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August 2021

Sugarloaf Mountain Resort Creating a Year-Round Destination

By Sally J. Sportsman

Sugarloaf Golf Club, a course designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. which opened in 1985, hosts golfers throughout the season at Sugarloaf Mountain Resort, in Carrabassett Valley, Maine. During the remainder of the year, skiers seek the slopes.

“Pre-Covid, our focus was to create a year-round resort, growing all aspects of our summer business,” said Zach Zondlo, PGA, head golf professional. “I transitioned from instruction to group sales in order to generate tournaments to fill in the slower months, like June.

“Everyone wants to come in the fall for the colorful foliage, but in June it’s quieter and quite enjoyable.”  

Although the pandemic remains a significant factor, Zondlo and his team are continuing their strategy of building group and tournament business at Sugarloaf.

“We have pretty good conference business here,” Zondlo said. “Events are increasing as conference bookings grow.”

Sugarloaf also plays host to a variety of tournaments, such as the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) Coca-Cola Championship for the past nine years, with the 10th annual event to be played in August. NIKE Golf Camps, two of which were cancelled in 2020, are being brought back this year.

The plan is to increase group play at Sugarloaf to help offset the effects of the pandemic. Golfing visitors decreased 13% in June of last year, although the resort was able to bounce back with an increase of 7% in September 2020 over September 2019. Overall, the year concluded with revenue having decreased just 1%.

“We weren’t sure what to expect,” Zondlo said, “but we were pleased with 1%.”

While some groups bring a full field, many events are smaller. One example is the Maine Forest Products Council, which came with 50 golfers in early July in both 2018 and 2019.

“We are looking to bring them back this year,” said Zondlo, “with a similar experience to what they had previously but with extra health precautions in place.”

Local players in events such as this often choose to stay at the resort, bringing business to Sugarloaf Hotel and to the food-and-beverage side. This helps mitigate the 16% drop in rounds played in 2020 compared to 2019.

At the golf course, increased efficiency is key to reducing labor costs. The cart layout was reorganized, for example. Guests now check in for their rounds then jump in a cart to drive back to their car to load.

“No one seems to mind,” Zondlo said. “We were surprised at how well that worked out for us.”

Overall, the resort saved 17% in labor costs last year, with no bag-staff member on site in the morning accounting for 5% of that. Some staff reductions for select maintenance projects were implemented strategically as part of the savings on labor costs.

In 2018, Hammond Lumber, a Maine-focused business, staged a companywide tournament with an overnight stay at Sugarloaf, with a field of 150 players.

“We can use this as an example when we try to sell others,” Zondlo said.

In addition, the resort organizes in-house tournaments and charity events, sometimes partnering with a ski club.

“We are projecting a good season,” said Zondlo. “There’s a push for families in Boston and Portland (Maine) to start buying second homes here, with some deciding to live here year-round, working from home in the morning and coming out to play golf in the afternoon.

“Last year our rounds increased 7% after 3:00 p.m. We look for that trend, and increased play all around, to continue this year.”

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