Aliso Viejo Golf Club Is Wowing Golfers

By Bob Buttitta, GolfCalifornia.com Course Reviewer

Director of golf Jeff Whitt and his staff aren't satisfied if all they do is meet a player's expectations when they show up and play the new Aliso Viejo Golf Club. At this course, surpassing customer's expectations is the ultimate objective.

To Aliso Viejo will reach that goal is what Whitt has deemed his "Wow" philosophy, a mission statement for the links set that stresses the idea that in order to make a lasting impression on a customer you have to give them more what they expect.

At quick glance, that would not appear too difficult. Set amid the backdrop of the Saddleback Mountains in South Orange County, California, Aliso Viejo Golf Club's 240-acre property is a site to behold.

The first ever-public fee facility designed by PGA legend Jack Nicklaus and his son Jackie, Aliso Viejo's 27-hole layout (comprised of three unique nine-hole courses) has drawn rave reviews from golfers across Southern California during its first few months of operation.

But being the new kid on a block that includes Pelican Hill Resort and The Links at Monarch Beach, Whitt knows if Aliso Viejo is going to carve a niche for itself and become a regular stop for both locals and visiting players, they must take their game to the ultimate level.

"Our mission statement is based on the idea that we're not trying to attract customers, we're trying to build loyalty," Whitt said. "Our goal is that every person that comes through the gates has such a great experience that there is no doubt that they want to come back.

"I call it the 'Wow' philosophy because that's a word you often here when a customer's expectations are exceeded. We want this club to be cutting edge and everyone on the staff is focused on that goal."

Set amid the Saddleback Mountains, Aliso Viejo's 240-acre property is a site to behold.

Whitt and his staff are putting their money where their mouth is by going the extra mile to ensure players have a unique experience at Aliso Viejo.

It starts when a player turns in the driveway to begin his or her round. Because Aliso Viejo has limited space to work with, the parking lot is located down the hill from the temporary clubhouse.

Whitt's solution -- post a greeter at the entrance. The employee welcomes the player to Aliso Viejo Golf Club and then follows them to their parking space with the golf cart they will be using that day.

"We turned a potential negative situation of not having parking next to the clubhouse into a positive situation which allows us to make our customers feel wanted," Whitt said. "Golfers coming to a public course might not expect being met at their car with a cart. It starts their experience here off on the right foot and hopefully shows we appreciate they are joining us."

For those showing up on Thursday or Saturday, not only are they met at their car when they pull in, but when they get back after their round their car will have been cleaned and detailed.

"We have been able to work something out so we can offer this service at no cost to the player," Whitt said. "When players find out their car has been detailed for nothing, they can't believe it. It's an unexpected bonus and those are things which make a lasting impression on golfers."

Pace of play leaves an even bigger impression When players check-in they are informed that Aliso Viejo has a firm policy of no round lasting longer than 4 ½ hours or 15 minutes per hole. Each foursome is then monitored and if they are not keeping up with the pace, marshals inform the group of that fact.

Once a group has been warned, a marshal checks with them a few holes later to see if they have made up the time needed to get back on track for a 4 /12 hour round. If not, the marshal will give the group some suggestions that may help them pick up the pace.

"We tell them perhaps they can play a best ball for a few holes or limit each player to no more than 7 strokes and once past that they pick up," Whitt said. "Everyone wants to play a good pace so most golfers are enthusiastic about us making sure everyone keeps up.

"There are those who will give you the 'I paid $125 and I'll play at whatever pace I want.' Those players think golf is a right but I believe golf is a privilege. If there are players who get mad and don't come back because they can't live by the rules that's fine. I'd rather lose a few of those customers because my loyal, regular customers not only accept the rules, they appreciate them because they know we're trying to make everyone's round more enjoyable."

To help facilitate more corporate business, Aliso Viejo initiated a "Founder Corporate Membership, a credit balance program which sets up a corporate account for local businesses at the course.

Participating businesses must maintain a monthly balance of at least $1,000 and charges incurred during the month are debited to the corporations account. A corporate card is issued along with one being on file for unexpected guests or employees who have authorization to charge.

Among the benefits of joining the program are a 20 percent discount off all green fees, 20 percent discount off golf shop merchandise, 20 percent off tournament pricing for corporate events over 16 people, and 50 percent discount off the rental rate for the event pavilion.

