9 Questions With Golf Course Executive David Fine

Fresh off a four-year, $100 million revitalization program, PGA National Resort & Spa is enjoying the fruits of that labor. A huge contributor to the Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., resort’s post-overhaul success is David Fine, hired by PGA National in the fall of 2010 as its new vice president of sales, marketing and revenue development.

Fine, a graduate of the University of New Hampshire’s Whittemore School of Business and Economics, juggles numerous responsibilities, including managing the resort’s proactive sales and marketing team, which is committed to building lifelong customer relationships at PGA National and positioning it as the southeast’s top golf and meeting destination.

We caught up with Fine and talked to him about his role.

Steve Donahue: What are your major responsibilities at PGA National Resort & Spa?

David Fine: I’m the revenue guy. I consult with every business unit at the resort about revenue. I work with the managers of all the revenue centers such as the golf operation, spa, group sales team, outside resort, etc.

Donahue: What are the biggest daily challenges you face?

Fine: The resort’s operational complexion includes a lot of moving parts and platforms, and my responsibility is to ensure the internal and external operations are up to speed. We try to forward-think a lot, so my job is challenging from that respect. One such challenge is the PGA Tour’s annual Honda Classic, held on our Champion Course. We deal with our constituents daily. Our ownership has a level of expectation because of the money it spent on our revitalization, and they should expect us to not only meet their expectations but to exceed them. Fortunately, I’ve been doing this for a long time and love what I do.

Donahue: How does PGA National Resort & Spa prior to its $100 million revitalization program compare with the new edition?

Fine: The impact of the revitalization has been significant and is really starting to bear fruit thanks to increased revenues and increased customer loyalty. Now we can really engage the customer. We’re very fortunate our ownership understands that sometimes you have to spend money to make things better. The year 2010 was a recovery year and 2011 was a growth year, so the market warrants the investment we made. Now that we’ve touched every part of the resort we can go to the good, quality customers who use our facilities to a greater degree in all areas such as golf, spa, dining, etc.

Donahue: Is it more challenging or easier to market and sell today’s revitalized PGA National to those who experienced, perhaps some negatively, the pre-revitalized PGA National?

Fine: It’s significantly easier for several reasons. No. 1, our staff is fully engaged. It’s reflected in the way they carry themselves, thus the ownership has greater confidence in their capabilities, plus the product really shows well. No. 2, the resort’s contemporary design is unlike most golf resorts. PGA National now exudes a very different and unexpected vibe.

At most golf resorts you arrive via a tree-lined road or driveway, and here you now enter an incredible hotel lobby that kind of looks like a W hotel or someplace on South Beach, with our popular new iBAR prominently situated. We like to say we’re undeniably hot and unexpectedly cool. We’re using that to position the hotel, which is a unique golf property.

Donahue: How much of your job responsibility revolves around the Honda Classic?

Fine: We have a marketing team and marketing director working with golf events and I’m used to producing large golf events when I was at Doral. We do about 800 events a year here at PGA National. I work on the marketing piece for the golf operating group and operations. We engage customers and work in tandem with the tournament office on the PR piece, so my role is more customer oriented. Ken Kennerly [executive director] and Ed McEnroe [tournament director] really run the Honda Classic, so we don’t have to worry about day-to-day tournament things except on the resort side.

We use the tournament for exposure and customers can see us at our best. Our staff works around the clock to produce a great event. The vibe at the Honda Classic is like no other. The Phoenix Open has a fraternity-like vibe. We combine that with decorum that’s slightly more refined, but we still have a party out at the Bear Trap [holes 15-17]. Honda Classic guests enjoy the tournament from the party and social-scene aspects, without the fraternity vibe.

Donahue: Can you give us any specific numbers on the Honda Classic’s economic impact on PGA National’s annual bottom line?

Fine: We saw some very significant lift this year — not only in volume during the week but from a significant food-and-beverage contribution. Much of that, of course, comes from iBAR, which was packed all week, but we also received a big lift from our Palm Terrace and Ironwood restaurants.

We did unexpectedly well this year. The weather was a little cold by Florida standards, so Honda Classic attendees were already dressed for the cold, thus [they] didn’t spend a lot of money on retail. There was a little lift there, but not like in past years, when folks dressed for warm weather but purchased outerwear here if it got cool.

Donahue: A good chunk of change was invested in modernizing and renovating PGA National’s golf courses. Has it been harder or easier to promote these courses’ new viability to folks who might have played them pre-revitalization?

Fine: The Fazio, the resort’s oldest course, was our latest course to undergo a revitalization. We added elements to the course that didn’t previously exist. Consequently, guests now play the Fazio as part of the mix. The Champ is known for the Bear Trap, but the average guy, after playing the Champ for the first time, is also blown away by the layout and conditioning. Avid golfers coming here are challenged and love the idea of having five diverse courses to choose from. We’ve worked hard to maintain our reputation as a mecca for the golf experience.

Donahue: Have you been able to apply any lessons learned from your previous jobs at The Broadmoor in Colorado and Miami’s Doral Golf Resort and Spa to your job at PGA National?

Fine: I’m still learning but I’ve worked at mountain and beach golf resorts, including independent-branded properties. I like independent products because we can convert opportunities quickly without a lot of layers. I’ve been fortunate to have forged great relationships along the way and am lucky we have great ownership that gives us a good amount of rope and lets us evaluate how to run things.

Donahue: With PGA National’s revitalization complete, will the resort sit still for a while, or will you continue to evaluate the resort and make more updates or changes?

Fine: We have some additional plans for the resort and there will be some surprises down the pike. Needless to say, we’re continually looking to improve and engage our customers. It’s all about how we make PGA National better, improve things and enhance the experience.