Sunday, May 29, 2011

Review of SGH Golf and Magnolia Manor Hospitality


Let me start off by saying that I had an absolutely wonderful trip to the US Masters.  It was a birthday present to myself for my 40th birthday at the end of April.  I was fortunate to attend the practice rounds on Tuesday and Wednesday, including the Par 3 competition on the Wednesday afternoon, as well as all four tournament rounds.  To be there when the tournament was won by a fellow South African (Charl Schwartzel) was just the icing on the cake to a magnificent trip to the 75th US Masters.

With that having been said, I have laid out below some comments with respect to the tour operator through whom I booked my trip to the US Masters, namely SGH Golf, as well as comments with respect to the hospitality at which I had booked, Magnolia Manor Hospitality.


When I was looking for a means of obtaining tickets to the US Masters I came across the website of SGH Golf.  I wrote to Ian Jack, owner of the company, around 12 months in advance of April 2011, expressing my interest in hearing from SGH Golf as soon as the 2011 packages were available.  That process went well and I received the 2011 packages once available.  I made my booking as soon as I could, paying the required deposit, and the subsequent payments, as they were due.  I even added 2.5% to the invoiced amount, as stated on the SGH Golf invoice, as I chose to use my credit card so that I could earn the air-miles linked to my local credit card in the United Arab Emirates.  I believe it is against the Visa and MasterCard Terms and Conditions to charge customers extra for paying by credit card, but since I am not an expert in this area I will leave it at that.


Arrival into Augusta

I informed SGH Golf of my intention to meet their driver at the airport in Augusta at 6PM on the day that I drove from Atlanta.  I arrived at Augusta Airport at the pre-arranged time, in fact earlier, to find no-one waiting for me.  With no indication of what I should do next I had to send a text message to Ian so that arrangements could be made to meet me at the airport.  Whether it was a misunderstanding or an oversight, I waited for another 20 minutes or so before meeting the driver.  He claimed to have been there all along, yet being such a small airport I suspect otherwise.

Hotel Accommodation

The hotel accommodation provided as part of the package was excellent.  I was informed that I would be staying at the Best Western Hotel in the centre of Augusta.  I was actually booked into the Staybridge Suites, a short walk away.  Either would have been fine for the nine nights that I spent in Augusta.  I had no issues with the accommodation and would quite happily stay there again.  The accommodation is centrally located and is within easy walking distance to the many restaurants and night spots close by.

Shuttle Service around Augusta

The shuttle service between the hotel accommodation and the hospitality house, and between the hospitality house and the golf course, worked well.  It was well coordinated, the drivers used were efficient and know the area well, and generally I had no issues with the shuttle service.  The different hospitality houses, i.e. those alongside Magnolia Manor, even worked well together to shuttle each other’s patrons from the course at the end of the day.


I had booked hospitality at the Magnolia Manor Hospitality for all six days that I attended the tournament.  Just to give you an idea, the price quoted by SGH Golf for hospitality for the practice rounds is USD 295 per person per day, and for the tournament rounds it is USD 345 per person per day.  Generally the hospitality opened around 7AM.  I arrived on the first morning, checked in OK and all was fine.  The breakfast was nicely laid out and everyone was really friendly.  A special mention, while I am at it, goes out to Tonya Thompson who made the extra effort to welcome me, especially after she learned that I too live in Dubai.

Comment on the closing time of the hospitality

Call me crazy perhaps but I am the kind of golf fan (‘patron’ for the US Masters) that likes to spend as much time at the course as possible.  Having paid a sizeable amount for the tickets, both for the tournament and the hospitality, I like to see as much of the golf as possible.  I like to arrive at the course when it opens and leave the course once the final group has left the 18th green for the day.  I do not care to move backwards and forwards to the hospitality house during the course of the day just to have lunch or watch the golf on TV.  I did not travel all the way from Dubai to sit in the hospitality house watching the golf on TV.

What I found really disappointing is the time at which the hospitality house closes for the evening, i.e. the time after which no drinks can be ordered and the food is no longer available.  Generally a committed patron arrives back to the hospitality house around 7PM only to discover that dinner is no longer being served, and practically having to beg to be offered a drink.  Considering the high cost of hospitality, as noted above, I fail to understand how this charge can be justified when no dinner and few drinks are available by the time the patrons return from the course.  Sure, the regular shuttles between the hotels at which patrons are accommodated and the hospitality house is useful, as are the shuttles between the hospitality house and the course.  But what I would like to know is what other service justifies a cost of well over USD 300 per day when I could not have a decent meal following the day’s golf and had to go to a local restaurant?  I was very disappointed in the hospitality from the point of view of the closing time, and do not feel that I obtained value for the considerable amount of money paid.

