Four Leaders Who Have Been Here Since – or Before – The Red Ledges Club Opened
The Red Ledges Club formally opened two years after the community debuted, so 2019 marks the Club’s 10th anniversary. While tens of millions of dollars have been invested into club and community amenities over the past decade, members consistently point to one thing that sets the Red Ledges Club apart: its people.
Having a great team starts with having the right leaders. Mitchel Burns and Todd Cates (two early “on the ground” leaders at Red Ledges) recognized the importance of the initial hires for the club, as the direction set by those first leaders would go a long way in determining the long-term success of the club and the community. Mission accomplished: not only has the Red Ledges Club earned national awards for excellence, but leaders of the club’s central functions (golf, instruction, culinary) and its founding general manager are still running the club a decade later.
The First Key Step for a New Club
Finding the right pre-opening general manager for the Red Ledges Club was a crucial hire that would impact the community’s success for years to come. Red Ledges engaged in a national search and, with the assistance of Troon, identified the GM of a high-end private club in Florida as an ideal candidate. John Johnson, who had grown up in Colorado and had visions of moving his family West, had significant experience with startup clubs. Johnson had the right experience and the right “fit” – and he soon found himself in Utah.
From the beginning, Johnson looked to implement club policies and “best practices” gleaned from clubs where he had worked early in his career. A key early initiative was the implementation of an annual membership survey, which has helped to guide the club’s resource prioritization. “Feedback from customers is the best thing you can have,” Johnson says. “The key to hospitality is understanding how the members feel.”
Some of the club’s recent improvements from a hospitality standpoint can be attributed to the addition of an Assistant General Manager, Harry Hirsch, whom Johnson recruited specifically because of his background in luxury resorts. The club’s strong members satisfaction results can also be linked to its commitment to surveying staff, as well as ensuring that every team member understands their importance as a part of a successfully growing club.
All of these strategic operating principles were born from Johnson’s knowledge accrued over the course of his career, as well as his observations of members and staff from the moment the club opened. Plus, he adds, “Being here from day one has allowed me to understand the vision of our ownership and what the club means to them.”
Flavors of the Club
Daniel Thompson, the club’s Executive Chef and Director of Food and Beverage, began brainstorming culinary strategies for Red Ledges before the club was even founded. During the mid-2000s, Thompson was sous chef at Shark’s Tooth Golf Club, working for John Johnson. When Johnson departed for Red Ledges, he invited Thompson to see it. “It came at a time in my career when I was seeking a new challenge,” Thompson recalls, “and I thought the place was incredible!”
When Thompson joined the executive team in 2009, he brought to the club a passion for fresh seafood—a natural product of his culinary training on the gulf coast —as well as an affinity for soulful and satisfying southern cuisine, which he acknowledges has made his transition to the mountains of the American West surprisingly easy. “What’s popular in the West isn’t that far apart from in the South,” he explains, “and that makes it a bit easier to introduce a dish like shrimp and grits.”
Thompson’s long tenure at Red Ledges naturally allows for better understanding of members’ preferences. Many know his phone number and his e-mail address, allowing for Thompson to personalize dining experiences – preparing a dish in a specific way, or creating an off-the-menu item spontaneously or for a special date.
“We see member names on the reservation list, and we ask ourselves, What are we doing tonight that’s going to make them happy and want to come back?”, says Thompson. “That gives us the opportunity to really expand what we’re doing and try new things. We’re bringing in flavors from across the nation and across the world; and provide a platform for members to experience them.”
Red Ledges has copious on- and off-property opportunities for fun, but the club is more than just an outlet for those various pursuits. Thompson and his team have brought members together for a decade for shared experiences around a dining table. “Food can be the glue of many social gatherings within a club,” Thompson says, “so it has to be great in order to keep members engaged and committed.”
Red Ledges in Full Swing
As has been proven time and again, effective golf instruction relies on a knowledge of a student’s behaviors and their physical strengths and limitations. An instructor can best assess a golfer’s struggles—and most expediently correct them—through an understanding of how their swing has developed over time.
Jon Paupore, Red Ledges’ Director of Golf and the club’s director of instruction, is ideally positioned, since he’s occupied those roles since the club’s inception and has many longstanding members who come to him for lessons. “I can watch them hit a couple balls at the practice facility before their round and give them a quick reminder of what we last worked on,” Paupore says, “or I can see a habit creep in and remind them how to combat those issues.”
Prior to joining the Red Ledges team, Paupore worked as a teaching professional at The Bear’s Club, Jack Nicklaus’ personal and private golf club in Jupiter, Florida. That relationship with Nicklaus opened the door for Paupore to come to Red Ledges, as Nicklaus designed the club’s courses and is a close friend of Red Ledges’ founder Tony Burns.
In the beginning, Paupore handled all of the club’s instruction himself; but as Red Ledges grew so, too, did members’ desire for lessons. Paupore oversaw the construction of a Jim McLean golf school, which has expanded with the addition of two indoor-outdoor teaching bays with the latest, cutting-edge technology. Today, the school employs seven instructors, and continues to grow. “Over the past several years we have seen many young families join Red Ledges,” he notes. “So, we revamped our junior golf programs to include more dates and activities, which has almost doubled our usage.”
As the Director of Golf, Paupore has watched how members enjoy Red Ledges’ championship course. “It’s totally unique,” Paupore says of the layout. “We can have a hole play completely different day in and day out. You can play it so many ways, so you’re not going to get bored with this place.”
Growing Red Ledges
A golf course is a living, breathing entity. It grows and evolves—sometimes in an overt way, other times far more subtly— which requires an adept touch to provide an ideal environment for golf. Pat Christoffer, Red Ledges’ Director of Agronomy, knows this better than anyone.
During the early 2000s, Christoffer was the superintendent for the Glacier Club, a private club and community in Durango, Colorado. As Red Ledges was transitioning from concept to reality, Christoffer was enticed by the opportunity to oversee the grow-in at the new club. “I chose to work here for the same reasons our membership came here,” Christoffer explains. “It’s a quintessential Western place to live. It’s that small town environment I wanted for my family.”
As a golf superintendent, the Rocky Mountains of Utah presented Christoffer with a new professional challenge: to cultivate pristine Bentgrass fairways at high altitude. “Bentgrass creates that perfect lie for golf,” he explains. “It’s the finest turf you can have, but it is intensive from a management standpoint. In the West, it’s really about having the technology and experience to manage water.”
Over the past decade, Christoffer has gained a strong understanding of the impact that Red Ledges can have. “We have a commitment to the people that live in the Heber Valley,” he says. “We’re one of the largest conservers of water, and we provide a great source of jobs for folks in this valley.”
As a founding member of the team, Christoffer can tap into his understanding of how the course was designed and built, since he quite literally watched the Nicklaus Design team move earth to carve out the fairways and shape the greens. “To manage a championship course at this elevation, you have to have a tremendous team – we have that at Red Ledges. I’m not really sure what I did to deserve it, but I have been lucky to be around so many great people for so many years.”