"The program has been very well received so far," said Aliso Viejo marketing director Gina Frye. "Our goal is to have a good relationship with the local businesses and we feel this program is a good way to show we care about them and their business."

AMH Golf, Corp., a Newport Beach-based land development company and Dallas-based ClubCorp, a $1.4 billion company that specializes in golf and resort operations, jointly owns Aliso Viejo.

AMH started the project in 1995 when they purchased 85 acres of land with the intention of building an executive course while they waited to purchase another 135 acres.

With the help of Leisure World, a local senior's community, AMH closed the deal for the 240 acres and work began on the design of an 18-hole course. After a year and a half, the idea of adding an extra nine holes was decided on, as was the concept of building a resort hotel on site.

Those ideas brought ClubCorp. into the picture as well as Nicklaus, whose company agreed to design and build the course for approximately $1 million.

The proposed hotel will have approximately 400 rooms, and 38,000 square feet of meeting space with two ballrooms, an amphitheater and spa. Greg Currens, vice president of AMH, said they have been entertaining bids from hotel chains wanting to build the facility, and plan to make a final decision on who will be awarded the contract soon. Despite that, construction will not begin until spring, after the rainy season, and then should take approximately 18 months to complete.

The 27 holes offer players three distinctive nines named Ridge, Creek and Valley. The course features dramatic elevations, including a 60-foot drop on the Creek course and a 40-foot elevation climb on the Ridge course.

To make the course as playable for golfers of all handicaps, Nicklaus designed the course with several sets of tee boxes.

"The final result exceeded our expectations," Currens said. "Jack did a wonderful job of using the natural terrain to compliment his design. We're thrilled with the G2 greens which players tell us are terrific. They're fast but they also hold your line."

Aliso Viejo is the newest of a growing list of high-end public courses opened in Orange County, a list that includes the aforementioned Pelican Hill and Monarch Beach and Strawberry Farms, Coyote Hills and Tustin Ranch.

Frye said while all the courses are competing for business, they have come to the realization that if they want to become a golf destination to rival places like Myrtle Beach and Scottsdale/Phoenix, it's in their best interest to work together.

To that end the courses have agreed to work together as a group to bring players to the area.

"The different management groups all agree that it is in the best interest of all of us to work together," Frye said. "Representatives of the courses get together on a regular basis to exchange ideas which will allow everyone involved to grow."

Aliso Viejo is the newest of a growing list of high-end public courses opened in Orange County.

Currens said at recent meeting, the topic of overseeding was discussed. "The area is more attractive to golfers if all the courses are in top shape," Currens said. "So discussing these kinds of issues benefits everyone.

"It's hugely beneficial to have the different courses work together. It creates a nice synergy which all us benefit from. We all agree we need to do whatever we have to get golfers to the area and from there we are all happy to let the chips fall where they may in terms of where golfers end up playing."

Frye said Aliso Viejo also has a working relationship with all the major hotel chains in the area the area including the Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons, Hyatt, Marriott and Doubletree.

"All the hotels have preferred relationships with the courses," Frye said. "We offer an incentive program to each of the concierge and bellmen at the hotels which gives them a free round of golf for every 10 rounds they book with us.

"It's been received very well. When we started we thought we might need to come up with some other incentive besides free golf but even those hotel personnel who don't play themselves seem to have someone they know who do play."

While the course is doing all it can to attract both corporate business and travelers, both Whitt and Frye agree that the most important clients they have are the local players.

"The local players are the backbone of any course," Whitt said. "They're the ones that support the club and allow you to be successful. When the economy goes bad, they are the players who are still going to come out and play every week because golf is a passion to them."

Fyre said the staff wants local players to feel at home when they come to Aliso Viejo. "It's the 'Cheers' environment (everyone knows your name and they're always glad you came)" Frye said.

Whitt said he and his staff know how competitive the Southern California golf market is, but they're ready to meet the challenge.

"I love competition," Whitt said. "Competition is good, especially for the golfers because it forces every course to be at its best. "We look forward to the challenge of competing with all the other great courses in the area. It's a exciting environment to be involved with."

Aliso Viejo Golf Club
25002 Golf Dr.
Aliso Viejo, CA 92656
(949) 598-9200

Bob Buttitta, GolfCalifornia.com Course Reviewer


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