Eagle-Vail golf pro comes full circle
Zach Ray may be the newest head golf professional at the Eagle-Vail golf course, but his is a familiar face in the golf community.
After all, Ray worked for the Eagle Vail Metropolitan District, which owns the course, as assistant golf pro from 1997 to 1998.
After that he worked as the assistant pro for the Eagle Springs Golf Club in Wolcott. His experience earned him the distinction of Assistant Golf Professional of the Year for 2004, an honor bestowed on him by Colorado’s Western Chapter of the Professional Golf Association.
But his days with the Eagle-Vail Metro District were never far from his heart.
“I really believe in Eagle-Vail,” he said. “I loved it when I was here and I’m excited about being back.”
The district’s board of directors are happy to have him back, too. They also hope Ray’s enthusiasm, experience and knowledge can help make the county’s oldest golf course competitive again.
The task ahead
Nestled at the base of evergreen mountains, the Eagle-Vail public golf course attracted tourists and local residents and was the central fixture of the Eagle-Vail Metropolitan District.
“It’s a great golf course,” Ray said. “It’s a true mountain golf course.”
For the past few years, however, participation and sales have dwindled, several metro district officials have said. However, they could not provide specific numbers that show that decline.
Part of the problem may simply be there’s more competition. There are almost a dozen private and public golf courses in Eagle County now. The recent downturn in the economy may have also played a factor in Eagle-Vail’s business, Ray said.
Construction near the golf course hasn’t helped business either, said Walter Allen, metro district board president.
“By far the greatest issue we’ve dealt with has been Eagle-Vail looking like a war zone,” Allen said, referring to road projects such as a new Interstate 70 interchange and work on U.S. Highway 6. “With the installation of the half-diamond, Highway 6 construction, the total replacement of the irrigation system on the golf course, we had a lot of issues going on there.”
The metro district board has a new sense of optimism with Ray’s arrival, as well as that of John Felizzi, the new food and beverage director for the golf course restaurant, Mulligan’s.
“Zach Ray is young and bright and full of energy,” Allen said. “He has a great passion for bringing youth into golf and that is quite exciting to the board. He will bring a new enthusiasm to sort of reinvent the golf course, in terms of programs and offerings.”
Critics say the previous head golf pro, Mark Kizzire, failed to provide the kind of customer service required to help Eagle-Vail compete.
“The metro district is a little bit behind on the concept that it is a business,” said Christie Banowetz, who was recently appointed to the metro district board. “It’s not an exclusive golf course, it’s a public course. I don’t think they got that picture until it was too late.”
Kizzire, who worked for the metro district for about four years, left to be closer to his family in Alabama, Allen said
Bringing the customers back
When it comes to strategies to increase the number of golf rounds played in Eagle-Vail, Ray said he is full of ideas.
Bringing pass holders back to the golf course, and more often, is important. Ray also would like to tap a new market.
“I’m really interested in introducing the game to new golfers,” he said. “I’m interested in junior golfing, reaching out to non-golfing spouses. Maybe young businessmen who would like to learn the game.”
Ray understands that public relations constitutes a huge part of his job. Too many local residents who used to play in Eagle-Vail have gone elsewhere, he said.
“I still believe in the idea that the customer is always right,” Ray said.
Building a relationship with each customer, respecting people and treating golfers fairly and equally is key, he said. That same mentality will be used with the 25 people Ray will supervise.
“Zach had a good way with people,” said Ray’s former supervisor, Eagle Springs Golf Club head golf pro Mike Steiner. “In this business that’s what it’s all about. You can get a lot of things done if you can get the people around you to support you.”
It’s for the love of the game
Introducing golf to the uninitiated seems to be a particular passion for Ray. Maybe it’s because he’s such a golf fan himself.
Ray began playing golf while growing up in California. He competed in high school and continued to play after he joined the Air Force. After graduating from Chico State University with a degree in resort management he took a job with Hyatt hotels. That job brought him to Denver, and eventually, to Beaver Creek. And that’s how Ray came to be a fixture in Eagle County’s golfing community.
Ray lives in the Cotton Ranch subdivision in Gypsum with his wife, Denise, and three children – Zane, 4, Cody, 2 and baby Ashley, who is just 6-months-old.
Ray said most children don’t start playing golf until they are strong enough to swing a golf club – around 6 or 8 years old. But Zane has already shown an interest. “He had an introduction at 3-and-a-half and he just started doing it,” he said. “He can hit (the golf ball) hard.”
If Ray has his way, he’ll be showing others how to swing a golf club, too.
The golf course is expected to open April 30.
Mulligan’s gets new director
By Tamara Miller
Daily Staff Writer
Quality food, quality service. And all done quickly. The fact that Mulligan’s Restaurant serves a clientele on the go isn’t lost on the restaurant’s new food and beverage director, John Felizzi.
“Golfers want to get in, eat good food and get back on the golf course,” he said.
Felizzi comes to the restaurant most recently from the Mt. Mansfield Resort in Stowe, Vt. Felizzi also has worked for the Breckenridge Ski Corporation and as a vice president and director of food service for Vail Associates.
“John comes with such a wealth of background in food service and has some exciting new ideas about better serving the golfers at Mulligan’s,” said Walter Allen, president of the Eagle-Vail Metropolitan District board. “It’s sort of like a new beginning and quite exciting to the board.”
As such, expect some changes at Mulligan’s.
Felizzi is developing more of a pub-style menu than a bistro menu. He also plans to present an express menu so a person needing a quick lunch need only to fill out an order form to get their food in a flash, he says.
Breakfast sandwiches and hot dogs are just an example of what the restaurant will provide. But just because it’s quick doesn’t mean it won’t be good, Felizzi said.
And there will be no skimping on service, either.
Felizzi knows from experience that golfers and resort communities alike expect a high level of service. That criteria is playing a large role as Felizzi hires restaurant staff, he says.
“The food and beverage community is small and word is getting out,” he said. “We will attract the kind of folks that are capable of giving the kind of service I require.”
The restaurant is expected to open April 30.