Dave Hartley has been working at Alisal since 1992 when he was first hired as a staff member on the new River Course. He dipped his toes into golf playing Mini Tour events across California, and later earned his Professional Golfers Association (PGA) status in 1998. Soon after, he was promoted to Head Golf Professional at Alisal’s Ranch Course in 2001.
Hartley continues overseeing the Ranch Course and with his diverse professional and educational background in finance, business, and marketing, he manages financial operations, capital decisions, as well as financial reporting to management. He works alongside Brook Bell, the current Head Golf Professional at Alisal, in maintaining all daily operations within the golf program.
THE HARTLEY STORY
My golf career propelled when I left my career in finance and fully committed himself to the golf industry. The Alisal has always been an anchor for me, as it was my first employer during a transition into my new field. With a staff position at the Alisal’s River Course, I had the ability to play in California Mini Tour events regularly and later became a PGA member in 1998. My advanced experience acted as a catalyst in landing my current role at the Alisal’s golf program.
My experiences in the industry have exceeded the ideal resume for the Alisal’s Director of Golf. Being business savvy is necessary to run a resort’s entire golf program in combination with an ever evolving knowledge of the game to keep our golf product entertaining for guests. With my tenure at the Alisal, I believe I know what the courses and program need in order to grow our stellar reputation as a top-tier Central Coast golfing destination.
You wake up in the morning — what’s the driving passion that gets you day in motion?
Where my office is located. Hard to do better than this unless it is on a beach somewhere!
What makes being at Alisal special for you?
Location and atmosphere. The Santa Ynez Valley and Alisal are relaxed and special. It is away from crowds, noise, politics, crime, etc.
What specific steps are you doing to separate Alisal on the golf side given the vast choices people have in determining where and when they play the game?
Alisal is a unique property. We are currently implementing plans to utilize the entire resort and the private golf course to increase business at the companion public course. We’ve also invested over the past 18 months in all facilities on the resort and to improve the quality of the courses which had not been improved since the 2008 Great Recession.
How much of an impact did The Great Recession have on Alisal and the immediate Santa Barbara area?
The Resort was definitely affected as occupancy dropped but not as substantial in percentage terms as most of the travel business due to our long standing, family tradition business. Nearly all our loss was in the Group and Incentive business. The private Ranch Golf Course was hardly affected. The Public River Course was severely affected and we are still recovering as is all high end public golf course in the Central Coast of California.
What lessons were learned from that time frame in how you go about your daily business?
When people have less dollars they want more value. There is a new type of customer. Our past relationships with our customers and members and the service levels from years of assisting them saved us.
The major golf organizations are searching for ways to increase the number of players — especially Millennials, women and minorities. How would you advise them to do just that?
I believe the entire perception of golf needs to be changed. My thoughts are developed from a nationalclubgolf.com article that fits into projects I am currently working on. Old time leadership needs to adapt or be changed out. The golf elite do not understand diversity and inclusion, although this is the new major topic and focus of the PGA of America. Hopefully they get it right by allowing our young leaders to have a say. The markets you mention want fairness, openness, and equality and see none of that in golf history. These groups live in a challenging world where time and productivity is most important and technology and innovation rule. Golf does not cater to that reality. I am working on a nonprofit project called Golf Beats Cancer which would bring golf to those that need it and thus grow the game. Millennials, Women, and Minorities as well as Juniors all need golf as well. Today golf is only for those that want it — and can afford the time and money to play it.
Some leading golf analysts have stated that a shakeout of roughly 20-25% of the total golf supply market needs to go away for the remaining ones to be healthy for the long term. What’s your take on that?
Complete BS if talking about people. Any person who needs or wants golf should be able to enjoy some facet of the game. Reliance of the wealthy and older players will be the ultimate demise of the game and industry without adjustment. If you are talking about 25% of the golf facilities, then I agree but normal economic supply and demand should take care of that.
You can change one thing in golf unilaterally — what would it be and why?
How hard golf is and why people play it. I would love score not to be the only thing that ever matters ….. unless you want it to. Rules, Tournaments, etc are fine for professional and accomplished golfers but the future of golf is to play for fun, health and being outdoors and away from technological devices.
Best advice you ever received? What was it and who from?
Play with and be with your members. The original Alisal professional from the 50’s, Mr. Bill Train was my only teacher and most important mentor in my career. There is a flag pole with a plaque on the 1st Tee of the Ranch Course commemorating his legacy at Alisal.
Was there a specific episode in your life that helped you in your golf career?
Black Monday in October 1987. I was an ex college baseball player from UC Davis and good amateur golfer that was a certified financial planner during the infancy of that industry in mid 80’s. That day communication of the markets eroded and I lost everything I had accumulated in 5 years. By noon on that day I was barefoot and drinking on a Sacramento Golf Course and have never done anything except golf since that day.
How often do you meet with those who come to Alisal and do you ever respond directly to any issues — good or less so — regarding their time at the resort?
Every time an Alisal Ranch Guest comes for an Annual or bi-annual visit I am able to renew with our golf and resort guest. Many of them are basically a second membership for us as every pro shop employee at the Ranch Course has at least 10 years of Service. Guests have been coming for as long or longer than us and we are part of their golfing adventure.