I am a 25 year Golf Industry Professional with experience in high-end public and resort operations in the Chicagoland and Hawaii markets before coming to Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. In my most recent position, I was the GM/Director of Golf at Kapalua where I not only ran the golf and tennis operations for the resort, but was the host professional for the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and served as President of the Kapalua Resort Association. I joined the Nemacolin family in April and am excited to be a part of the new golf course construction and accelerating the golf programs and recognition.
As a young kid, growing up in Illinois, there was a nine hole golf course — Earlville Country Club — where we would buy a $45 summer pass to play. The course had 5 par 3’s and was a Par 32. The par-3 distances were 215, 218, 216, 140 and 125. As a 10-year old you had to learn to hit a wood on those first Par 3’s if you wanted a good score. My friends and I would play 18 holes — nine twice — in the morning and then walk to Dog and Suds’ for lunch and come back and play another 18 holes in the afternoon before our mom’s would pick us up. We had so much fun every summer. I developed a love for the game during that time.
After graduating college, I worked in downtown Chicago for a few years and just hated the monotony of my job. I am a people person and needed to get into a career that I could allow me to work with people. A friend of mine asked me to take the summer off and come work for him at a place called Thorngate Country Club in the north Chicago suburbs. I did and just fell in love with the game again. I entered the PGA program and in the shortest time possible, went through to get my PGA membership.
I have been very fortunate to work at some of the greatest places. Mostly around the Chicago area, Stonebridge and Joliet Country Clubs, Golf Club of Illinois, and ThunderHawk Golf Club, which I opened in 1999. After ThunderHawk, I landed a great opportunity at Cantigny Golf in Wheaton, Illinois. Cantigny was and still is one of the best public courses in the Chicagoland area. I spent nine years at Cantigny before landing a dream job as the Director of Golf at Kapalua in Maui, Hawaii. Nine years at Kapalua and now the opportunity to be at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, I consider myself a very fortunate and lucky person.
MATT WARD: You were Director of Golf at Kapalua for a number of years before deciding to leave the Hawaiian Islands and come to the mainland — southwestern Pennsylvania to be precise. Why the move at this stage in your career?
MIKE JONES: In one word, opportunity! The Hardy family is committed to making Nemacolin Woodlands Resort the best of the best and have put in the infrastructure to do that. Building a second Pete Dye Championship golf course shows that commitment and being involved in the process of constructing the course and part of making Nemacolin a destination for golf was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
MW: What are the top challenges facing the golf industry today?
MJ: Time is the most important challenge we are facing. People have busy lives, work more than they have before, and family obligations. When they take time to come to a place like Nemacolin to get away from their daily lives, we have to make sure that the time they spend on the golf course is enjoyable and in their mind, time well spent. Our associates treat every guest like family and hopefully, Nemacolin will feel like home to them and they will want to return.
MW: Nemacolin Woodlands is a mature property and there are plans to have a new 2nd 18 replacing a previous course — likely sometime in ’17. What does having 36 quality holes mean for the overall positioning of the facility?
MJ: I think Mike Kaiser said it best, “When you have 18 holes you have a golf course, when you have 36 or more you have a golf destination.” 36 holes makes us a golf destination and being that we have 36 great holes makes it even better. Our goal is to be the best golf destination. We want visitors to walk away from Nemacolin and the golf courses and want to come back again.
MW: If you could unilaterally change one thing in golf what would it be?
MJ: I live and abide by the rules of golf but I personally dislike one specific portion of a rule. That is having to play out of another person’s divot. Golf is a game played in a natural environment so I understand the concept of “playing the course as you find it” is essential so that a player can’t move his ball to improve his lie or intended line of play. However, a divot made by another player in the middle of the fairway should be ground under repair as it was not naturally made. Rule 13-1 states “the ball must be played as it lies, except as otherwise provided in the rules.” Make it so a divot in the fairway is “ground under repair” and a player is not penalized for hitting a shot in the fairway that ends in someone else’s divot.
MW: Much emphasis is in getting Millennials to take up golf but the usual roadblocks are often mentioned — the time it takes to complete 18 holes, inadequate instruction and overall costs to play. What’s your take on what can and should be done?
MJ: To ensure the long term future of the game and to create long term job stability for our young assistants it is imperative to get the millennials involved in the game. Top Golf, has done a phenomenal job of creating an atmosphere of fun and comradery. In talking with Top Golf Executives, they share that millennials are coming to Top Golf never having played before is translating over to them playing on an actual golf course. Making the game fun, offering 9 hole opportunities because of time constraints, doing things to create a more relaxed fun atmosphere on the golf course, like putting a USB port in the golf cart so participants can stay connected work or play soft music, will make a difference and make the game more fun.
MW: Nemacolin Woodlands has hosted a number of key tournaments — including the PGA Tour for several years. Is there a desire to do so again?
MJ: I think we would consider hosting another PGA Tour event if the situation was right. Currently, the resort is focused on our guests and members and creating fun and exciting golf opportunities for them. We will continue to host regional and sectional events and would consider larger events that fit with our overall mission.
MW: How does Nemacolin Woodlands go beyond being a regional destination of note?
MJ: There is so much to do at Nemacolin along with the golf. It is a very unique place. The Hardy’s vision was and still is to be a “something for everyone destination.” The resort offers world class accommodations and over 70 activities you can participate in. These activities, Jeep Off-Road Driving, Sporting Clays, fly fishing, skiing and zip-lining. In addition, there is a world class spa collection and exceptional dining featuring Lautrec one of only 27 restaurants in the world to boast Forbes Five-Star, AAA Five-Diamond dining. With so many things to do it is a must visit destination.
MW: Best advice you ever received — what was it and who from?
MJ: The best advice I ever received was “to do what you love to do” from my dear mom. My mom passed away a few years ago, but she always told me, “Having a job that you love to do makes it more of ‘passion’ than a job and you will enjoy your life more.” Thank you, Mom.
MW: You’ve got one course to play — where would you choose — and what three others would join your foursome?
MJ: St. Andrews in Scotland, I have never played it but it is the home of golf with so much history. My foursome would include Mark Rolfing (NBC/Golf Channel Analyst), my brother Steve Jones (not the tour player) and my daughter Kali Jones. Mark was my neighbor in Kapalua and we have become close friends. This group would laugh a lot and enjoy each other’s company.
MW: You wake up each morning — what drives you to do the very best?
MJ: I think it is two-fold. One is personal satisfaction. You want to feel good about yourself and the operations you are in charge of. Number two is the people you work with. Having them grow and become better professionals, as well as better human beings gives me a lot of personal satisfaction.