Thirty four years after Arnold Palmer designed the Whistler Golf Club, the one millionth golfer teed off. As they neared the mark, the entire team got on board with a simple, fun plan that involved everyone from the maintenance crews to the namesake of the designer himself.
Gregg: Let’s start with a little bit of background on Whistler Golf. When did it open, who designed it, etc.?
Alan: Arnold Palmer was commissioned by the Whistler Resort Association in 1983 to build the Whistler Golf Club. At that time summer activities were minimal and it was really a winter resort. Now Whistler boasts three Championship golf courses along with numerous other summer activities including the legendary Whistler Bike Park. Summer visitation now exceeds winter.
Arnold Palmer with Whistler Golf Clubs maintenance crew in 1983.
Gregg: Talk a bit about having a golf course in a ski town. Typically how long is your operating season?
Alan: We typically open the first week of May and run until the Canadian Thanksgiving around October 10th. The course winters well typically with three or four feet of snow coverage in the winter. We start snow blowing tees and greens around early March and start cutting turf early April to get ready for opening in early May.
Gregg: Is a low snow year on the mountain good for Whistler Golf or does the golf season typically ramp up at the same time regardless?
Alan: We like lots of snow because it insulates the turf. Ice is the biggest threat to turf and you get ice when there is low snow coverage in the valley. We have only opened in April 3 times in our history so early May is typical. If we get a warm spring and the snow goes quick we can get it open a week or two early.
Gregg: Did anyone expect summer to eclipse winter for Whistler as a destination?
Alan: Probably not back in the old days! When I first moved here in 1990 there were two big shoulder seasons on each side of the ski season. Restaurants would close, for example, and the winter staff would all head out of town. Now with all the summer activities like the Peak-to-Peak Gondola, zip trek, golf, mountain biking, fishing, hiking and events like Crankworx, Ironman, concert series and more winter just flows into and out of spring and summer now. The Olympics in 2010 obviously had a big impact on the resort. Access to the resort was improved and we clearly get visitation from all over the world.
Gregg: It seems like with that momentum toward summer your visitation at Whistler golf is probably accelerating. You just had your millionth golfer tee off, did that come sooner than expected?
Alan: I guess in a way. In the 80’s and early 90’s we were the only course in Whistler and it was mostly regional visitors. But with the addition of three other courses, and hosting Skins games and other major events we are now a golf destination.
Gregg: Talk a bit more about that millionth golfer. Your team was ready with some fun prizes, a caddy, a big commemorative, check, etc. Talk a little bit about that idea to celebrate the milestone the way you did?
Alan: Well we are always looking for ways to stay front of mind with the golf consumer. I was asked by media a couple of years ago how many golfers we had done in our history and that got the ball rolling. We really focused on celebrating the life of Mr. Palmer this year after his passing and it was great we hit this milestone this year when he is a big part of what we are doing and celebrating.
Gregg: And you had built this up all year, correct? What kind of stuff had you been doing prior?
Alan: Correct- we started marketing this from day one of the season via our app, web site, ENews, and social media. We called the prize the “Arnie’s Army prize pack” Golf for 40, an outfit from Nike Golf, food and beverage for the day, a personal caddy, Pro V 1’s and more. The more you played the better chance you had so we really pushed our database to get out and play. We kept the actual date pretty close to the vest but we gave hints when it was getting close.
Gregg: How did the staff and guests respond to the upcoming milestone?
Alan: Everyone loved it, except the guy who was next on the tee and missed it by 1! Even the maintenance crew guys were pumped about knowing when it was happening.
Gregg:It seems that the great Arnold Palmer was much more than a designer for Whistler Golf. Any last thoughts on what his involvement and legacy has meant to the course’s story and success?
Alan: He really brought golf to the masses. His course design is well respected and everyone loved the way he played. Everyone on tour owes their careers to Mr. Palmer as he brought golf to TV and the general public. Our tagline is “Palmer’s design, Whistler’s attitude” The name “Palmer” means everything in our game and we are lucky to be able to associate with him in our daily service and brand delivery.
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