Jason Totos is Director of Golf at Carton House in Maynooth, County Kildare, Ireland. A hospitality professional with two decades of experience earned at hotels and commercial entities including some of South Africa’s premier golf destinations, Jason is responsible for all aspects of the historic resort’s golf program. This includes oversight of two top-ranked 18-hole golf courses The O’Meara and The Montgomerie.
THE TOTOS STORY —
Born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa, Jason Totos earned a National Diploma in sports administration and marketing from Port Elizabeth Technikon. He grew up around golf clubs and his parents ran a restaurant where players would gather after a round. Surrounded by the sport since he was young, he vividly remember how the club was as much a part of his life as his home was. Today, he works to provide visitors to Carton House the same feeling.
In 2000, Jason became a qualified member of the South African PGA. When he is not at Carton, he enjoys learning about variations in regulations and procedure and embracing local culture and experiences.
You wake up in the morning – what’s the driving passion?
I want to ensure that our visitors at the Carton House Golf Club enjoy themselves and feel at home. I grew up around a golf club and at one stage my parents even ran the club’s restaurant. I remember how the club was as much a part of my life as my home was and I would like members and guests to experience that same feeling when they visit Carton House.
The greatest satisfaction you get from your position is what?
Besides meeting and exceeding guests’ expectations, my greatest satisfaction is seeing the staff at the Carton House Golf Club enjoy their time at work. Hospitality can be tough with the long hours and having to deal with so many different people, while still doing your own tasks. Knowing the team here enjoys putting guest experience first and takes pride in helping our members and guests is so reassuring. Seeing staff members enjoy their work day means I’m performing my role well.
How healthy is the overall Irish golf market in 2019?
I don’t believe the overall market is as strong as its ever been, but it’s clear that it is growing in most segments. International visitors continue show a desire to play the great Irish courses and corporate groups are slowly starting to reintroduce days for their clients. People are playing golf and courses need to work smart to continue getting rounds on the greens.
Who is your customer and what steps do you take to ensure a return visit?
We have several customers, which include members, social local golfers, corporate groups, societies and international visitors. The fact that we have 36 holes helps us manage all these segments. I believe the trick to getting golfers to return is to show them value for money, while also engaging with them pre and post round.
What differentiates Carton House for any other Irish golf experience?
I believe Carton House has the best combination of things to offer golfers. It’s not only about the golf and the service, but a variety of activities that completes the Carton House experience.
We have 2 championship courses, one a parkland and another inland links. Both are maintained impeccably by our team here who take so much pride in their work. It really shows and we hear a lot of feedback on how our courses are looking the best they possibly ever had and that’s all thanks to the hard work of our team. We have a golf academy on site with target greens, short game facilities, undercover hitting bays and 4 PGA professionals. There has also been huge refurbishment to our golf facilities including our Pro Shop, members facilities, clubhouse and the opening of a new Gastropub ‘The Carriage House,’ which serves delicious food and drinks including Irish draughts and handmade cocktails.
Access to one of the most relevant ‘old houses’ of Ireland, steeped in history is a big draw for visitors. The hotel has just been upgraded with new rooms and our location just 25 mins away from the airport is a great place for travelers to base themselves for a trip around Leinster.
Many facilities routinely tour the importance of customer service. Define the term and the approach that’s followed by you and your team at Carton House?
I prefer my team to focus on the feeling we want our members, guests and visitors to experience. ‘Service’ is very subjective and although we may have standards which need to be met, it is easy to meet these standards without stimulating any positive feeling in someone.
At Carton House we have both ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ operation staff who are there to ensure that any potential need of our guests can be met quickly. This also allows everyone to be experts in their area, so our guests are getting a high level of assistance and knowledge whether it be in the Pro Shop, booking an event or hiring equipment.
We regularly discuss and implement ways of ensuring certain needs are met before guests ask and keep all the team trained and informed. Our belief is that its these ‘golden opportunities’ that can stimulate the positive feelings we are trying to generate within our guests.
If you could change one thing in golf unilaterally — what would it be and why?
I would like to get a uniform handicap system for all golfers. I believe there is some headway being made on this issue, but if I could have every golfer being accessed the same way around the world it would make managing International visitors in events much easier.
The major golf organizations — R&A, USGA, PGA of America, PGA Tour, European Tour — are all seeking ways to attract Millennials, women and minorities to the sport. If you were advising them what would you recommend they be doing?
I believe the main challenge in attracting these groups is time. Golf has always been a relatively long game and although there are shorter versions of the game, these are not making their way into golf clubs on a regular basis. Also, these versions of the game are often ‘non-qualifying,’ so although fun and fast, they do not allow golfers to gain handicap scores.
There needs to be more engagement with clubs on ways of finding shorter formats of the game which are still considered qualifying rounds. This way you will get current golfers to participate more in these formats.
Biggest challenges facing Carton House — short and long term is what?
Short term, I feel that raising awareness among locals about the significant investment made in the golf facilities, which includes a new golf shop, locker facilities and The Carriage House gastropub is one challenge that we need to overcome. These enhancements must be showcased to our domestic market, as we have undergone such a significant transformation from when they last may have visited. While we have always been renowned for our golf, we want visitors to see that we are moving forward and are ensuring we have the state-of-the-art facilities to meet their expectations in 2019.
I believe that long term our challenge is to introduce Carton House to a broader international market as we believe we do offer something unique to the region. We are working closely with several different parties on this and getting Carton House on the world map as a go-to golf destination for international golfers from all parts of the world. It can be a slow process but very satisfactory seeing the hard work come to fruition. We are already hosting group from countries that we would not have previously seen here.
Best advice you ever received — what was it and who from?
‘Flip the typical staff structure within your business. Place yourself at the base and understand that you are there to support your staff, not manage them’ – John Burnett, Chairman of The Burnett Group.
John taught me the value of supporting staff in my role as a manager. I have always tried to encourage a culture of co-operation, which then feeds into the guest/golfer experience.
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*All images courtesy of Carton House*