It’s not easy getting a seat quickly at the Ahwatukee Country Club on a Friday night ever since it started offering an all-you-can-eat fish fry.
Ditto for the occasional Thursdays when the menu features all-you-can-eat prime rib with all the trimmings.
Now if he can just do that more nights a week in the clubhouse dining room – and more days on greens – Paul Collinsworth will be a happy man.
It’s a big challenge for the new general manager.
On one hand, he admits, “golf has taken a hit lately. Not many people want to come out and play for four or five hours.”
And when it comes to the clubhouse dining room, there are those people who think the Ahwatukee Country Club is a members-only deal. And to make things even more challenging, there’s a lot of restaurant competition – at least four restaurants and a couple of fast food joints that are a shorter walk than some fairways.
But what’s a few challenges for the Missouri native, who came to Arizona in 1999 to get his degree at ASU and never looked back?
“We’re all about a good product and a good price,” Collinsworth said. “We’ve got a great food-and-beverage department. We’ve got a great facility. There are some really good people out here and it’s a wonderful neighborhood.”
Collinsworth is betting on that kind of combination to breathe new life not only into the golf course, but also the clubhouse – which anyone can use for a wedding with fewer than 100 guests or tournaments, a card game or other group event or, of course, breakfast, lunch and dinner.
He’s working on plans to gin up attendance at both.
First, the golf course.
“We’ve got a lot of programs coming up this summer for juniors,” he said. “We’ve got great instructors who do a lot of individual lessons, and they’re fabulous with juniors,” he said. “We just put new sand in all the bunkers, we’re improving things around the building and making it more pleasant to the eye.”
That way, golfers won’t just come out to play around, but they’ll stick around and have a drink on the patio or in the spacious dining room with big windows giving diners and drinkers a view of the course and the mountain in the background.
Nearly 7,000 yards in distance with a par 72, the course already is home to many tournaments for members and non-members – including Cactus Jack’s annual fundraising Christmas tournament and the Junior Golf Association of Arizona.
Additionally, the course’s team of PGA/LPGA professionals provide lessons and clinics for all skill levels.
The course is also home to the Mountain Pointe High School golf team for practices and hosts other teams in the Arizona Division I Central.
“We enjoy watching these young players develop their game as well as helping make golf accessible to them,” said one employee.
And even though the course and clubhouse are open to the public, Ahwatukee Country Club does offer memberships that entitle purchasers to play at both the Foothills in Ahwatukee and The Duke At Rancho El Dorado near Maricopa.
Collinsworth also tries to maintain a balance between catering to the public and making sure members feel special.
“I just want to make sure that people know that we love our members and we always try to make things better for them,” he said.
Members are entitled to a host of perks, such as unlimited green fees at all three courses, unlimited range balls, 14-day advance registration and discounts at the pro shop and the dining/bar area.
The clubhouse bar and dining room present their own challenges to Collinsworth, who worked as an assistant manager at Foothills Golf Club for about a year and a half before he was promoted about a month ago to oversee operations at Ahwatukee Country Club.
Shantel Camacho, the director of food and beverage, pointed out that there is always some event happening on the property and not always golf-related.
“We’ve hosted weddings and receptions, baby showers, political breakfasts and lunches, fundraising events, celebrations of life, and local charities and business events at ACC. We can cater to any budget,” she said.
The specialty dinner nights just as prime rib night or the recent St. Patrick’s Day all-you-can-eat corned beef meal – have been big hits – as have the weekly Friday fish fry.
They’ve even added the popular Midwestern cheese curds to the menu.
Collinsworth and Comacho also are planning to take advantage of the big-screen TVs at the clubhouse to build parties around special sporting events like the Masters. And they are coming up with other events, like a ladies’ pampering session, to draw nongolfers to the site.
Collinsworth admits he’s got his work cut out for him, but he also exudes a lot of confidence – partly because he believes the course offers a satisfying experience for any golfer and partly because he believes he is part of a management team with vision.
“We have people coming from North Scottsdale to play,” he said. “People know about us and that’s good. It’s a good product. We’re lucky to have the resources that we have and the leadership that we have that empowers us as employees to take care of the guests and make some calls and not be scared about it. You know what I mean? That’s nice feeling.”