Derek Gutierrez finds it’s easy to get out of bed every morning — in part because of the beautiful vistas that greet him as he heads to his workplace, New Mexico’s largest golf complex.
“It’s just an unbelievable location to work: the views of the mountains, the desert landscape, the Rio Grande River,” says Gutierrez, a PGA member, and general manager and director of golf at Santa Ana Golf Club Inc.
Established in 1991, the corporation consists of Prairie Star Restaurant, Wind Dancer Bar and Grill, Twin Warriors Golf Club and Santa Ana Golf Club — all located on 650 acres on the Pueblo of Santa Ana. Gutierrez credits leadership by the company’s board of directors, which consists of five tribal members, with much of the company’s growth, development and culture.
“They provide the guidance, the direction, the resources to really extend an amazing and exceptional experience, of course, to all our guests and patrons who frequent the golf courses and restaurants,” Gutierrez says. “But also to our internal customers, the people who work here.”
Golf, which had been declining in popularity for the past nearly two decades according to the National Recreation and Park Association, is once again on the rise. The National Golf Foundation called 2020 “a year of resurgence” for the sport.
Santa Ana Golf Club Inc. is experiencing the industry’s upturn, even though it was closed at the onset of the pandemic and is now feeling the labor pinch. Gutierrez, who has worked for the company for 25 years, says both existing players and new golfers are participating in record numbers.
“We were really fortunate to be a part of something that was outdoors — that could be done spread out,” Guiterrez says.
Both in the kitchens and on the grounds, his teams are doing “more with less” in terms of workers. He’s grateful they’ve been able to keep safety a priority, but still extend fun experiences to guests.
“I always tell everybody, ‘We work around food and work around golf, and I don’t know that it gets much better than that,’ ” Guiterrez says.
In addition to the pandemic, what other challenges has Santa Ana Golf Club experienced in its history?
“Our Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort Twin Warriors Golf Club opened in 2001. And we know what happened on 9/11. That really impacted travel. And, for a time, people were afraid to get on an airplane. People were afraid to get out and travel. So, we saw a decline in our transient and group traffic at Twin Warriors Golf Club, our out-of-state play, for a time on the heels of that. Leapfrog to the recession in 2008. Again, the impact there was that those discretionary dollars went away. Groups started canceling their events because it just didn’t make sense investing that kind of money to take groups on, at that point, conferences, trade shows, meetings out of state.”
What can you tell me about how the company overcame those challenges?
“We offer Twin Warriors Golf Club with a peak rate of $145 green fee. And that mirrored what a lot of resorts were doing throughout the country. When travel really took a hit and we saw a decline in resort traffic, we did have some resistance locally to that rate. We created a New Mexico resident rate at Twin Warriors Golf Club. It was more in line with our rate at Santa Ana Golf Club. So, you had a golfer who may not want to pay $145 at Twin Warriors who can now pay $75 at Twin Warriors. So, we saw a significant increase in traffic at Twin Warriors in response to those issues that you were talking about. Since then, we’ve had a resident rate at Santa Ana Golf Club specifically for New Mexico residents, and it’s well below the out-of-state rates.”
What does it take to grow a golf club?
“Tiger (Woods) was the last big boom for golf. When Tiger really came on — when Tiger arrived and started winning golf tournaments — he made golf cool again. So, many people from all walks of life entered the game of golf because of Tiger Woods. And he still actually moves the needle. Our industry has struggled off and on throughout the years. And it’s unfortunate that it took, that the pandemic has really brought more people to the game, but it is what it is. A lot of the growth can be attributed to what I spoke about earlier — it’s something that can be played and operated safely.”
Are there any other key moments in the history of the corporation?
“In 2003, we hosted the PGA professional championship at Twin Warriors Golf Club. In 2009, we hosted that same event, the PGA professional championship, at both Twin Warriors and Santa Ana Golf Club. We have (also) hosted events for the PGA Tour (and) for the USGA. … Next year, we have two. We have a PGA of America Senior Professional Championship at Twin Warriors and Santa Ana Golf Club in October. We’re really excited that we are also having an international event for the PGA of America next October. It’s called the “Women’s PGA Cup.”
What does it take to pull off a successful national or international professional championship?
“It starts with a valuable team. Our team here, everyone that I’m surrounded with, is better than me at their craft. We don’t lose any sleep here at night when it comes to running events or running golf courses or restaurants. Everybody knows their role, (and) how to do it exceptionally well.
“But I think that, to pull off an event like that, it’s, first of all, you have to have the product. And I’m confident and proud to say that we have two golf courses that will provide really wonderful tests of golf for the players who are going to visit us. Our food and beverage operations mirror those playing conditions, are top notch, and will be enjoyed by everyone that will be here.
“But to also pull off these events, outside of that, you need a really good volunteer corps. So, we’ll reach out to our community, which includes mostly all our golfers who play out here. We’ll start with them and offer volunteer opportunities to come out and be walking scorers, marshals, registration. There are a lot of roles that go with running this event. We will really rely on volunteers to help us pull this thing off.”
About the business
Business name: Santa Ana Golf Club Inc.
Leader: Derek Gutierrez, general manager and director of golf
Industries: Golf and restaurant
Physical HQ address: 288 Prairie Star Road, Santa Ana Pueblo
Year established: 1991
Number of employees in year established: approximately 30
Number of employees today: 125 during peak season