Robbie Ames is the creative and highly involved point person for all aspects of club operations at Sea Pines Country Club and has a proven track record of leading and developing team members. The General Manager and Chief Operations Officer at SPCC for two and a half years with over $6.6 million in new projects and refurbished amenities completed. Experienced at delivering great personalized service to the membership and their guests and passionate about creating exceptional and memorable golf and club experiences.
THE AMES STORY —
I began playing golf at the age of 4 when my brother Stephen introduced me to the game. Watching my brother’s success on the European and PGA Tours, I thought I too could be successful. After turning professional, I played on numerous mini tours and represented Trinidad in four World Cups of Golf while paired with my brother. In the summer of 2007, I shot 67 at a Web.com Tour qualifier, but still missed it by two shots. Combined with the birth of our second daughter, I realized this was not the right path, so I made the decision to stick with what I knew best – golf – but in a different capacity.
In my new career, I became a PGA Professional while managing a golf operation in Jamaica for five and a half years. Our family then returned to the US so I could continue my career as an Assistant Director of Golf at the famed Desert Mountain Club. After the first year there, I transitioned into the Club side of the business. While it was a goal of mine for a later career stage, this unique opportunity provided a fast track on the Club management side of the business.
This intervention, so to speak, was the beginning of my Club career. I now proudly serve in my new role at Sea Pines Country Club as General Manager / Chief Operating Officer.
You wake up in the morning – what’s the driving passion?
To make SPCC the best it can possibly be. My daily goal is to lead our team in creating memorable and enjoyable experiences for our members. The Club has recently gone through a major metamorphosis. The feedback received thus far after the opening of our expanded, re-imagined fitness center, locker rooms and Café has been extremely positive, notably that members have a Club to be proud of.
What separates Hilton Head Island as a major vacation destination?
Hilton Head Island epitomizes a true, “island feel.” When you cross the bridge onto HHI, one truly begins the process of leaving the mainland and disconnecting from the real world. This Island offers great golf, delicious food and world-class amenities, all which families can experience at SPCC. Families can also enjoy day trips to Daufuskie Island, dolphin watching, climbing the lighthouse, zip lining and so much more. HHI provides a unique family experience, no matter what your interests may be.
Who is your customer in 2019?
Our focus is centered on persons who are familiar with Hilton Head Island, have previously experienced the Island or may be living in the area. Our potential member may not be retired; however, they are close to that goal and want to start experiencing the “Private Side of Sea Pines.” They know the Island is their end game, or will always be their home away from home, and they are able to enjoy a resident or non-resident membership. An ideal SPCC member is interested in experiencing a wide array of health and wellness-focused amenities. Now that we have opened our newly renovated and expanded fitness area, our focus will then shift to opening pickleball and bocce facilities.
Given your different involvements within golf — most notably as your brother’s caddie on the PGA Tour — how are those past situations advantageous what you’re doing now?
My experience as a PGA Professional, an aspiring TOUR player and professional caddie provided me with a well-rounded set of core competencies that focused on golf. Many members don’t expect their GM to be on the golf course and tennis courts, but I can do both. Around the club, you will catch me sharing stories from my caddying days while offering tips to improve your game. In addition, I can relate and comfortably discuss all aspects of the Club operation.
As much as I enjoy the great game of golf, I don’t have as much time to play as I used to. I find myself filling this void by talking with members who are fellow golfers. When they share their struggles with the game, I immediately pull out my phone to book them a complimentary 30-minute lesson. My Saturday tradition is to drive the course to say “hi” to all, then walk to the practice facility to offer assistance to those working on their game.
Is there a difference between what Baby Boomer members want from a club versus that of Millennials?
Absolutely. The Millennial member wants instant gratification. They don’t have time to play a four hour round so nine and twelve-round holes will become more the norm. They seek surfboard carts, music on the course, drone delivered food, live sports on the visage system and a practice facility that mirrors the “Topgolf concept.” Once that is complete, the dining needs to be quick and casual. After a busy day at the club, they want to take photos to remember the experience.
As the Millennial generation begins to age, I believe private clubs have a great opportunity to offer them an experience that may have once been a part of their upbringing. I feel many will become like-minded to Baby Boomers with the Club being a component of their family’s lives. However, the offerings will need to be relevant and time conscious.
Clubs routinely tout the important of customer service. Define the term and the approach followed at Sea Pines CC?
Customer service is at the center of what we do. Our approach is to provide world-class service through our four core values: Communicate; be a family; do the right thing: and serve our members by supporting each other. Each day, we take a moment to ensure it is an accurate reflection of the SPCC Mission Statement: “We pursue perfection every day, and on the days we fall short, we land on excellence.”
If you could change one thing in golf unilaterally — what would it be and why?
Golf needs to be more accessible to kids so they have an opportunity to experience this great game. PGA Jr. League is a great concept that has a fun team approach.
The major golf organizations – USGA, R&A, PGA of America, PGA Tour, LPGA — are all seeking ways to attract Millennials, women and minorities to the sport. If you were counseling them what would you advise be done?
The game can be intimidating, let’s make it easy, fun and accessible. Period.
The biggest short-and-long term challenges facing Sea Pines CC and Hilton Head Island are what?
Our biggest challenge is finding our next member and making sure we have enough skilled labor to provide that member with world-class service. The lack of affordable housing on HHI and increased competition from other industries that provide higher wages and a shorter commute to work are making it difficult to retain a highly skilled staff. For both the Club and Island, we must continue to invest in our product to make sure it is relevant, fresh and always providing great memories.
Best advice you ever received — what was it and who was it from?
My dad taught me, “If you can’t afford to go on vacation, don’t go. You won’t have fun while being worried about how you will pay for it.” I work daily towards achieving a world-life balance. Finding that balance is my advice for anyone in the golf business.
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Images from Sea Pines Country Club