The Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe (Calif.) has maintained its leading position in the demanding Southern California market by placing an emphasis on providing unparalleled service for its members. The club has also been proactive in rebranding its Junior Membership category to the new designation of Young Executive and taken the training of its staff to new heights.
Even the clubs with the most appealing properties and golf courses have discovered in the post-recession era that distinguishing themselves, and ensuring their relevance for the next generations of members, is a process that frequently calls for redirecting and enhancing best practices.
That approach has driven initiatives that have helped The Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe (Calif.) maintain its leading position in the demanding Southern California market. While the club’s reputation has always drawn strength from its Robert Trent Jones II-designed golf course and its emphasis on providing unparalleled service for its members, The Bridges’ leadership and management has kept an unwavering focus on preserving its high standing.
For example, while The Bridges first launched its Junior Membership category in 2012, in recognition of the need to attract younger generations to help ensure the club’s future, sales in that category were still slow five years later, according to Membership Director Rachel Stull, PGA.
So in the fall of 2017, The Bridges’ Board of Directors proposed an overhaul of the category. Not only was the Junior Membership category rebranded to the new designation of Young Executive, but The Bridges also began offering a preview opportunity of what belonging to the club could offer.
“This new program [which provides full privileges and access, at reduced dues, to those under the age of 45] was more dynamic and offered staged payments and other pricing options that encouraged a younger demographic, as well as families,” Stull says. “And it worked—to date, we have grown this category 72 percent, and it is now almost at capacity.”
Much of the momentum was fueled by previous or existing club members who made the decision to upgrade their memberships. As a result, the Young Executive category now comprises the second-largest membership segment, next to Equity Golf, for the member-owned club.
“To be attractive, we made sure that our programming was dynamic and included family-friendly activities, as well as beginner instruction for golf and tennis,” Stull adds. “In 2018, we built two amenity stations on the golf course, put an additional pickleball court at the Recreation Centre, and added a shade structure to our children’s playground.”
The Bridges also expanded its culinary team’s organic garden to include a smaller plot just for members’ own use.
Even the club’s core offerings were given some fresh looks. Director of Golf Steve Wilson, for example, designed an innovative “Golf 101” program, to try to get some of The Bridges’ female members more engaged in all aspects of the club.
The program started with just three ladies—their husbands played golf, but they didn’t. And golf wasn’t played initially until after the first two weeks, which were spent enjoying mimosas at the valet station, getting a full tour of the property and being introduced to the staff. Then a short-game clinic was held that was also followed by cocktails, and that was when Wilson began to see the relationships forming that signaled the program was on the right path.
“Once the relationships were created, [the participants] started using the club more often,” he explains. “It gave them a reason to come out to the club. [And] then the men started joining their wives for dinner.”
The buzz soon spread to where there are now 65 women in the program.
Steps to Special Service
The other key building block of The Bridges’ success has always been exemplary service—and here, too, the club has stayed diligent about finding ways to not only reinforce its performance in this critical area, but improve it as needed and required.
For Donna M. Otis, CCM, CCE, The Bridges’ Chief Executive/General Manager, that begins with first paying ample attention to the staff’s own needs and satisfaction.
“If we don’t take care of the staff to make sure they’re happy, how are they going to take care of our members?” Otis asks. “It’s so much more than just service; everybody has to be on the same page.”
That page, Otis adds, includes an understanding that at The Bridges, “We don’t live by industry standards—we create the industry standards.”
To properly indoctrinate new employees, no new employee is asked to be one-on-one with a member until he or she has completed an extensive training program.
For the Outside Services (OS) staff overseen by Wilson’s department, that involves a two-week personal training period with a manager, after which the new hire “shadows” a more experienced employee for another two weeks.
Finally, the new employee is scheduled for a shift where his or her performance is carefully monitored, to ensure that it meets The Bridges’ standards and expectations.
The training of the OS staff centers around the “seven touches” that should be involved with each member’s experience, Wilson says. It starts at the valet station upon arrival, with the staff already knowing who will be pulling up, based on radio communication with the front gate. If a car wash is booked during the member’s visit, that process is then initiated.
If the member is playing golf, the bag room is alerted and the practice facility is prepped before his or her round. The bag room comes into play again at the turn and upon the member’s return after the round is completed. Lastly, Outside Services “touches” each member again at the valet, upon departure from the club.
“If any one of these touches falls short, the experience falls short,” Wilson says.
The Bridges also involves its membership in the employee evaluation process, reports Marissa Reinert, the club’s Marketing and Social Media Manager.
“Clubs are often afraid to ask for feedback,” Reinert notes. “Our members will e-mail the club to recognize employees. This brings members into the loop, and they feel like they’re constantly engaged and have a voice.”
To reinforce the club’s emphasis on employee retention—”The longer they’re here, the more they know,” says Reinert—The Bridges implemented a Gold Star program. When an employee receives positive feedback from a manager or member, he or she earns a gold star. At the end of each quarter, the employee accumulating the most stars earns a financial reward, and another cash drawing is held at the end of the year among eligible staff members.
The Gold Star program, Reinert notes, not only provides financial incentive for the employees, but also triggers a sense of pride that has just as much value, if not more, in ensuring the service excellence and member satisfaction that have become even more critical components of success in today’s competitive club market. C+RB