Praiseworthy Blog

How to Provide an Exceptional Member Experience

Jim Cutter is the General Manager and COO at Des Moines Golf and Country Club in Des Moines, Iowa and inspires a positive member experience. With a history in golf management, Cutter leads Des Moines Golf with an emphasis on the people, both members and staff, he works with. Through his leadership, Des Moines Golf received a 97 percent positive feedback rating from Praiseworthy customer surveys. His management has led to great success for the club and member experience, including the opportunity to host the Solheim Cup in August, 2017.

Three Key Points:

  1. To ensure an exceptional member experience, hire the right people. (Jump to this section)

  2. The people are the center point of an organization. (Jump to this section)

  3. If you hire great people, then support them, empower them, and give them the space to get their job done. (Jump to this section)

Misa Chien [00.10]—Hello, and welcome to the Praiseworthy Leader Podcast, where we interview different amazing leaders around the world who care about things such as employee engagement, employee retention and building a beautiful company culture.

Today, we have one of my favorite clients that I work with, Jim Cutter. He has been working at the Des Moines Golf Club many many years, and we’re gonna learn from him so many lessons he learned from… Just last weekend, he did a brunch, hosting over a thousand people at his club. So, very excited to learn from Jim and all the lessons he’s learned over the year, over the last few years.

This podcast is brought to you by Praiseworthy, where we allow your customers to motivate your team through amazing customer feedback. And so just to mention our sponsor, you can learn more and subscribe to this podcast by visiting

So, I’ve got Jim on the line here and so excited to speak with you today, Jim. How are you?

Jim Cutter [01.20]—Wonderful. How are you Misa?

Going Golfing

Misa Chien [01.22]—Good, good. So, before we dive into your history with the Des Moines Golf Club, I just have to ask you a warm up question. And I asked this to Doug Ecklund, who we also worked with last time, what is, besides for the Des Moines Golf Club, what is your second favorite golf club to visit in the United States?

Jim Cutter [01.47]—Well, that would probably be Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Indiana. It’s a small club where I started the business as club house manager. The members were great to me. They let me cut my teeth in the clubhouse business. So, I really have a special place for it in my heart. Like Des Moines Golf, it is a Pete Dye design. It was one of Pete’s earliest designs. And it’s in the Golf Digest Top 100, Pete’s known as a father of modern golf course in architecture and is named in the golf Hall of Fame. Like Crooked Stick, Des Moines Golf was early in his career as well.

Fame in the Game

And then during my tenure at Crooked Stick, they hosted the ‘89 USGA Mid-Amateur and then the 1991 PGA where Jim Daly exploded on the golf scene. Since then, they’ve hosted the 2005 Solheim Cup, which I’ll talk a little bit further about, the Senior Open and the BMW Championship a couple of times. So, the Dyes live on the golf course; I got to know Pete through that. It was, somewhat, that relationship where we were up, brought me up to Des Moines, Iowa a couple years ago to develop a master plan for us. So, interesting place.

  1. To ensure an exceptional member experience, hire the right people.

Misa Chien [03.01]—Wow. That’s great. I’ve heard, I’ve actually visited Carmel, Indiana. It’s so beautiful there. So I completely understand why you picked that. To dive a little more into, you know you did mention, so you started in Carmel and then now you’re the General Manager of Des Moines Golf Club. So can you dive into that history a little bit more and how you got to where you are? I’d love to learn about that background.

Coming to Des Moines

Jim Cutter [03.26]—Sure, well I was at Crooked Stick for about 5 ½ years and after the PGA was over, I knew I wanted to be in the club business. I had gotten involved with the Club Managers Association, etcetera and I had a head-hunter reach out to me about a small club in Toledo, Ohio where I would be the General Manager. So I thought that was intriguing. I went there for almost four years. And then another head-hunter reached out to me about a larger club in the Chicagoland area in, I guess it was about ’95, ’96. And I went there.

Then finally, a head-hunter called me about this Des Moines job in early 2000, and I wasn’t very interested. I was living in Chicago, but why would you move to Des Moines? So, I kind of came out here as a favor to the head-hunter and I fell in love with it. I love the people, both the members and the staff. And the facilities were top notch. It’s really a gem that’s unknown, really, outside of Des Moines or outside of Iowa. So that’s how I got here.

