Prairie Club revises operations entering second year
Paul Schock is one of the most accomplished amateur golfers in South Dakota history. But when it comes to The Prairie Club, the ambitious golf resort project that he developed in the Sandhills of north-central Nebraska, Schock acknowledges that he needed a mulligan.
The Valentine, Neb., resort, which just celebrated its one-year anniversary, has some stunning assets, including two distinctive 18-hole courses, a short course, and an elegant lodge near the rim of the Snake River Canyon. Schock and his staff, however, quickly learned last year how difficult it is to run a high-end resort, particularly in a remote location.
“We really stumbled at times with our operations,” Schock said. “One of the strengths of The Prairie Club is that it’s a long way away. But trying to run a five-star resort in such a remote area is really hard. Hiring the right people has been really hard.”
Schock and some of his senior staff tried last year to manage the property from their offices in Sioux Falls, S.D., a four-hour drive from Valentine. That experience convinced him that he needed stronger onsite management. John Harbison, who had been the general manager of two Florida clubs over the past decade, was hired to fill that same role at The Prairie Club. The new head professional is Patrick Kilbride, who previously held that same title at Indian Creek Golf Club in Omaha.
WR Restaurants, a Sioux Falls company best known in the Midwest for its Minervas chain of upscale restaurants, now manages the property in conjunction with Regency Hotel Management Co., another Sioux Falls-based firm. The new management addressed a number of operational issues, especially food service.
“It seemed last year they had some particular challenges with food and beverage,” said Paul Van Bockern, the CEO of WR Restaurants.
Along with speeding up food delivery and hiring a new chef, WR Restaurants closed a retail shop on the lodge’s upper level and consolidated those operations in the pro shop on the lower level. That created new meeting space for about 50 people upstairs.
Caddiemaster was brought in to help guests navigate the Dunes and Pines courses. And the course architects – Tom Lehman on the Dunes and Graham Marsh on the Pines – have been making minor tweaks. Schock said those include Marsh softening some greens, while Lehman is making the Dunes’ fifth hole more driveable and turning the 18th into a dogleg.
The club is about to open three new two-story, eight-bedroom cabins along the canyon rim. Van Bockern’s goal is to run The Prairie Club at an occupancy rate of 60-70 percent this year. Schock said more than 3,000 room-nights already have been booked for this year.
The Prairie Club has about 250 members, and Van Bockern hopes to attract 75 new members this year. Schock is anxious to get started on construction of a third 18-hole layout, Old School, which will be a Gil Hanse-Geoff Schackelford collaboration. Van Bockern said his goal is to sell 500 memberships before starting that project.