For this issue’s special focus, I thought it would make sense to speak with someone with a lot of culinary experience at properties run by golf management companies, to explore what might be different for chefs and F&B-types working in those settings.
Certainly, Aaron Walters has as much expertise in this regard as anyone. After spending eleven years in a variety of culinary roles at The American Club (operated by the Kohler Co.) in Kohler, Wis., Walters was hired by KemperSports Management in 2001 to be part of the team that opened The Glen Club in Glenview, Ill. (20 miles from downtown Chicago). After starting there as Executive Chef, Aaron was promoted recently to Director of Food and Beverage.
Beyond his vast experience as a chef and F&B manager, Aaron has also compiled one of the most impressive lists of accomplishments in continuing education I have ever seen—having attended the “Foley School of Fish” and courses in “Train the Trainer” and “Hospitality Leadership,” to name just a few.
|Pan-Seared George’s Bank Sea Scallops|
KemperSports, which manages over 70 golf courses nationwide, including the well-known Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon, made an impact right from the start with The Glen Club.With its Fazio design, the club earned the distinction of being the only facility ever listed on the “Holy Trinity” of Top 10 lists of new courses (Golf Digest, GOLF Magazine, and Sports Illustrated).
But while part of KemperSports’ mission statement is, “The game of golf should drive the business of golf,” it certainly doesn’t mean—as my conversation with Aaron made clear—that it pays any less attention to the non-golf aspects of The Glen Club’s operation.
Q Aaron, when staff and members hear that a search is on to find a management company to run their club, I would guess they might have concerns over cutting costs, overall product quality, and how their overall club experience and work environment could be affected. What would you say to anyone in this situation? A Images of third-party managed properties can bring fears, as you state, and there certainly may be some companies that operate under purely profit-driven motives. At KemperSports Management, though, I think the approach is very different. The company lives by the motto, “Best in Class,” which has been instilled in all of its properties, be they owned or managed. KemperSports relies on this ethic to perform at a very high level of service and quality in all of its ventures. I think this sets us apart from others in the industry, and our reputation and performance shows what our company is made of and what we can do.
Q Something you said stuck with me the other day when you mentioned KemperSports’ philosophy of instilling an entrepreneurial spirit in its workforce. Can you explain that for us, and provide some examples of how it comes to life on a day-to-day basis in your club? A One of KemperSports’ hallmarks is its ability to operate many different types of operations—from very high-end private clubs to “park district” daily fees. There is no one right way to manage these properties or a “cookie cutter” manual that every manager must adhere to. By instilling this entrepreneurial spirit in the leaders at each of its properties, Kemper has been successful in managing a very diverse portfolio. We, as managers, are given a vision of what upper management or owners would like to see for our properties. It’s then up to us to make that vision a reality. Our daily operations are left to us to manage, and we are given the freedom to achieve our goals.
|The Glen Club in Glenview, Ill.|
At The Glen Club, I have total control of the F&B operation—from menu selection, to hiring, to budgeting and expense control. I run the operation as if it were my own money at stake. Because of this, we have been successful.
Q You were a part of the team that saw The Glen Club built from the ground up. Talk to us about the strides that you have made in the last five years, and what kind of growth potential you now see. A Opening a property is always a challenge, and seeing it through to high success is the reward. We’ve had tremendous growth in both our golf and food and beverage operations. The addition of high-profile events, such as the Nationwide Tour’s LaSalle Bank Open, the Big 10/Pac-10 [collegiate golf] Challenge and the Illinois Open, have helped the course earn national recognition and exposure.
|Chicken and White Bean Chili|
At the same time, we have built our F & B operation on a foundation of quality from the beginning, and are now recognized as a premier locale for dining and events. We have also built our corporate meeting business with many of the major corporations in the area, and are looking to continue to expand this as well. Moving forward with our high level of service and quality of product, I would expect this significant growth to continue.
Q Cover counts and overall F&B sales don’t always tell the entire story about profitability. The Glen Club now has a good percentage of catering sales dollars versus regular dining numbers. Can you speak a little about how this positively affects your P&L, and what specifically you’ve done to achieve this balance? A Of course, having a successful catering department helps our profitability tremendously. It doesn’t, however, mean you can relax in any other area of cost control. It has always been my goal to be profitable in each area on its own, and maintaining a successful a la carte operation is just as much a key to staying profitable year-round. In the winter months, in fact, our a la carte restaurant has to stand alone—without the benefit of catering, on-course sales, or golf. Labor, cost of goods and expenses are budgeted for all parts of our F&B operation based on high profitability, and they all need to be controlled each month.
Q Finally, Aaron, how does it feel to be operating one of KemperSports’ marquee properties five miles from its corporate headquarters? And what specific types of corporate support do you draw on from Kemper for your F&B operations? A When I was at The American Club, the Kohler corporate offices were right across the street, so I’m no stranger to operating close to the corporate offices. At The Glen Club, I think [the proximity] has actually served to help us maintain the high level of quality and service that all of our guests expect. [KemperSports] senior officers are in our operation frequently, whether it is for lunch, golf or a meeting, and this helps to keep us aware of what we are doing on a daily basis.
Most of our corporate support comes in the way of accounting, IT and human resources. The [KemperSports] HR department will post jobs corporate-wide for us and offer payroll and benefits support for our employees, as well as help with pre-hire screening. If any technical help is needed, we can draw from a collective group of talented people at our corporate offices to help us with specific needs.
is a member of the Club & Resort Business Editorial Advisory Board and writes frequently for C&RB on club-specific culinary topics. Have a topic you’d like to see Jerry address in a future issue? A question about a specific F&B challenge you’re facing at your club? Or would you just like to invite Jerry to visit your club sometime to exchange ideas? Write to him at [email protected]