By Vinnie Manginelli, PGA
What do Walter Hagen, Tommy Armour, Joe Kirkwood, Henry Ciuci, Johnny Farrell, Ken Green, Mark Calcavecchia, and Gene Sarazen all have in common? Besides the uncanny ability to hit a golf ball with precision and power, they have all walked the fairways of Ridgewood Country Club, in Danbury, Connecticut. This historic facility, founded in 1920, has hosted the Connecticut State Championship, and in 1968 was the site of the first LPGA event to take place in the state.
Today, Ridgewood Country Club and its 18-hole Devereaux Emmet design is a private member facility located about seventy-five miles northeast of New York City. Justin Foster is the PGA Head Professional. He recently earned the Connecticut PGA Section Merchandiser of the Year Award for Private Facilities and we spoke at length about his unique retailing philosophy for a separate article – during the conversation, another very interesting topic came about.
Among the impressive facilities that highlight Foster’s resume – names like Medinah, Glen View, Doral, Seminole, Old Marsh, Bull’s Bridge, and TPC at River’s Bend – Augusta National is the one that stands out from the rest. Foster gained valuable experience working three Masters Tournaments, assisting in operations for Berckmans Place, one of the most exclusive hospitality sites and dining venues in all of sports. Foster learned a lot about how to treat guests, the best ways to make a stellar first impression, and what it takes to go above and beyond in your everyday functions.
This is a mentality he conveys to his staff at Ridgewood. He applies this philosophy to his award-winning golf shop and reinforces the concept at the club’s practice range as well. “The range is the player’s first experience on the golfing property,” he states. “It gives them a feeling of how everything’s going to be – from a conditions standpoint – from an attention to detail standpoint.”
Through meticulous attention to detail and “military-like precision”, Foster ensures every member and guest enjoys a first-rate experience every time they visit the club. “We really have to show that [golfer] what they’re in for in a positive way. Even just setting up the range tee takes over an hour. When I go there in the morning and I look down the range line, every single bag stand is exactly in line with each other. There’s none that’s turned to the side. There’s not one that’s an inch off here or an inch off there. Every range stall is the exact same width and exactly aligned with the other ones. Even the den caddie is positioned in an exact spot, and it’s updated and maintained throughout the day. If I can’t see the golf balls rounded on the top because it’s so full, then it’s as good as empty.”
He shared a story from his days at Augusta National that gives someone who does not possess that experience a glimpse into his mindset. “When you go to eat at Augusta National – if you have a party of ten and they have to push some tables together to accommodate that party of ten, they push the tables together. Now when those ten people leave, they take out a measuring tape and they measure back the tables exactly where they were. So, to me, that’s something that costs nothing except time and patience.”
Foster strives every day to make sure they are providing the best possible range experience. “The range tee is my office,” he says. “I do a lot of teaching and spend a lot of time out there. If a guest pulls up and sees an absolutely flawless presentation and they see impeccable conditions and they see a staff member who’s greeting them on the range and who’s wiping down their clubs, it’s kind of like ‘well, what more can they do here? We’re in for a pretty good day’.”
That’s the first impression Foster seeks to provide. He told me that staff members pick up broken tees all day, every day, not just at the end of the day. He even explained their method of presenting clean club-washing buckets. They put a little soap in there and whip it to get a lot of foam. “It gives you the feeling that this is some clean water,” he brags.
Foster concluded by giving us further insight into his thought process. “Our range is a little limited from a space standpoint, in terms of how far you can fly the ball. So, I feel like if we’re limited in one way, we really need to be sharp in another way.” He has staff members who walk the range tee all day, wiping down clubs while people are hitting balls on the range. They engage the facility’s 250 golf members in conversation and get to know their guests. “With the resources we have, there are no unturned stones out there – we’re turning them all over.”