Over the weekend a friend and I decided to play golf out of town in the Orlando area, as I often do in the summer when the rates are low. Summer in Florida is very hot and humid as you might imagine, but this summer has been especially hot and miserable in Central Florida. Every morning I look outside and the thermometer over my garage door registers 95 to 100. In the shade. With temperatures in the mid nineties every day and the hot sun bearing down on you, it can get pretty uncomfortable. It’s imperative that you wear sunscreen and drink plenty of fluids to avoid heat exhaustion and dehydration.
With that in mind, I often bring a few bottles of Gatorade to the golf course with me in case there isn’t a beverage cart or adequate drinking water on the course. It’s hard to imaging that a golf course in central Florida wouldn’t have a beverage cart in operation during a hot summer day, but it happens. In many cases the snack bar will let you borrow a cooler to store your drinks and keep them cool, and some facilities even have coolers on the golf cart. Believe me, courses with coolers on the carts get bumped right to the top of my play list in the summer!
On Sunday, my friend and I drove the 75 minutes or so to Minneola, Florida to play a Ben Crenshaw/Bill Coore design called Sugarloaf Mountain. This highly acclaimed design was voted as one of the best new private courses in the USA by Golf magazine in 2008 before the downturn in the housing market decimated their real estate sales and they were forced to open to public play. The club is now managed by Hampton Golf. Carved out of the rolling hills and featuring elevation changes up to 250 feet, it’s a nice departure from the typical flat Florida golf, and always a treat to play. I’m not a negative person. I don’t like to bash anyone or anything, and this website wasn’t created as a forum to air my grievances, but our experience Sunday with the staff left me very disappointed and I feel compelled to share the story.
We arrived at Sugarloaf Mountain golf club and checked in. We went out to the range to get warmed up and hit some chips and putts before the round. At that point, about 30 minutes before our tee time I went inside to get some ice for my drink. I asked the attendant if there would be a beverage cart on the course, and he said no. In absence of a beverage cart, I asked him if we could get a cooler to keep our drinks cool. This is when things started getting strange. Rather than tell me yes or no, he asked me why I wanted a cooler. I was caught off guard by this question, since he had just informed me that the beverage cart was not in operation that day, the sun was out and I’m sure he knew that it was blazing hot outside. I told him we brought a few extra drinks and wanted to keep them cold for the 2 hours or so that we would be on the front nine in the heat. He then started to explain the unfortunate policy that far too many golf clubs are putting into practice – that in order to get a cooler we would have to purchase drinks from them. I understand the course is in business to make money, and because I brought my own drinks they would lose out on that precious two or three dollars that we would have spent buying drinks. (Yes, I’m being slightly sarcastic.) This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this policy and I didn’t protest.
I went back out to ask my friend if he wanted to see about getting that cooler and I explained the situation to him. He intended to buy a drink anyway, so I agreed to buy a Gatorade as well. We went inside and asked the attendant for a Gatorade and a Diet Pepsi, and he proceeded to get them. Then my friend asked if we could get a cooler for those, and again the guy said “Why do you need a cooler? I can just give you cups of ice with your drinks.” We went back and forth with him a few times in a not so cordial manner and finally left without a cooler, or our cool. It was obvious to me at this point that the pro shop employee knew we brought some extra beverages (I told him honestly), and he was hell-bent on not giving us a cooler for fear of losing out on a few bucks in sales.
What this brilliant individual didn’t seem to understand was that we were going to buy drinks anyway, and probably buy more at the turn, even if we brought our own. It’s damn hot in Florida, and it’s not uncommon for me to drink four to six bottles of fluids in 18 holes. The man in the pro shop could have taken the high road and sold us some drinks, given us a cooler and everyone would have been happy, but instead he chose to be confrontational and rude and refuse to give us a cooler over a few measly dollars. It’s not my problem that the beverage cart person didn’t show up for work on a Sunday, and I can’t control the weather. It is these reasons why I always bring extra drinks, just in case. I’ve had heat exhaustion and dehydration – It’s not fun.
This employee doesn’t get it, and someone needs to have a talk with him about basic customer service. It wasn’t about the drinks, or the few dollars that they cost. It was all about his attitude towards us after I told him we had our own drinks and wanted some ice to keep them cool. He used an analogy to explain his position, which he barked at me: “It’s like bringing your own steak to a steakhouse!” I’m sorry, but that’s pretty lame. You can call me a douche-bag all you want for bringing a few extra drinks, but Sugarloaf Mountain Golf and Town Club sells golf and golf memberships, and they rent golf carts to play the course. Those are the major sources of profit in golf operations. If they really depend on the revenue from selling $3 Gatorades to stay in the black every month, I suspect they are in big trouble. In fact, I have unconfirmed reports that Crescent Resources (that owns many courses managed by Hampton Golf) and Landmar – the developer of Sugarloaf (and other Hampton properties), are both in bankruptcy court. Landmar also happens to be a subsidiary of Crescent Resources. Hmmm. Besides, it’s more like bringing your own wine to a steakhouse, and many steakhouses encourage that! They understand that they may lose out on selling wine, but they’ll make more in the long run because people really go there for the steak!
Because of one employee’s bad attitude, Sugarloaf Mountain have lost me and several of my friends as loyal customers and Hampton ExecGolf Card members. Hampton Golf manages several fine golf properties, and I have never had any issues until this incident. I have always enjoyed playing on their courses and the staff have always been professional and friendly until Sunday at Sugarloaf. The bottom line is the kind of treatment we got from this pro shop employee was very disappointing, and in this case because of the extreme conditions outside it could have been downright dangerous. I hope the course takes action to remedy this situation, and I invite any representatives of Hampton Golf to comment below. If you have had a similar experience at any one of Hampton’s golf facilities, I would encourage you to let them know about it at: (904) 564-9129
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