The scenic Carmel, Calif., property has had several operating profiles in its 50-plus years, including a period when it was on prolonged life support. But a new ownership-management combination has restored its reputation as a distinctive destination.
Even though it wasn’t founded until the tail end of the original Baby Boom, the property in Carmel, Calif., that’s now known as Quail Lodge & Golf Club has been through as many changes—and has faced as many challenges to its existence—as other clubs or resorts with twice the chronological timeline.
A book written in 2014 to commemorate the property’s history as it turned 50, in fact, conferred “Legend” status on it in the title (“The Legend of Quail Lodge”). But in just the three years since it was published, other significant developments have already added important new chapters to the story—and set the stage for more to come.
|AT A GLANCE
Quail Lodge & Golf Club, Carmel, Calif.
The book focused primarily on the story of how Edgar Haber, a top amateur golfer from San Francisco area, had come to the Carmel area “practically broke” after serving in World War II and had worked diligently to succeed in a number of business ventures, always fueled by a desire to be able to develop his own golf course that could rival Pebble Beach, which he had to sneak onto in his youth because he couldn’t afford the green fees.
Haber’s success in founding Carmel’s first newspaper, liquor store and movie theater, and then in selling insurance, eventually allowed him to get into real-estate development. That in turn led to the acquisition of an 850-acre dairy farm that was developed as the Carmel Valley Golf and Country Club, with a golf course originally designed by Robert Muir Graves and plans for a subdivision of homes surrounding the course.
Huber’s description in the “Legend” book of the thought process that he and the other founding partners went through about the original nature of the club revealed that the property seemed to have been destined from the start for a life of mixed and frequently changing identities.
“As we were putting the golf course together and at the same time laying out the lots and developing plans for the clubhouse, we had a lot of discussions about the advantages and disadvantages between a public golf course and a private club,” he said. “A public course didn’t fit the level of quality we wanted for the entire operation, but an equity-membership club was out of the question, because we had investors who were the base owners.”
Huber went on to say that from his travels to play in golf tournaments, he had determined that “the clubs that were successful had hotels, which is where the main source of money comes from. So we needed rooms as part of the package.”
Most of the clubs Haber was familiar with, he added, had 400 or so members. But because that number would mean that guests at the property would have to get less-favorable tee times, the founders decided to limit membership in Carmel Valley G&CC to around 200. “That turned out to be more manageable for everyone [and] we didn’t have to encourage a lot of otherwise outside play,” Haber said.
Even with the disruption caused by a major flood five years in, the operating model for the new property was proving to be quite successful before it even reached its teenage years. The golf course earned widespread acclaim as a welcome addition even in a region that was already full of great courses, in large part because the Carmel Valley property was inland enough to escape much of the fog and wind that can often plague those located closer to the coast, and therefore offered near-ideal playing conditions throughout the year.
The hotel component, named from the start as Quail Lodge at the Carmel Valley Golf & Country Club, earned its first Mobil Five-Star Award in 1975 (of 20 straight), and became a favored destination for corporate executives and top golfers like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, even when they were playing or attending major tournaments in Pebble Beach. Club membership was full, and “everything had evolved better than anyone could have imagined,” according to the property’s 50-year history. “The golf course was full of play by members, lodge guests and visiting members of other country clubs throughout the country, [and] morale was high throughout the Quail community of residents, members, guests and staff.”
A Spiral of Change
As could be expected, however, the success of the Quail/Carmel venture, combined with the attraction of the region, soon spawned competitive interest. When another high-end development, Carmel Valley Ranch, was built in the late 1980s, the resulting name confusion between the two properties led Haber and his partners to decide to change the name of their property to Quail Lodge Resort and Golf Club.
Another 10 years later, Haber, now in his mid-80s, began to entertain inquiries from potential buyers of the Quail Lodge property. That eventually led to it being sold in 1997 to The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels, Limited, owners and operators of The Peninsula Hotels.
As “The Legend of Quail Lodge” 50th anniversary book was being researched by author Gary Koeppel, he interviewed Sir Michael Kadoorie, the hotel company’s Chairman, and gained insights into what transpired at the property during its first decade under its new ownership.
