Chicago Golf Heaven On a Garbage Dump

HARBORSIDE_DUMPIn part two of our exclusive conversation with the General Manager of Harborside International Golf Center, Dean Lytton, we talk about the benefits and challenges of being located so close to the City of Chicago. We also talk about some of the unique, golfer-friendly features of Harborside International and how course management company KemperSports is working to improve the facility.

Located about 15 minutes south of downtown Chicago, Harborside International Golf Center features two golf courses, both if which were rated in Golfweek’s listing of “Best Courses You Can Play” in Illinois. Featuring a rugged, links-style layout, and one of the top practice facilities in Chicagoland, Harborside International is a top choice for locals and travelers to enjoy traditional links golf.

Interviewer: Walter Lis. Running Time: 17:38
Click here to download an MP3 file.

WL: You mentioned the practice facility, and I think it’s a stunning practice facility in terms of the bays. You also have a wonderful short game area. Can you talk a little bit about how you try to implement the practice facility in terms of attracting golfers and what makes that unique as well?

DL: Sure. It’s within the city limits of Chicago, and maybe within the entire Chicago land it’s one of the biggest, if not the biggest, practice facility around. So it’s a great opportunity for both locals around here, Northwest Indiana, but for those from Downtown to come down and just be a few minutes away to work on their game. And you’ve got, the opportunity to have a short game practice area.

Your typical driving range is, just an expansive tee area, and people have really taken to it, because we’ll go down there, on Saturdays and Sundays, and there’ll be a wait just to get on the tee box. So people have really taken advantage of all there is to offer. There’s plenty of bunkers, a large putting green as well, and then we’ve got, three teaching pros down there as well that use the Academy, and they get a lot of requests also and keep very busy throughout the year.

So there’s a lot of opportunity. We’re thinking about doing some additional things in the future. This was our first year here you know, just kind of wanted to see how such a large range was going to be utilized, but it was highly successful, and I think there’s some opportunity for some future growth down there as well.

WL: Before we finish up with the Kemper Sports side, because I have a couple more questions on that, I want to get one more feedback from you with regard to your location, your facilities and what makes Harborside unique. Talk a little bit about the location, because as you said, it’s right off the expressway, and I think most Chicagoland golfers, at least many, don’t realize how close Harborside is to the city.

DL: Yeah, I’ll be honest, the first thing I did when I moved here was attend the golf show. We got a booth at the Chicago Golf Show, and I stood there every day and quickly learned that there’s a lot of people in the community that, the funny thing was a lot of them still thought this place was a garbage dump site, which it’s been 18 years since it was a dump. But lot of people didn’t know it was here, and so there’s been some education process that’s needed to take place on letting people know how convenient it is. I can’t tell you how many times I heard people walk in through the door and talking about how easy it is to get to, and they didn’t know it was here, or they knew it was here but didn’t know it was this nice.

Traffic depending, it can be just minutes from Downtown. I live in Northwest Indiana, it doesn’t take me long to get to work. People come in and take advantage of this. The Northwest suburbs, the West suburbs, it kind of is a destination golf course for people to come to once or twice a year, but we’re hoping to increase that rate a little bit by letting people know that is literally you exit the Bishop Ford Expressway, and literally turn right into the facility here. So, it’s so easy to get to, and it’s such a beautiful place. Once you drive inside you kind of forget, other than seeing the backdrop from Downtown, you feel like you’ve escaped a little bit from the city.

WL: So, you’ve mentioned a few times Kemper Sports, and I’m sure that many golfers may not know who Kemper Sports is and the fact that they have a world class golf course management company in their own backyard. But, talk a little bit about what Kemper’s done, and since you’ve arrived, sort of the things that you’ve enacted around the course, the things that you’ve done that have kind of had created this buzz this summer, and what you’re hoping to do leading into 2014.

DL: Well, the primary thing that we did was just trying to implement some of the marketing strategies that we have for our courses throughout the country, and every course is going to be unique and different, and that’s one thing I like about Kemper Sports is it’s not a cookie cutter operation. They take every course that they managed and look at its unique ability to market itself within that particular market, and that’s what we did here.

And as I mentioned, we’ve marketed to try to make this place the Chicago’s home for golf for daily fee golfers around the Chicago land area, and so marketing was a big part of that, didn’t do a lot of TV or radio advertising. We do a lot of digital marketing and eblasts to communicate directly with our golfers. You know, new website was created. We have some service initiatives that we do as a company that, not that the service was bad here, but we feel like the service initiatives that we have within Kemper Sports can really help increase our customer service and create a better experience for the golfer.

And we just want an overall experience to create, from the time they come onto the property to the time that they leave, we want them to have the best possible golf experience that they can. And from a marketing standpoint that’s what we’ve tried to do, and implement our customer service as well.

Click here for the first part of this interview.


Walter Lis

Walter Lis is the managing editor of Chicago Golf Report. Launched in 2010, Chicago Golf Report is the most visited website on Chicago golf and is one of the top ten most popular local golf websites in the country. We are a digital-only news and information resource covering everything golf in Chicago and its suburbs, providing the latest news about local golf facilities, golf events, golf instruction and even golf business.

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