Our guest this episode is Josh Doxtator who is the general manager of The Golf Club at Harbor Shores. Located in Benton Harbor, Michigan, The Golf Club at Harbor Shores is host of the 2020 KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship.
In this interview with Josh, we learn:
- The benefits of working with the LPGA Tour in Green Bay
- What it takes to be a top destination golf facility
- Why hosting the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship benefits the neighboring communities
- The importance of creating an exceptional golf experience
- What he’s learned from playing 300 of the top golf courses in North America
- Why Harbor Shores is a great choice for Chicago golfers
Interviewer: Walter Lis. Running Time: 17:25
Click here to download an MP3 file.
The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
CHICAGO GOLF REPORT – Can you talk a little bit about your new role at Harbor Shores?
JOSH DOXTATOR – My role as a general manager is basically overseeing all operations here at Harbor Shores from golf course maintenance to the food and beverage as well as the golf operations side. I’ve always been very much excited about opportunities to take a brand and really develop it and execute the service experience to guests and members and make a name for itself and really make a splash in the destination market.
And then I think from the overall vision of the ownership here, they want to be the top Midwest destination and my job moving forward is focusing on providing the absolute best product from a golf course perspective and a food and beverage perspective, but then also delivering the experience that goes along with that.
CHICAGO GOLF REPORT – Can you talk a little bit about where you came from before Harbor Shores?
JOSH DOXTATOR – My career actually started in the Phoenix Arizona area, I helped open up property called Trilogy Golf Club at Vistancia in 2004 and it was part of a bigger community development … much larger than the Harbor Shores development, but still the same kind of feel and uniqueness to it. But really helped from the positioning of that golf course to create a different environment through that service and through some of the different things that we were doing on site.
I think 2008, 2009, we had a five star rating from Golf Digest. We were one of only 24 in North America to receive that designation and that with a lot of, that was basically providing all the things that I talked about: providing an exceptional experience and some of the best conditions that you can play.
After my time there, almost 11 years, I took the position as general manager at Thornberry Creek in Green Bay, Wisconsin, the official golf course of the Green Bay Packers and the ownership there was very much wanting to take what they had there from a property and turn it into a destination. Over the course of four and a half years, I rebranded the property, saw a lot of success in some select markets, mainly Chicago and Milwaukee and Minneapolis.
The next step was how do we showcase this to the world? And ended up sanctioning an LPGA tour event which was brand new on the schedule.
We underwent an extensive renovation to the club to get ready for the LPGA Tour, but then also working with our event management group that we brought on IMG to create all the branding, marketing and sponsorship sales information to create a very successful tour event.
So just going from club operations and brand development into Tour golf. And I think that’s what definitely set the way for me to be able to take the knowledge that I’ve gained over the years to Harbor Shores as we know, they host the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship every other year. And although it’s a little bit different from a hands-on side of things as the PGA runs, it will be heavily involved in making sure that we put on the absolute best experience for any spectators that come onsite.
CHICAGO GOLF REPORT – What do you most look forward to when the Senior PGA returns in another year?
JOSH DOXTATOR – Well I think ultimately, having the experience with the LPGA tour, just getting involved in that side of the golf industry was extremely intriguing for myself. And understanding what it takes to put on a successful event, even from the branding side of things.
At the end of the day, my whole focus is to make sure that anybody steps on property, remembers their time there and we create memories for them in a positive way. And whether that’s through daily play or through the members that play golf, but also the spectators who come out to see, I think still having an opportunity to be engaged in Tour golf, is definitely exciting for me.
I’ve learned over the years that you don’t necessarily try and map out the future cause that tends to change quite a bit but ultimately, I’m really excited to understand from a major championship what that looks like. And working with the PGA of America and already having some of those ties in with through the LPGA tour and things like that.
So I think from a career side of things we have a lot to do here at Harbor Shores and utilizing the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship to benefit the golf course as a whole and the community as a whole and driving more eyes and more people. And also defining who we are as a brand, delivering that experience and then taking it to a select markets in the Midwest.
CHICAGO GOLF REPORT – How do you envision the relationships with the different stakeholders evolving? When you talk about Harbor Shores, you talk about, obviously you have the city of Benton Harbor, you certainly have a huge footprint for Whirlpool there. And then, as you mentioned too, the PGA is also somewhat involvedHow do you kind of envision juggling all of those stakeholders?
JOSH DOXTATOR – Well, I think what’s important is the ownership for Harbor Shores represents: people who are extremely passionate about golf and are committed to their community. And I couldn’t ask for anything better than that.
I think wanting to put on an exceptional golf experience whether that’s through the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship or through playing golf onsite, but then also having an impact with The First Tee onsite servicing over a thousand kids in the program each summer and then over 3,000 in schools and programs that are offered through this new chapter.
There’s definitely a lot of things to juggle in that respect, but ultimately, our commitment is to assist in growing the game. And that’s where I think the PGA involvement is exceptional.
They’ve committed to offer whatever resources that they have to help us accomplish that, whether that’s through PGA Junior League or just different avenues to be able to accommodate as many people as possible. And I think in the future Harbor Shores has the potential to do some very unique things in that way of training and developing.
I should say training and developing and ultimately providing essential education towards necessary skills in life similar to that of The First Tee, but then also having some different hands in teaching and help growing the game through veterans and procreating programming for them as well.