“Our company, which is public, has invested heavily, and lost heavily, [in Quail Lodge],” Kadoorie told Koeppel. “I’ve battled with our Board and have always been able to convince them that there is a future [for the property]. But we’ve had problems because of the economic downturn, some management issues and with the unions.
“You can’t milk a stone endlessly,” Kadoorie continued. “[But] our hope is to be able to continue Edgar [Haber]’s legacy, even though it cannot, or may not, be possible to do it directly through what Edgar handed over to the hotel company. It still must be done in the correct way, and that’s why it’s taking so long to get it right.”
“Getting it right” even involved a decision by Peninsula to close the property’s lodging component for four years while a search for a potential new buyer was conducted. But a sticking point involving land owned by an individual who had leased it to ownership since Quail Lodge’s inception, and on which two of the golf course’s holes were located, continued to stymie a sale.
The delay in finding a new owner provided time, however, for Kadoorie, who had become close friends over the years with Haber while also developing a strong attachment to Quail Lodge, to negotiate the purchase of the leased land and persuade Peninsula’s parent company to not only retain the property, but commit to $28 million in reinvestment for a golf course renovation and the reopening/refurbishing of the lodging component, along with new meeting and conference space.
New Name, New Look, New Spirit
When the property was fully reopened in 2013, Resort was dropped from its name and a flurry of significant changes were set in motion. KemperSports was retained to manage the golf operations and shepherd the course renovation, which was completed by Todd Eckenrode in 2015.
In addition to refreshing the course by rebuilding bunkers and tee boxes, the renovation was designed to bring about significant new maintenance and environmental benefits, with a new irrigation system, repair or removal of lakes that had been failing to properly retain water, and the use of wood chips and other drought-tolerant landscaping to reduce watering and mowing needs. All told, the grounds crew led by Golf Course Superintendent Denis Kerr, who has been at Quail Lodge for nearly half its existence, now has 12 fewer acres to irrigate and 25% less turf to mow.
And players’ response to the course’s new look has been strong, reports Head Golf Professional Mark Perbix, PGA, with the property on track to improve rounds in 2017 by over 1,000, to 29,000, from last year’s total. “The word is out and it’s been a busy summer,” Perbix says. “We’re no longer the best-kept secret on the Peninsula.”
While rounds at Quail Lodge have historically numbered slightly more—”about 55%”—on the member and member-related side, Perbix adds, he expects that figure may begin to even out as more resort visitors and groups, including those tied to the property’s brisk wedding business, find their way to the course.
Additional appeal tied to the golfing experience at Quail Lodge, beyond the new-look course and always-dependable weather, comes from the presence of Director of Instruction Katherine Marren, PGA. Formerly a lead instructor at the Pebble Beach Golf Academy and recognized as one of the most published female golf-instruction authorities, Marren’s “huge name” has helped to boost interest both among club members (which now total nearly 330) and outside golf groups in events offered by the Quail Lodge Golf Academy, says Director of Sales and Marketing Craig Barkdull.
The course also gains favor from the segment of the golfing world that appreciates its dog-friendly policy, which was initiated by Haber and has been bolstered by the property’s connection with actress and long-time animal-welfare advocate Doris Day, who has kept a home on a hill above the Quail Lodge course for many years (a group of fans, family and friends gathers outside the house each year on her birthday to serenade Day, who turned 95 this April.)
With golf now rolling well from all perspectives, and a full complement of 93 new California ranch- and Spanish-Colonial-style guestrooms and suites available, management’s attention has turned to the culinary side of the member/guest experience. “With our golf course in probably its best condition ever, our focus is now mainly on getting food and beverage where it’s supposed to be,” says Kai Lermen, who recently was promoted to General Manager after serving as Assistant GM under Max Schroeder (Schroeder has now taken a Regional Sales Director position with Peninsula).