Misa Chien [04.33]—That’s so great. And so, you know, it’s clear you love the people, because you’ve been there, working there for so long and what year are you on now that you’ve been there?

Jim Cutter [04.44]—Almost 17 years.

2. The people are the center point of an organization.

Misa Chien [4.46]—That’s amazing. So, of all those 17 years, you know it’s all about the people. I remember when we first met, you said it’s all about the members, about the staff. The people is what really builds your culture to what it is today. What’s your favorite story from those 17 years of working at the Des Moines Golf Club?

“Dan’s Walking to Work”

Jim Cutter [05.07]—I think a story that shows the members in the best light, we have a special needs gentleman that works at our outside golf operations and he’s been at the club, about just as long as I have. And he’s about my age. And then about 10 or 12 years ago, one of our office team members came to me and said, I think, I’ll use his name, I won’t use his last name, ‘I think Dan’s walking to work.’ And this was winter time, this was January.

Misa Chien [05.32]—Oh my goodness.

Jim Cutter [05.41]—So, he works here during the day and works at a place across the street at a grocery store at night, gathering carts up. And she came to me and said, ‘I think Dan’s walking.’ So I brought Dan in the office, and I said, ‘Dan, what’s up with your car?’ And he goes, ‘Well, I totaled it a couple weeks ago. So, I said, well how much do you have, and I didn’t want to get too personal, but I said, how much do you have set aside for a new car. And he told me, so I picked up the phone to one of the past club presidents and I said, he happened to be the president of the Iowa Automobile Dealers Association.

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Misa Chien [06.16]—Oh my goodness.

The Car

Jim Cutter [06.19]—And I said, ‘Gary, here’s the situation,’ I said, ‘you know Dan, down in the bag room,’ I said, ‘he’s totaled his car and this is what he’s got set aside for a new car.’ He said, ‘everyone knows Dan, let me go to work on this.’ So three days later, and most of them were $100 contributions, but three days later, the membership had raised $10,000.

Misa Chien [06.39]—Oh my gosh! Wow.

Jim Cutter [06.43]—So, Dan got a new car.

Misa Chien [06.45]—So you just surprised him? What was that moment like when you surprised him with that new car? Was he just…

Jim Cutter [06.52]—He was, he was ecstatic.  He couldn’t get over it. But the membership, just really, they’ve never changed. We have a gentleman right now going some struggles with cancer and they raised, this was a month ago, they raised $20,000 just through donations, for expenses that weren’t covered. I mean, he had health insurance when he worked here and that type of thing. But they’re just a very generous group.

Hosting the Solheim Cup

Misa Chien [07.16]—Wow that’s amazing. Well, it’s really just all about people. Those are some really beautiful stories as well. It’s probably why you’ve actually been chosen to host the Solheim Cup. Just give the audience some background here. The Solheim Cup is Europe’s best women versus USA’s best women in golf. And the Des Moines Golf Club will be the first ever 36-hole facility in the United States to host that international event. So, I’d love to learn a little bit more background on that, Jim.

What steps led you to be chosen for this tournament? I mean, it’s kind of obvious that you guys have an amazing company culture, a beautiful customer experience, but it’d be great to learn what steps led you there, just for listeners out there, how you got to the success you are.

Steps of Preparation

Jim Cutter [08.09]—Sure, well, we had hosted the US Senior Open Golf Tournament, back in 1999, that was before I got here, and it was an extremely successful event. It was successful for the city, for the USGA, for the United States Golf Association, it was successful for the entire state of Iowa and it was extremely successful for the club. And we still, that event, it still holds the record attendance for the Senior Open of 252 thousand people that week. And everyone was just blown away by that.

Pursuing another event

So over the years, we’ve kicked around the idea of doing another event. After the Senior Open was over, the membership, knew they really didn’t want an annual event here, they wanted something as prestigious as the Senior Open. So we talked to the USGA a little bit, there’s another Senior Tournament here in town every year now as a result of the Senior Open, and it’s a great event. But, in about 2011, several of us in management and several board members sat down and said, ‘Okay, what are our options for hosting a future event.’

