“Bag drop guys.”
“Outside operations staff.”
“Golfer interface concierges.”
Okay, I made that last one up. But whatever they’re called, they’re usually the first and last faces you see at a golf course. Specific duties can vary depending on how upscale a course is, but their overall function is important, both to their employer and their clientele. A friendly and attentive welcome to a course sets the tone for the entire day’s activities, and a pleasant send-off can turn around a frustrating day on the course and ensure you’ll be back for more punishment soon. That’s no big secret; it’s Golf Customer Service 101.
Still, it’s shocking how few courses get this element of service right, to the point where positive experiences tend to stand out more than they probably should. My home course may be a muni, but Hank and Pat, who work the bag drop at Sandridge Golf Club on Saturday mornings when I typically play, help it feel like a people’s country club.
Searching GolfPass’ database of more than a million reviews for comments containing the phrase “bag drop” underscores this. When it’s mentioned, good or bad, this aspect of the golf experience often comes up in a review's very first sentence. It clearly sticks with the customer long after the round ends, and is an obvious jumping-off-point for discussion of the overall experience.
Gillette Ridge is one of the best public courses in the state, as soon as you arrive the staff you meet at the bag drop, and golf shop are friendly and accommodating. The starter, Chris is also a great asset to the course. I showed up on a cloudy day, it started to rain as I got to the first tee, he offered to let me borrow his rain pullover, I thought he was joking until he pulled it off and handed it to me!
The first impression of any course is the staff at the bag drop. Experience was not at all as expected for a course of this price and especially being affiliated with a Marriott property. Staff was not at all welcoming or helpful and gave no direction or assistance. Unloaded own bag from car and had to load it on cart. Same experience at bag drop/cart return upon round completion as we were barely acknowledged.
When I was a kid and my family would spend summers in South Carolina, the bag drop guys at Pawleys Plantation Golf & Country Club were my babysitters. They were a mix of full- and part-timers, younger and older, fond of cigarettes and chewing tobacco in roughly equal measure.
While also handling busy groups of members and tourist-golfers, they kept an eye out for me as I bounced between the range, putting green, chipping area and the golf course, where they made sure to pair me with threesomes of players who were probably shocked that their fourth a) was not old enough to drive a cart, and b) was able to play better than some of them could.
I can just imagine the bit of salesmanship that required. ”Okay, we’ve paired you with a single, but listen - he’s 12 years old. Is that cool with y’all? We know him; his parents are members here. He’s got a good little swing, he loves the game and he won’t slow you down…” Not once did they fail to sweet-talk me into a skeptical group, even on busy days.
As much time as I spent at Pawleys Plantation growing up, I know I would not have developed quite the love for golf I currently have if bag drop guys like Jeff, Jon, Lonnie, Justin, Stephen and Brian – Brian, who in addition to being a real estate agent still cleans clubs and parks carts at Pawleys three times a week 20-plus years later – had not been so kind to me.
I had a more typical, one-off positive experience recently at Crane Watch Club at Evergreen, a semi-private facility in Palm City, Fla. No sooner had I pulled into a parking space than Sean, the course’s bag drop guy, not a day over 18 years old and a dead ringer for PGA Tour winner Max Homa, had pulled a cart up behind my trunk. He almost surprised me with his attentiveness.
Like all the best bag drop people, Sean was welcoming and friendly. His general enjoyment of getting to hang around a golf course for work was infectious; it made me feel glad to be at a course I was seeing for the first time. When I mentioned this fact in passing, he offered me a yardage book so quickly that it seemed like a reflex, rather than something he’d had to be taught to do.
When I had finished my round, he cleaned my clubs and ushered me back to my parking spot the same way he’d greeted me, bringing positive symmetry to the experience. As I was leaving, he was chatting with an older couple of residents of the surrounding community whom he had clearly also treated well in the past. I almost felt bad tipping him only $5 – that’s how good he was at his job.
It’s tempting to assume that the best bag drop staff are barely noticeable, but I think the opposite is true. Yes, they’ll clean your clubs and load them into your car, but they know when to step in and make sure you're having the best possible time. They’re usually glad to tell you where the best local bar is, shoot the breeze about the latest PGA Tour event or college football matchup and be honest – brutally, if necessary – about how the greens are rolling. If a golf course is a church, they’re the polo-frocked priests. If they brighten your experience, a parting offering of a few dollars is the least you owe them.