When the golf course marshal is your friend

La Costa's Golf Squad

La Costa’s Golf Squad in training

Guest-centric La Costa Resort and Spa has come up with a concept so simple, smart and winning, it puts the rest of the golf vacation market to shame: Transform the golf course marshal, sternly riding around and scolding your treasured guests for slow play, into the person every player is happy to see.

On La Costa’s “Golf Squad,” the usual prerequisites for marshaling do not apply. The guy who loves to order people around in exchange for free rounds of golf has been displaced by folks with personality who are trained in customer service.

Golf Squad members tell jokes and help the struggling by raking bunkers and finding balls. They’ll take your group’s picture and tell you about the recent course renovations. If you ask, they might read your putts — and if you play unusually fast, they might present you with drink certificates for the property’s 19th hole, Diversions Lounge.

“Sometimes at the first tee people will ask me for advice,” said Golf Squad starter Jacques Gladu. “I’ll pull out a copy of my book, ‘How to Line Up Your Fourth Putt.’ ”

More typically, Gladu — who comes from a career in sales — chats with the golfers and gets their story. Just the other day he found out a couple was teeing off in celebration of their 40th wedding anniversary; he alerted the marshal on patrol at La Costa’s South and Champions courses, and the drink cart served up complimentary Bloody Marys. (And the drink cart at La Costa, FYI, serves a great Bloody Mary.)

“With this new program, we’re hiring for personality,” said James Hochrine, the assistant director of golf who has been charged with leading the squad. “Many of them are new to the golf industry, but golf isn’t rocket science — we can train them on that. What we are looking for is customer service, being able to make each guest feel special.”

Gladu’s been playing golf for about 30 years, and he knows that feeling of dread many of us get when we see the lone ranger approaching in his cart. “Some marshals would make you feel uncomfortable,” he said.

Well, honestly, they often seem to show up when your group has fallen a hole behind — and instead of helping you move along a little faster, they sit there and make you nervous, a state of mind not conducive to good golf.

The Golf Squad patrols the course for groups that are struggling, and stops to offer support in the form of ranking bunkers, finding lost balls and tending the flagstick. “They’ll stay for a few holes, and it can really make a difference,” Hochrine said. “The other day, one of our members said, ‘You saved me 15 or 20 minutes.’ ”

La Costa, located in Carlsbad, Calif., between San Diego and Los Angeles, has turned the golf industry’s recent slowdown into an opportunity to innovate. It redid its Champions Course with a fun forward set of tees at 4,356 yards, and introduced programs that encourage family play.

Now, here’s another forward-thinking tactic to make golf more fun for all. There’s still elitism and snootiness in golf. Just don’t look for it at La Costa.

For a woman’s-eye view of La Costa’s golf courses, check out the March 2012 issue of GottaGoGolf Magazine, online now and free!




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