Comment on the opening time of the hospitality

In order to obtain the best spots at Augusta National for your seats you need to be in line at the course as early as possible.  For some patrons this means waiting in line from 6AM, if not earlier.  Unfortunately on tournament days, patrons who have booked hospitality are required to obtain their tickets from the hospitality house where they are kept secure overnight.  The hospitality house only opens from 7AM.

I certainly understand the need to keep the tickets secure, and to go through the rigorous process of issuing the tickets to the correct patrons in the morning.  What I fail to understand, however, is why patrons can only access their tickets from 7AM, forcing them to wait in a long, time consuming, frustrating line at the hospitality house before they can catch the shuttle to the course.  Surely it should realized that certain patrons would like to be in line much earlier than 7:30AM, i.e. by the time they have waited for the hospitality house to open, waited in line for their daily ticket and caught the shuttle to the course?  Why have arrangements not been made to assess patrons’ desires for the time that they would like their daily tickets, and plans made accordingly?  Having paid so much for the tickets I expect that golf patrons would like to be at the course and in line as early as possible, yet Magnolia Manor makes no arrangements to accommodate such a desire.


Departure from Augusta

As part of my vacation package, I had paid for and was scheduled to play golf at a local course on the Monday following the US Masters.  Given the activities of the week I decided not to play.  I mentioned this to Ian Jack on the Sunday evening.  He said he would see whether he could arrange a refund of the amount already paid to the course.  I am still waiting to hear whether he was successful.  If not, that’s fine, given the late notice I provided.  A follow-up e-mail to whether a refund was granted would have been appreciated.

Included in my package was a shuttle to the Augusta airport on the Tuesday following the tournament.  When I reminded Ian Jack of this, it appeared that this had been overlooked.  Instead I was offered a compensation of USD 40 and told to make my own arrangements to get to the airport.  While I understand that the shuttles may not have been running on the Tuesday morning, this could have been communicated to me much earlier as part of ‘managing my expectations’ for the event.

Upon arriving home, and having spent almost USD 11,000 with SGH Golf, between the tickets, hospitality, accommodation and golf at two local courses, I was expecting an e-mail saying something along the lines of: ‘Dear Charles, thank you for your patronage of SGH Golf, etc…’.  I am still waiting.


Would I attend the US Masters tournament again?  Absolutely – what a unique experience for golf lovers, and certainly a life highlight.

Would I book through SGH Golf again?  No, probably not, unless I absolutely could not get tickets from another source.  I do not believe SGH Golf did a good job in managing the expectations of its clients.  I believe clients could be better briefed as to what they should expect from the golf and the hospitality, despite this being included in the documentation received with the confirmation.  A brief overview of the salient facts would have been appreciated, suggestions as to best spots to view the golf, a reminder to bring your ID to collect your tickets, etc…

While at the hospitality house I met a similar service provider, watchfromabox, very ably represented by my new friend, Pete Warsop.  I found him to be a lot more client focused, and generally referred to him, as opposed to SGH Golf, whenever I had a question.

Would I book hospitality again?  Given what I now know about the way I like to do things – no, I believe it was not money well spent.

I hope you find these comments useful when planning your own trip to the US Masters.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

SPAM callers in the UAE

We have all received calls from advertisers and salespeople trying to sell us products and services that we do not require. Despite numerous requests for them to remove you from their contact list, and despite promises that this will in fact be done, no action is taken. And then they call you again a few months later. Sure, we all need to make a living, and I have no objection to the initial call enquiring about my interest. However, when I politely state that I am not interested in their services and request that I be removed from their contact list, I expect this to be done.

So now I am making available my list of the companies that have called me trying to sell me I) financial or insurance services, II) property services, and III) hotel discount programs. These are my so-called ‘SPAM callers’. What I suggest you do is save them, individually, to your Outlook contacts and synchronize them to your 'phone. That way you will see when they are calling and you can decide whether to answer the call. You are even welcome to save a copy of my “DO NOT ANSWER” jpeg file and add it as a photo to your contacts to easily see when they are calling.

