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January 2021

Pronghorn Resort

Finding New Efficiencies

By Sally J. Sportsman

Over the last seven years, resort rounds increased steadily at Pronghorn Resort, in Bend, Oregon. Surprisingly, March through May of 2020 brought the biggest increase ever at the resort’s two courses, with an 85% rise in green fee revenue in May compared to May of 2019. Covid-19 was the impetus for the growth, as was the case at many resort properties around the country.

“We were lucky; our resort never shut down,” says Jerrel Grow, PGA Director of Golf at Pronghorn. “A number of our guests were local and regional, wanting to stay here to shelter in place.”

Guests often worked in the mornings, then were on the golf course by 2:00 p.m. They took lessons, participated in clinics, visited the pool and spa – increasing resort revenue even more.

With pandemic protocols firmly in place, Pronghorn Resort found ways to deliver a satisfying guest experience, fostering return visits. The approach was effective.

“We will have done 3,000 more rounds in 2020 compared to years past,” Grow says, “by restoring perceived value during Covid.”
A masked concierge began walking the driving range, cleaning clubs and guiding golfers to their first tee on time. An increased focus on junior golf, including AJGA and U.S. Kids events, has helped fill the new hotel, which opened in April 2019.

And then there’s walking.

“More people are walking now than ever before on our courses,” says Grow. “I hope that phenomenon will stick.

“I’ve got to believe that these trends will continue in 2021 as we plan. Our guests express gratitude for the safe escape that our resort provides.”

Pro shop sales, though, have been flat these past months at Pronghorn. Some items, such as apparel, balls and gloves, were hard to come by due to a breakdown in supply chains. In response, the resort increased its inventory of logoed items. Hats are now the best-selling item in the shop.

Another noticeable shift in response to the pandemic is that guests’ exercise routines moved from inside to outside, observes Spencer Schaub, general manager of Pronghorn Resort. The pool opens two hours earlier than before so that adults can swim laps before the children arrive. Yoga and fitness classes now take place outside, with a 75% participation increase over years past. The resort also has seen an escalation in fly fishing, hiking, paddle boarding, kayaking, white water rafting and mountain biking.

“During this past year, our marketing strategy was two-fold,” Schaub says. “We had to manage customers’ expectations upfront, with rigorous cleaning protocols and safe practices; and we had to manage whatever operational changes the resort may have made.

“For example, there’s no daily cleaning of a room unless a guest requests it. The bellman is still happy to carry a guest’s luggage to the room, but he asks first.”

Corporate and group business are down significantly, as is group golf. A bright spot is that 90% of the weddings that were on the books for last year have been rescheduled for this year.

Schaub notes that Covid-19 has been challenging.

“It made us managers and leaders roll up our sleeves and dig into operations,” he says. “I mowed fairways, folded laundry, cleaned rooms and did transportation runs.

“When you work side by side, it gives you opportunities to find efficiencies and to implement positive change.”

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