Garland Resort was one of the better entrepreneurial golf stories of the late 20th Century. Born out of a vision of Ron Otto, it grew from a private 9-hole golf course and lodge for Otto’s family and friends in the 1960s to a 72-hole, 180-guest room destination. Along the way the entire original structure was lost to a gas explosion in the 1980s, while the 1990s was a rebuilding and expansion decade. Unfortunately, the economic downturn in 2008 put Garland underwater.
New Frontiers Capital, a private equity firm in Rochester, purchased Garland almost two years ago, invested $7 million into the Lewiston-area property, and this spring lured the husband-wife team of Glenn and Susan Miesch out of retirement from Arizona to focus on improved guest services.
So far it seems to be working.
This summer, Garland looked as good as ever, with remodeled guest rooms in the huge log-cabin lodge, a new lobby design, two updated restaurants, exterior landscaping, new golf cart paths, and reformed sand bunkers. Add in a new attitude by the staff, including Chef Eddie Walkers’ bold new options on the menu, and Garland is a place to try again or for the first time.
“They have infused a culture that Garland has never experienced,” says long-time sales director Johna Hewes. “It’s more of a team approach, not as siloed in different departments — and from there it has spawned so much more (More capital, more leadership). With New Frontiers Capital it’s definitely better. We do a lot on trade and word-of-mouth and it’s been amazing the kind of buzz we’ve created (with very little advertising budget). It’s been fun.”
GM Glenn Miesch honestly admitted golf rounds are down about 5 percent from last year — in part due to the economy still searching for an identity (okay, it’s still lousy) — and in part due to weather, two factors all resorts face but cannot control. On one Saturday alone in mid-August, 550 rounds of scheduled golf were washed out due to rain.
“Of all the properties I’ve ever been associated with, the environment here, the physical attraction of the resort and its 3,000 acres, is phenomenal,” Miesch, an industry veteran, says about New Frontiers president Randy Dzierzawski luring him away from the year-round heat of the southwest. “And we first saw it in the winter; it was truly a winter wonderland. As the snow dissipated, we realized in the summer what a beautiful property it is. We also love that it’s a contained property. Guests can park their car and never have to get into it again unless they chose. It’s truly a planned destination, a strong attribute for the property. ”
Miesch says Garland is still working on continuous improvements — in its structures and the people. A full-range spa is in the plans for starters, but the main concentration this season remains the new team focus on customer service.
Hewes’ job includes focusing on groups of 12 or more, adding that if guests have an event (wedding, corporate) of 100 people or more, “you essentially will own our function space, and therefore all our staff and services are dedicated to your group.”
Miesch says the Michigan resort environment is not much different from the price-competitive airline industry. “If another area property lowers their rate specials way below what you want, you have to make a decision: do you compromise, do you play stubborn and don’t do anything, or do you lower to their rates?”
When New Frontiers took over in 2009, Miesch says the business practices in general were revised and changed to make a profit. He says that goes beyond cutting operating costs while still delivering good service, but by increasing the revenue side via up selling. Of course golf is Garland’s primary attraction, but Miesch’s team looks for ways to secure more resources from the guests, in packages that include fly-fishing, for example.
“The company has succeeded very well under new ownership,” he says.
Time will tell how much.