In 2019 the Thuringia countryside made it onto my golf bucket list and together with two colleagues we stayed at the outstanding Weimarer Land Spa & GolfResort and enjoyed two fantastic days, playing golf, enjoying the resort’s amenities, the restaurants, the bar and we even made it to Weimar once for a decent walk in culture, being an important heritage to German history, ranging from Goethe, to Schiller, Bauhaus and the Weimar Republic.
The resort is a 20 minute ride south of Weimar where Goethe loved to do his horseback riding. Golf in this region was fairly new when the resort opened to the public as an upmarket golf holiday retreat in a converted farm.
After years of making its way up in the golf ranking lists, it is indeed a spot you shouldn’t miss if you like golf and fancy a trip to that region.
With Thomas Mönch, golf manager at Weimarer Land, I had the chance to discuss some current challenges and got some interesting insights in the work and motives of Weimarer Land Spa & GolfResort.
Golficiency: We’re living in turbulent times currently, and the COVID-19 pandemic hits everybody hard worldwide, especially the sports and hotel industry. How are you coping, what’s currently going on on your golf courses right now?
Thomas Mönch: The Corona crisis has serious effects and implications on the Spa & GolfResort Weimarer Land. On 19 March we had to close down the complete resort until further notice. The golf courses are therefore not playable anymore, neither for guests nor for members of the club. In addition we closed the complete hotel operations with all gastronomic and wellness facilities. Our reservation desk sadly had to cancel all guests’ bookings for Easter and the Early May weekend, even in a fully booked situation. Gladly the majority of our regular guests agreed to postpone rather than fully cancel their bookings.
Unfortunately the closure of the resort also has impact on the staff. We are all working short-time, a forced reduction in working hours and pay. There are just a few people still at the reservation desk, with facilities and green-keeping fully operational these days. However for the green-keeping staff this is an unwanted but at the same time fairly optimal situation. All intended course optimization efforts can be executed without any external disturbance in a quick mannetr and to a proper quality. After the closure, our courses will present themselves in the best possible shape.
How is the Grafe family handling the imposed burdens and limitations?
The Grafe family gives a feeling of security to all staff members. Just before the closure, Matthias Grafe prepared everybody in small groups for the upcoming period of short-time working. He assured that he and his brothers are fully backing all employees and that his family will do everything possible to save everybody’s jobs and the resort altogether. Despite causing severe financial losses, the closure of the complete resort will be covered by the reserve assets of the family.
For personal matters the whole family put itself to self-imposed quarantine. All of their three kids are studying abroad and after their return to Germany, coming back from crisis areas to some extent, everybody was cautious for the family and the respective contact persons.
What’s the first you’re going to do after the stringent rules are becoming released to some extent?
If possible according to the then relevant restrictions and rules we’ll be coming to a full play mode operation for our members as quick as possible. Maybe even a restricted tournament mode will be possible. Nobody knows at this point how this is going to affect a potential re-opening of the hotel or the restaurants. If this should be allowed, we’ll of course open these immediately after relaxing of the current restrictions.
Personally I’m looking forward to my first private round of golf with my family here in our resort.
We at Golficiency keep our fingers crossed that this will materialize rather sooner than later. But coming from the current challenges during the Corona crisis to a more broader and general view, how would you describe your main duties as golf manager of this golf resort?
One of my commanders in the military once said, responsibility is individable. As golf manager you’re responsible for everything dealing with getting the small white ball airborne. The major duty I believe is staff recruiting, staff assignment and staff development, as only a good team will manage to tackle all the multifold tasks properly.
Only members and guests inspirit the resort, therefore member- and guest service is equally important I’d say. Here the tasks are often dependent on actions of guests and members, ranging from enthusing a potential new member, the handling of guest dinner comments, the behaviour of guests, the behaviour of staff, to technical problems and also “too slow greens”.
With over 100 tournament events a year, I’m also event manager and responsible for the preparation and realization of tournaments – from welcoming the players to the winning ceremony.
And even while we have a dedicated marketing team covering guest and member communication and PR alike, Marketing is still a management duty. I’m conducting interviews like this, am accountable in releasing press texts and the internet page of the resort, or manage the marketing budget.