The companies that have called me, and whom I have told on more than one occasion that I am not interested in their services, are as follows:


1 - - - ACE Life Insurance: +971 (4) 445 – 1839
2 - - - Acumen Wealth Management: +971 (50) 103 – 4290
3 - - - AES International: +971 (4) 450 – 2500
4 - - - Century Financial Brokers: +971 (4) 351 – 6112
5 - - - DeVere and Partners:  +971 (4) 321 – 9779
6 - - - Earnest Insurance: +971 (4) 338 – 5400
7 - - - Elite Capital Solutions: +971 (4) 325 – 6570, also +971 (4) 347 – 4522 (Lewis), also +971 (4) 709 – 4530 (Craig)
8 - - - Global Eye: +971 (4) 404 – 3700
9 - - - Nexus Insurance Brokers: +971 (4) 397 – 7779
10 - - - ONE International: +971 (4) 310 – 8003, also +971 (50) 969 – 7194, also +971 (2) 412 – 4000, also +971 (56) 694 – 4538 (Kieran)


1 - - - Arab Vision Properties: +971 (4) 395 – 1195
2 - - - Best Properties: +971 (4) 447 – 4710
3 - - - Blue Palace Real Estate: +971 (4) 267 – 8961
4 - - - Castles Plaza Real Estate:  +971 (4) 430 – 8902
5 - - - Elysian Real Estate: +971 (4) 323 – 4545
6 - - - First Homes Real Estate: +971 (4) 395 – 1117
7 - - - New Homes Real Estate: +971 (55) 363 – 4597
8 - - - Water Edge Real Estate: +971 (4) 338 – 8471


1 - - - Inter-Continental Hotels: +971 (4) 701 – 3288

I kindly request all the above-mentioned companies to remove me from your contact list. I am not interested in your services. Should this change, I will call you.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

LinkedIn for Blackberry: Outlook Contact Photo's Overwritten

I recently installed the new LinkedIn for Blackberry application.  What I have noticed is that for each of my contacts on LinkedIn that have not uploaded a profile picture (on LinkedIn), their profile picture in my Outlook Address Book has been updated with a blank general picture. This is not acceptable, i.e. that LinkedIn overwrites the profile pictures that I had created for my contacts.

For example, Contact A in my Address Book - - - in my Outlook Address Book I had his company logo as his profile photo. No profile photo was uploaded by Contact A to LinkedIn. When synchronizing between LinkedIn and Blackberry / my Address Book, LinkedIn has updated the company logo of Contact A in my Address Book with a blank general photo.

I recommend that LinkedIn fix this issue so that users have a choice as to which contact photo they want to use, i.e. the one that they choose or the one imposed on them by LinkedIn.
Now I have many contacts to check and make sure that their profile pictures are as they should be in my Address Book, and not some blank photo imposed on me by LinkedIn.

Thanks in advance.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Hilton Honors - amendment to Honors program


Dear Mr Nasetta,

Amendment to the Hilton Honors Program – cancellation of membership (Charles ARNESTAD – membership number 227113054)

I was recently informed, through an e-mail I received from ‘Priority Club’, that Hilton has amended its Honors loyalty program to make my 38,502 accumulated points (Silver VIP level) less valuable by around 20%. I do not remember having received communication directly from Hilton in connection with this matter. In addition, I followed two links from the e-mail from ‘Priority Club’ to articles on the Internet in connection with details of the changes to the Hilton Honors program. The articles are HERE and HERE if you are interested. I have added comments to both websites saying how disappointed I am at this move by Hilton, and expressing my specific intention to move my business to Marriott.

I have been a loyal member of the Hilton Honors program.  Whenever I plan my travels, I make sure to stay at a Hilton hotel. During our trip to China last year, we stayed at the Hilton Hotel in Beijing (two visits), the Conrad Hotel in Hong Kong and the Hilton Hotel in Shanghai.  These choices were made with the specific intention of building up my points so that we can plan a trip to the Conrad Rangali Island in the Maldives, somewhere we have always wanted to stay.

However, given that Hilton has unilaterally decided to amend its Honors program, and in doing so devalue my accumulated points, please note that I will no longer be choosing a Hilton / Conrad as my hotel of choice going forward. I will be switching my allegiance to Marriott and its suite of hotels. You will note that just a few days ago I had rooms reserved at the Conrad Hotel in Dublin, Ireland (confirmation number 3375106791) and at the Hilton Hotel in Edinburgh, Scotland (confirmation number 3378231363), again with the intention of adding to my Hilton points for future use against the Maldives booking.

I have just canceled my bookings at the hotels in Ireland (cancellation number 182499712) and Scotland (cancellation number 1826175311). I will no longer be staying at a Hilton hotel. I now have confirmed bookings at the Shelbourne Hotel (run by Marriott) in Dublin, and at the Edinburgh Marriott.

I trust that the Executive Management of Hilton will give serious thought to the move made to devalue the Hilton Honors program, much to the dissatisfaction of your many loyal customers. I will no longer be loyal to the Hilton brand.

Yours faithfully,


This letter was sent as an e-mail to the Hilton Honors e-mail address ( on 18 February 2010, with a copy to Christoper Nasetta - - and other executives at Hilton Worldwide.