CHICAGO GOLF REPORT – From what you’ve been able to digest since joining the facility, what do you think are the biggest strengths that Harbor Shores has?
JOSH DOXTATOR – I think hosting a major championship every other year, that’s a huge strength. But you just have to utilize it the right way.
I think some of the other strengths…it’s the only Jack Nicklaus signature golf course on Lake Michigan. And a lot of people don’t know that and then if you ever visit the property, it’s amazing to see how Jack Nicklaus and his team basically routed this golf course in an area that previously was ridden with abandoned buildings and dump sites and factories and things of that nature. And to turn it into what it is today, there isn’t a better statement to the commitment of the community than what’s been built at Harbor Shores.
I think that the story of that and the commitment there is probably one of the strongest, if not the strongest story in all of golf when it comes to creating and utilizing a golf course to help impact the community. Like I said, driving dollars from other areas to assist in creating jobs and economically stabilizing the area.
CHICAGO GOLF REPORT – From what you’ve been able to see, what are you most excited about implementing to the course? To the experience, and to bringing to the area that you think you could help accentuate about Harbor Shores?
JOSH DOXTATOR – Well, I think in any business, consistency is key and developing a high level of consistency in the experience that people have when they come on site. But going above and beyond and doing things just a little bit differently. When you come to Harbor Shores, we will have different things in place where it’s definitely done different than you’ve ever or when you’ve ever experienced before.
Taking…I guess my history and my career and then also having the opportunity to play some of the best golf courses in North America and, maybe playing over 300 golf courses. It was because of the experience I had and taking some of those experiences and putting our own twist on them to do the same thing for everybody that comes onsite here.
I think to me the most exciting part about this is the opportunity to really take a brand that’s already strong and make it stronger. When people think about where they want to go play golf and they’re going to travel to do it, that Harbor Shores is at the top of their list.
CHICAGO GOLF REPORT – If you were going to tell a golfer from Chicago, knowing that they could get to Benton Harbor in less than an hour and a half, what do you tell them? What’s the reason why they should visit you?
JOSH DOXTATOR – Well, number one, escape the city. I would imagine that in the Chicago market, you have a lot of golf courses that charge a premium. And sometimes the experiences aren’t the best.
At Harbor Shores, we have 15-minute tee times, pace of play is very important to us. We want you to be able to, when you play the golf course manages on the pace side of things, where you feel like you’re the only group out on the golf course.
But not only that, some of those touch points where you come in and we anticipate the needs of every guest, meaning we anticipate their actions before they even ask. Our goal here is to make sure that we answer any questions up front before they even ask and all they have to do is worry about enjoying their time on the golf course.
Ultimately from the Chicago side of things, we’re close enough where you can come over for the day. We’re also close enough to where you can get away for a weekend and presenting a product from not only the golf side of things, but there’s a full-service spa and things like that. The kayaking, the boat rentals, Jet Ski rentals, the Marina, all these different things and opportunities for you to enjoy your time here. And then of course, with the community in Saint Joseph and in Benton Harbor, there’s always things going on.
I think ultimately from that side of things, we have unbelievable beaches, so it’s hard to argue against that. That’s what it comes down to is everybody’s going to be very selective in where they spend their dollars and everybody justifies the dollars that they spend on our perceived value, and our goal for our perceived value moving forward, that it’s far above what you spent. At the end of your experience, you look at what you paid or the price of admission, you’d say, I’d pay three times that to play that again.
CHICAGO GOLF REPORT – So, final question for you with your experience playing as many courses as you had. Can you list five courses that you bring some ideas from that you hope to implement to within Harbor Shores?
JOSH DOXTATOR – I’ll never forget a time my dad took me on a golf trip when I was 13 years old to Myrtle Beach and we played a handful of courses, a pretty good lineup. But one course called Pine Lakes, and I think it’s one of the oldest golf courses in Myrtle Beach.
My dad wanted me to take me there because he had gone 20 years earlier and he was blown away with just kind of the service and that sort of thing. And understanding to at 13 years old, I grew up in upstate New York and golf was just golf.
There was nobody in there taking care of you. You kind of went into the golf shop, the pro was in there, developed a relationship with them, but ultimately it was more of you kind of helped yourself after that. That was my first experience with what it means and what that feeling of service really looks like.
I think going back to Pine Lakes, just from when we pulled into the parking lot to the bag attendants wearing white gloves and they put you on this Rolls Royce Golf Cart, which I thought was the coolest thing at 13 years old.
But the one thing that blew me away, and I couldn’t tell you what one hole looked like on that golf course, but we got to a par three on the front nine – I think it might’ve been seven or eight. There was one of the chefs was out there with a huge cauldron on an open fire making clam chowder and offering it to everybody who came through. At 13 years old, that blew me away.
But I think even today, those are things you talk about and you want to be known for. But doing some of those things that are a little bit different, that are unique to us, that we do best and sharing that with everybody who comes on site.
So when they leave and they tell stories, they say, man, I went to Harbor Shores and you know, their player assistant came by and they gave me whatever it may be, whether it’s a food offering or just a memento to remember their day or something like that.
Those things are what really drives the memory value and I’ve had some of those experiences at different places. But outside of that, just somebody going above and beyond who really took their time to make sure that you feel like you’re the most important person to them that day. And I think there’s nothing better than that. There’s nothing better than that feeling.