And then I’d like to mention one task that’s clearly expected from a manager and that’s strategic development of the resort which is essiential for the long-term success. There we’re for example working on the expansion and development of our golf school and wellness offering with the Logical Golf learning method, the golf & health offering, the therapeutic fasting and the fitness check facilities.
Also we’re in the process of intensively work on increasing the number of golf capacities to 45 holes, as well as introducing an indoor training facility with golf simulator.
What has been your most interesting personal encounter in the resort to date?
Gladly, many celebrities in sports, politics and culture are visiting our resort regularly. Of course we’re protecting the personal privacy of our quests but one interesting encounter has been the visit of a former Chancellor of Germany. As a golf beginner he had to tackle the same problems just like any other golfer and being not in office anymore, he is just a human being like you and me. That was very comforting.
How about your own golf game?
I believe a golf manager should be able to play golf, with no special level of abilty required. With my 11 handicap I understand the game and all members and guests accept my decisions. I love playing a round with my family, in particular I’m enjoying evening 9 holes plus picnic once or twice a week with my wife.
If you should name three of your favorite golf holes here; which ones, and why?
Two of the holes are our signature holes. These are number 18 of the Feininger course and the 12 of the Goethe course.
The tee shot at the 18 of the Feininger course is impressive and can get you nervous, even as a good golfer. Being a par-3, the green is well guarded by a pond and three bunkers. It gets even more interesting when the GolfHütte’s sun terrace is fully occupied, then up to 100 people are watching you and your swing.
Hole 12 of the Goethe course offers a special treat to long-hitters. The elevated tee box was positioned by golf architect Achim Reinmuth and golf pro Mathias Jäckel in a way that it offers the possibility to reach the par 4 with the tee shot. But careful, 200 meters of carry are definitely necessary and the island green gets really narrow playing it that way. But also for players not so long, the hole offers beautiful views towards the Saalborn village and the green can be attacked with the second shot for almost every player.
The third favorite hole for me is number 3 of the Feininger course because I played eagle here already twice and it’s challenging every time. With a long drive you can attack the green with the second shot from around 170 meters over a penalty area. It’s tough but great fun when accomplished.
Leaving the Corona situation aside, in normal circumstances, how would you describe the course’s occupation during the summer season?
On the weekend during peak season we’re usually booked by 100 percent. That’s why I always recommend to book a tee time on a weekday, when possible. We do have teams visiting us, groups playing on weekdays adding to full occupancy on the course but also guests generally find enough tee times to enjoy a relaxed round of golf. That’s indeed in our interest – we don’t want to rush people over the course just to realize more tee times.
Apart from golf, the resort tries to offer a balanced range of culinary and gastronomic as well as wellness capabilities. Is that a complete different target audience or in the end a golfer with a slight different focus in the off-season?
Generally most of our golfing guests require a respective and premium culinary offering which is why they truly enjoy the overall experience. The wellness area clearly is a pleasant facility but back in the days, the Grafe family took a very strategic decision. In summer, our golf hotel is booked by golfers by approximately 85 percent but in winter there are very few golfers coming to the resort at all. At that time we are a classic wellness hotel with all necessary facilities to cater for this new target audience. I’m usually very delighted to see how wellness guests in winter actually take part in first golf lessons and I’m sure we could indeed enthuse many of them for the golf sport in general.
What’s the next milestone for the resort?
The expansion of the short course from three to nine holes and the construction of the indoor training facility with a golf simulator.
If you could have two wishes, one for you personally, one for the resort, what would that be?
For the resort I’m looking forward to constant progression and development and also the ongoing enthusiasm of the Grafe family to continue investing in the resort. For me personally, after nine years at the Spa & GolfResort Weimarer Land, I’d love to continue my efforts for this project and see it evolve in time.
Thank you very much, Thomas, for the interview and fingers crossed for a healthy 2020 season, a great opening after this weird and tough first months of the year. Wish you a great deal of luck for the months to come.
For further information please refer to the Spa & Golf Resort Weimarer Land website.