udging by Dirk Willis’ ramp-up speed, it would appear that relocating from the Midwest to Southern California in the dead of winter is not exactly hardship duty. The newly minted vice president of Pelican Hill Golf Club® and Oak Creek Golf Club® is forging ahead as he seeks to invigorate both golf programs and ensure best-in-quality facilities, services and player experiences.
Willis hails from Kohler, Wisconsin, where as director of golf operations he oversaw the Kohler Company’s 72 world-class holes, including the 36 holes at Whistling Straits, host to the 2010 and 2015 PGA Championships. Pelican Hill’s previous golf VP, Steve Friedlander, also came from Whistling Straits.
“Steve’s been a mentor for nearly 18 years,” says Willis, a college golf standout. “He helped me develop a well-rounded business skill set, which I then used to become my own businessperson with a unique management style.”
Willis is not your average PGA professional. Born in Germany into a military family, he grew up in Platteville, Wisconsin, and earned an MBA from Marquette University and a degree from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. He worked as a Best Western desk clerk before becoming a golf pro in 1994 and joining the staff at Blackwolf Run. Willis rose quickly through the ranks, even lending a hand periodically at the company’s Old Course Hotel & Resort in St. Andrews, Scotland.
Numerous visits to Pelican Hill® over the past five years likely stoked Willis’ interest in joining the team. He was so impressed by the Resort’s beauty and “jaw-dropping” Pacific setting that he organized a golf trip for some of his Whistling Straits members. “Everyone raved about the facilities and the service,” he says. “The level of quality put into every detail here is appealing. It’s very similar to what I experienced at the Kohler properties.”
Willis is committed to gaining a true understanding of guests and regulars and to ensuring that every aspect of the golf facilities exceeds their expectations. The key, he adds, is developing and maintaining the facilities and the staff to deliver that experience to members and guests day in and day out.
“The single greatest thing I learned from Steve,” says Willis, “was to identify talented people and do all that you can to develop and challenge them. Success is compounded when you help others be successful.”
Not only is Willis excited about the job, but the diehard Green Bay Packers fan is also looking forward to cheering on his team “while not having to plow out of 5-foot snow drifts. I’ll always have my roots in Wisconsin,” he says, “but I love the West, and I am truly looking forward to this opportunity.”