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.


Abhi said...

I think charles's comments are spot on

I booked through tailor-made golf / watch from a box , Pete was very helpful.

Magnolia manor is a fab place but some of the processes to get tickets and food beggars belief

Well done charles

Anonymous said...

Charles has raised some good points regarding the opening and closing times of the hospitality. I had the same issues. I hope they are addressed.

Anonymous said...

While not spot on topic, I just returned from a SGH trip to Scotland and fount them terribly lacking in many respects. I strongly recommend not using them on a group trip to Scotland