“With a new chef and outlets with expanded hours and menus, we’re seeing an increase in business, and we’re also offering more social activities like wine dinners and cooking classes,” says Lerman, who was an Executive Chef and Food and Beverage Director for The Peninsula Chicago before coming to California. “We want people talking about us and asking, ‘What’s Quail doing?’ ”
The new Executive Chef is Brian Kearns, who arrived in the fall of 2016 after working at a number of area restaurants in addition to the Monterey Peninsula Country Club. The outlets at Quail Lodge where he is expanding menu offerings, and in some cases serving more meal occasions, include the Quail’s Nest Snack Bar on the golf course, the Covey Breakfast Restaurant, which now also offers small bites as part of a Bar & Deck service five nights a week, and the property’s signature restaurant, which serves lunch and dinner daily and is (of course) called Edgar’s.
Fully Into the Show
Now that Peninsula Hotels and its parent company have fully recommitted to Quail Lodge—and put substantial capital behind that commitment—the property is benefitting from its connection with a global organization that is well-known and respected in other luxury hospitality segments, but new to the club and resort side.
“[Quail Lodge] is unique to the Peninsula portfolio,” says Barkdull. “There’s only one other country club owned by the [parent] company, and it’s in Thailand. And we are the only property that it has with both a hotel component and a golf course.”
In addition to the management and service value that comes through association with a company known for across-the-board, five-star excellence in the hotel sector, Quail Lodge also gains a special edge from events it holds on site that are part of the Peninsula Signature Events series (the company promotes the series as “world-class bespoke events held at properties in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo, Beijing, New York, Chicago, Beverly Hills, Bangkok and Manila, and Paris,” in addition to Carmel).
Peninsula Signature Events held at Quail Lodge include:
• The Quail Motorcyle Gathering, held each May to celebrate the evolution of the motorcycle and honor both the pre- and post-war eras of the finest sports and racing bikes. In addition to the display of the vintage vehicles, the one-day event features a gourmet barbeque lunch with offerings from local wineries and breweries, together with live entertainment and hospitality tents provided by leading motorcycle manufacturers and lifestyle vendors.
• The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering. Held since 2003 during the historic Monterey Car Week each August, this massive event brings 5,000 guests to the property and prompts all Quail Lodge rooms to be sold out a year in advance. This year’s 15th annual gathering featured five culinary pavilions and live on-stage interviews with motorsports-world luminaries like Roger Penske.
The Signature Events held at Quail Lodge aren’t limited to just standing around looking at all of the awe-inspiring vehicles, either. As adjuncts to the gatherings, there’s The Quail Ride, where participants take both vintage and modern motorcycles on 100-mile rides through the Monterey Peninsula, stopping for a gourmet lunch en route and returning for a special dinner at the Lodge.
And in connection with the Motorsports Gathering, The Quail Rally is a three-day, invitation-only drive featuring 30 vintage automobiles from different car collectors. The Rally raises funds for both local and national charities and is promoted as “bringing together an upscale group of automobile cognoscenti and lifestyle connoisseurs, along with leading brands of today’s luxury industry [sponsors include Rolex, Bentley, Porsche, Rolls-Royce and BMW].”
On an everyday basis, Quail Lodge offers access to the Land Rover Experience Driving School, which is open year-round on site and offers customized off-road driving lessons and adventure experiences for all driving-skill levels. Participants are taken on a two-track trail that includes the opportunity to climb piles of logs and navigate tight hairpin turns.
With so much now running again at full tilt on the property, it’s not hard to see how Quail Lodge has gained renewed appeal not only among those who may view it as a unique membership opportunity, but also for those seeking a full-functioning resort destination.
“What Quail was five years ago is certainly very different from what we are today, and we are continuing to evolve our features and amenities,” says Barkdull. “We’re doing more to maintain and highlight our history and tradition, through what we’re doing with places like Edgar’s restaurant, and we’re also doing more to align permanently with all that Peninsula Hotels is known for and how it can enhance the property’s reputation.
“We can’t rely on either the resort or membership component solely, and we can’t be all about golf, either,” he adds. “But we think it’s all coming together now to offer a unique lifestyle opportunity, whether it’s just for a visit or as something to belong to and make a part of your life.”