And interestingly enough, the 2011 Solheim Cup had just wrapped up in Ireland just a few weeks before, and we thought, well what about the Solheim Cup. The golf course would lend itself well to the match play and the women’s game and so we asked our Ping representatives, Solheim is the family behind Ping golf clubs- Carson Solheim was the founder, and so we asked our Ping representative here at the club, who should we reach out to? And she said, reach out to John Solheim, who’s now the president of the club, or company, and reach out to the LPGA.

The Solheim Cup

So that’s what we did. We wrote a letter to each of them and said we’d be interested in talking to you further about possibly hosting the Solheim Cup in 2015, because the 13 had been named, the 15 was going to be in Germany we knew that, so in 17, so we said, what about in 2017.

So, interestingly enough, during the Senior Open, a lady by the name of Kelly Hein who is with the LPGA and was very instrumental in making the decision about 2017 was here for the Senior Open and she said, you know, you’ve been on my radar for quite some time and certainly glad you reached out to us.

So it was a long process. We involved a gentleman by the name of Suku Radia a well-known businessman in town, a banker, very well connected, we involved him as the tournament director, if you will, tournament chair. And we got the ball rolling and we worked with the Des Moines partnership, the Chamber of Commerce, Convention of Visitors Bureau, also known as Catch Des Moines, and we worked with the IPA group, company here in town that does incentive business travel and we put together an RFP (request for proposal), that the LPGA now considers the standard of RFPs for the event.

Preparation that pays off

Misa Chien [11.12]—Wow, well that is a lot of preparation to get to that point. And it looks like it all paid off.

Jim Cutter [11.17]—Yeah, it was about a two-year process.

Misa Chien [11.20]—Wow, that’s great. How are you preparing for this really big event that led all up to this Cup? How are you preparing in the weeks to come, in the weeks and months?

Jim Cutter [11.32]—Yeah, we started literally preparing in September 2013, right after they awarded the event. The LPGA moved a couple of people here, including the tournament director, Chris Garret, he moved here with his family early in 2014. Back then, it was a few hours a week of work for me. We started entertaining different corporate sponsorships, talking to people about a level of corporate sponsorship for local companies and some international companies.

And then it’s been everything from where to put bleachers, to where to put corporate hospitality, how many video walls are we going to have, what are the players going to eat, where are we going to put the merchandise tents and those types of things. So it’s pretty intricate planning process. We’re hoping to see 150 to 200 thousand that week.

3. If you hire great people, then support them, empower them, and give them the space to get their job done.

Misa Chien [12.31]—That’s amazing. That’s super exciting. And so, it sounds like with this tournament and with this cup, and just with everything, you have a lot of different responsibilities across so many different departments. What’s the number one piece of advice you would give to another manager who’s just looking over so many different departments at the same time and having to manage that customer experience across so many different levels?

Jim Cutter [13.03]—Well, my philosophy, and it works for me, I don’t know if it’ll work for everybody, but has always been, just hire the best people you can. Let them know that I’m here to support them, which I do, and I also am gonna hold them accountable. Then just get out of their way and let them do their job. It’s served us very well.

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Hiring contributes to member experience

We’ve a very…I have 8 direct reports, and I kind of cringe when I say that because we’re a great team of 9 people. But they work closely with each other, it’s a very tight group. We have a staff meeting every Wednesday at 2 o’clock. We get along very well, we see each other outside of work on occasion. It doesn’t matter if it’s the director of clubhouse operations and the director of golf or the director of grounds and the director of tennis, just a good relationship with everybody. We get along extremely well.

Part of that is when we hire people. When we hired the director of grounds, I got our director of golf involved immediately and deeply, because they have to work with each other on a daily basis and they have to get along. Same thing when we hired our director of events. We used the executive chef and our director of clubhouse operations, because those people are going to be working hand in hand, a lot more than I am going to work with them. So, it’s worked out very well.

