struggled for a few years with our women’s association; it was down to five members,” he recalls. “So last year I sat down with them and said, ‘I’ll do a clinic for you twice a month before your day on the course, and I’d love for you to include a friend from outside the club.’” The result was 13 new ladies’ club participants—some who are existing members and some who belong to other local clubs but nonetheless pay to play at Tanglewood twice a month. What’s more, satisfaction scores rose among male members whose wives participate in the program. “The group is having a ton of fun; we hosted their first-ever Christmas party last year,” Fish adds.
While the resort’s sales reps have recently focused membership and vacation-club efforts from Austin and the Dallas suburbs in the south to Tulsa and Oklahoma City in the north, Fish notes that the “key to success with golf is to sprinkle in the occasional corporate or social group that stays at the hotel, so that we get that course revenue but still maintain day-to-day member value. Those groups can use the course anytime during the week; members understand that’s necessary for our financial health. We do some seasonal packages too, but if there isn’t a group in house using the course, then members mostly have the place to themselves.”
Meanwhile, business and social groups provide opportunities to land new members and vacation-club participants, and to drive word-of-mouth marketing. In fact, Fish’s customer-satisfaction initiative is particularly potent among this niche. One example: Tanglewood recently landed the annual retreat of the Salesmanship Club of Dallas, a children’s welfare organization that owns and operates the PGA Tour’s AT&T Byron Nelson tournament. “They used a facility closer to Dallas for many years, but they said they wanted to come to us because they could get away from the bustle and stay together and build better camaraderie,” Fish says.
Arriving on the Thursday of The Masters, the group will have 100 players plus 60 retired members who come for the social scene. “This is their big event before they start setting up the Nelson,” Fish says. “I will sort of be the social director, but they don’t need much help—they set up big tents with TVs on the practice range to watch The Masters and eat after they play each day. It almost feels like a mini-tour or pro-am event. We are definitely trying to hit it out of the park for them and make this their destination for the long term.”
Overall, Fish feels that the high-aiming service philosophy of the past two years is helping his facility hold its own versus both chain-affiliated resorts and private clubs. His advice for other independents: “Get to know every member and guest as personally as you can, and focus on doing the right things for each one. At the end of the day, you’ll feel better knowing that there were a lot of happy people at your facility, rather than just looking at the register tape to see how well you did.”
Rob Carey is a freelance writer and principal of Meetings & Hospitality Insight.