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March 2020

The Technical Advantage

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Technology Enhances the Human Touch at Sea Pines Resort

By Sally J. Sportsman

Today more than ever, golf’s greatest allure may be escaping to the great outdoors, far from the demands of business and corporate life. Golf resorts are going all out to meet and exceed the desires and expectations of their guests.

Some strategic decisions resort owners and operators must make involve technology. How should a resort determine the amount and kind of technology used that guests experience?  To what degree and in what ways should technology be integrated into the operational side of things?

Some golf destinations, such as Sea Pines Resort in Hilton Head, South Carolina, view these decisions as a delicate balance.

“We believe our guests should be able to fully experience golf,” says Cary Corbitt, PGA, vice president of sports and operations at Sea Pines Resort and tournament chairman of the RBC Heritage, a PGA Tour event played annually at Harbour Town Golf Links, one of three golf courses at Sea Pines. “Our golf carts do not have GPS installed, although they do have USB ports.

“Many players have their own yardage devices, and some choose to use none at all, for a more traditional round. At our Harbour Town course, forecaddies go with all resort groups and can upgrade to walking caddies.”

Caddies play an important role at Sea Pines in helping provide an old-fashioned golf experience. They not only offer yardages and shot selection advice, but also build relationships with guests, leading to lasting memories. 

Technology is in play for guests long before they enter the gates, Corbitt says, in the advance research they do and in their online reservations and tee time selections. Most of the resort’s technology use, according to Corbitt, is in operations and maintenance.

“We use technology in all our retail programs; it’s a huge part of what we do, including tournaments and our golf shops,” he says. “We do $4 million worth of retail sales each year, all managed by efficient technology and our staff, and all tied into accounting.” 
Sea Pines utilizes management technology behind the scenes in a myriad of ways, according to Corbitt. Examples include tracking play and forecasting play, as well as planning maintenance strategies to provide top course conditions for guests. The technology in use at Sea Pines is extensive and essential, but only a portion of it is visible to guests.
“We are very traditional,” says Corbitt, “very much about the human touch. We do a lot of staff training, a high priority for us.” 

Frequent staff interaction with guests and thoughtful use of technology throughout the resort combine to help Sea Pines accomplish its goal to create high guest satisfaction and repeat visitors as a result.

“It’s hard to surprise anyone; everybody is well versed in enhancements,” says John Farrell, PGA, director of golf at Sea Pines. “We want to make our guests feel like they are VIPs.

“You can’t go without the human touch.”
Technology has greatly improved the efficiency of management’s communications with staff, according to Farrell, although some in-person staff meetings still are held. Goals and objectives are compiled and communicated electronically.

“But that’s never a substitute for managers to be wandering around,” Farrell says.
While technology is not overly obvious to guests on the golf courses and at the many other activity venues around the resort, it is more evident to those making use of The Learning Center at Sea Pines Resort, overseen by Tim Cooke, PGA master professional, who maintains long-term relationships with students – often for years.

“Video instruction is a very important part of the program,” Cooke says. “We have an app that lets my clients send me video swings or any data they want; I do an analysis and maintain contact with them.”

About 75 percent of Cooke’s students are non-local; that is, they travel to see him for lessons or club fitting, often staying several nights at the resort. State-of-the-art technology used by the staff at The Learning Center includes 3D Doppler radar-based systems as well as pressure plates for kinetic-movement analysis.

“But all the tech we have is only as good as the person using it,” says Cooke. “My repeat customers come back because of the human touch, because you show you care.”

Most golfers who seek instruction at The Learning Center at Sea Pines are skilled players, Cooke says, including accomplished juniors, collegians and some tour players. They tend to expect the highest level of technology for their game improvement, so it’s essential for the Learning Center to stay current in that regard.

“You have to budget for new technology every two years,” says Cooke, “just to maintain the coaching level and ability to diagnose a swing as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
About 25 percent of students at the Learning Center are women, according to Cooke; he sees no gender difference in comfort with technology. And 90 percent of his total clientele are repeat resort guests.

Cooke tells the story of a golfer who last took a lesson with him in 2016. The gentleman recently sent Cooke an email saying he was coming back. Upon his arrival, as he and Cooke were chatting, he pulled out his phone and showed his coach how he still reads his old notes about his swing.

“That’s the whole point,” Cooke says.

Sally J. Sportsman is an Orlando, Florida-based freelance golf writer.

 

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