Leadership as support

Misa Chien [14.26]—That’s great. It definitely comes through you know, when we work with you on getting you feedback on your team. It really comes through that you have an amazing staff, you know, what is your secret? So you already have great people—how do you regularly motivate them? You mentioned you did a thousand person brunch, did I hear that correctly? A thousand person brunch for mother’s day. How do you get through to motivate your team in such a fast-paced environment like events such as that?

Jim Cutter [14.57]—It’s just, I’m there to support them, I’m there as a team. I was running food out to the buffets on Sunday. I don’t mind doing that. But it comes from the top and I think I need to be above, not above doing anything that needs to be done. And they see that. And this group doesn’t really take a lot of motivation, I can tell you that.

Misa Chien [15.28]—Great. So you already find people who have that inner drive.

Jim Cutter [15.32]—I think that’s the key.

Culture comes from attitude

Misa Chien [15.34]—That’s great. Wonderful. Is there something you look for when you have that initial interview? Are there certain traits that fit that company culture? What kind of, what do you look out for?

Jim Cutter [15.46]—Yes. Just the attitude. It’s gotta be a can-do attitude. There’s a, just, like when we hire servers, and I don’t do that. I don’t hire a lot of people because I have my team and then they hire their teams. When we hire a server, we know we can teach him serve from the left, remove from the right. But we can’t teach him the attitude of, ‘Yes Mrs. Jones, let me run back and get that for you.’ So it makes it easier.

Misa Chien [16.20]—I completely understand what you’re saying because I actually previously had a food truck and it was, you know, at first we just hired anyone who could make a sandwich on the food truck. Then we soon figured out that we had this saying. Anyone can make a sandwich, but not everyone can have an unbelievable attitude. It’s key to find those diamonds in the rough to help you continue to build that great company culture.

So it sounds like you really have that down. I’ve seen that even after working a little over a month now with you, you have over 97 percent positive feedback on Praiseworthy– that’s even higher than the average in our system. How are you able to make so many members of your club happy and achieve such a high retention rate? How do you accomplish that?

Hire the right people

Jim Cutter [17.13]—Well again, the key in all of this, is hire the right people. And then encourage them as they, each day, you know, ‘you’re doing great.’ And the thing about Praiseworthy that, what we really like about it was that it allows them to see how they are doing, not just where we think they’re doing. It’s quantifiable there. We love the benchmarking report. It ranks our servers and makes them kick it up a notch, we think it’s done that. And who wants to be number two? I want to be here and I want to be number one.

Misa Chien [17.48]—Great. And was that kind of your ‘wow’ moment? Or what was your ‘wow moment’ since working together?

Jim Cutter [17.53]—Yeah, that was the ‘wow moment.’ When we saw, I mean if Laurie, our director of clubhouse operations, and I had to have ranked the servers, they would not be in the ranks that Praiseworthy sent over. So that was kind of a ‘wow moment,’ like, really. In a good way.

Who would you praise?

Misa Chien [18.10]—Oh good. Well I’m so glad we’ve been able to provide you with that insight. Just to end out this interview, we always ask, who would you like praise in your life today and why?

Jim Cutter [18.27]—Oh it’d have to be my wife, Sandy. She’s caring, nurturing and most insightful person I know. Early in my career, I worked way too many hours, trying to climb the ladder. But she did an awesome job of raising our two very successful daughters, almost by herself. So it would definitely be her.

Misa Chien [18.46]—Wow. Well you heard it audience. Jim would like to praise Sandy. She’s one of the reasons that he’s reached this pillar of success so far. Thank you all so much for listening and thank you for your time today, Jim.

Jim Cutter [19.02]—Thank you. I enjoyed it.

Misa Chien [19.04]—And so once again this is the Praiseworthy Leader podcast. And it’s brought to you by Praiseworthy, where we allow customers to motivate your team through amazing customer feedback. To learn more and subscribe to this podcast, you can visit Thank you so much.


Des Moines Golf and Country Club

Information of the 2017 Solheim Cup


Praiseworthy-an organization that seeks to enhance positive company culture by partnering with businesses in supplying an opportunity to survey customers and receive honest results of member experience. Learn more about our growing company here.

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