Differentiating Great From Extraordinary

Scottsdale, Arizona: When Renegade, the first of six Jack Nicklaus courses opened at Desert Mountain, Scottsdale was still in its infancy. “I know it’s hard to fathom, but many of the streets leading to the club were still dirt roads,” detailed Nicole Forbes, director of membership. “Over time, Scottsdale and all its amenities grew to us. We now have just about every store and service, minus maybe a Nordstrom, minutes away.

“Today, Desert Mountain is an 8,000-acre, luxury private community with 108 holes of Nicklaus golf; a par-54 short course; Jim Flick Golf Performance Center; seven clubhouses; 10 restaurants; nine tennis courts; 20 miles of hiking trails; and more than 40 social clubs,” explained Forbes. “In summary, it’s a lot of amenities to say in one sentence!”

Two of the most recent enhancements have been a renovation of Renegade and the opening of No. 7, one of only two USGA rated short courses in America.

“No. 7 is a real departure from our other golf experiences,” said Forbes. “On 16 of 18 holes, you can putt from tee to green. I played with my dad [age 83], husband [age 41], and my son [age 12]. All of us have different levels of golf ability and had a grand time. It was a family bonding unlike any other.”

Last year was a record breaker with more than $7 million in membership initiation fees flowing into the coffers.

“The market is strong due to the desirability of Scottsdale and the outdoor paradise our area of the country affords,” winked Forbes. “Mathematically, the numbers work. Since Desert Mountain was turned over to the members almost a decade ago, the club had one assessment—and it was for a very good reason—to build the Sonoran Clubhouse, one of seven clubhouses. It’s not just a gym, it’s the hub of social activity.

“Our demographics have been skewing younger because of our focus on family-friendly activities. Our youth center offers everything from tutoring to bowling. We now boast more than 600 members under the age of 55. Part of my time is allocated to promoting our ‘double nickel club’ for those residents under 55 who have children. The goal is to connect younger families with one another who have shared interests.”

A Man Of The Members

The season kicked off this year with the annual Dos Amigos and Dos Amigas Member/Member tournaments.

“We definitely have some of the more unusual names for competitions,” said John Lyberger, Desert Mountain’s PGA director of golf. “Our Rattler and Gunsmoke tournaments are always well attended, and our Cactus Classic is Desert Mountain’s version of a pro-am that raises money for the club’s scholarship fund.

“Our size provides distinct advantages,” said Lyberger. “We had 520 golfers participate in last year’s member/guest. A microsite was created to allow entrants to preorder from six different selections of Polo Ralph Lauren apparel. Come tournament time, logoed merchandise was waiting for them in personalized gift boxes. Polo Ralph Lauren even went the extra mile by staging a pop-up outlet at the club that looked like a showroom straight from headquarters in New York City.

“Another benefit we have is the ability to staff different personnel in our teaching and retail divisions. Most private clubs need to combine the positions by hiring a jack of all trades. We run a $5 million retail business, justifying hiring the best. When hiring, necessary skills with a smile are a given. I look for the best candidate who excels at problem solving, whether it be for a member or a vendor.”

Desert Mountain’s Jim Flick Golf Performance Center is a busy place with over 1,000 lessons and 700 club fittings booked this year. “Jim was the community’s long- time director of instruction,” said Lyberger. “He was a man of the members and the 6,500-square-foot, stand-alone facility was dedicated in memory of what he contributed to Desert Mountain and the game of golf.”

A Changed Man

With a staff of 800 and annual revenues of $78 million, Desert Mountain is a large operation, no matter the matrix.

Damon DiOrio, CEO at Desert Mountain, brings a set of life experiences (and impressive resume) to the table.

“I was in my early twenties and had just finished a work day at Charlotte Country Club,” recalled DiOrio. “I passed a mirror and, almost by chance, noticed a softball size bruise on my thigh. Shortly thereafter, my nose started to bleed. Alarmed, I called my doctor and within hours, transported by ambulance to the hospital.”

The diagnosis of leukemia was grim. Damon fell into a 91-day coma and twice had a priest by his bedside.

“I believe we all face challenges and mine happened to come earlier in life,” said DiOrio.

After successfully entering remission and returning to work, the disease returned three years later. “It was pure hell,” said a teary-eyed DiOrio.

When asked how the ordeal transformed him, Damon was quick to respond. “It changed everything about me. I underwent 1,465 days of chemotherapy and now don’t take a moment for granted. It taught me to hug my family tighter and keep everything in context.”

With his 50th birthday looming, an opportunity presented itself. “A headhunter inquired if I would be interested in a move to Desert Mountain,” recalled DiOrio. “Being in the industry, it’s hard not to know the sterling reputation the exclusive community has around the world. It’s an extraordinary place that I thought had even more potential.”

Now, in his third year of tenure at Desert Mountain, Damon’s fingerprints can be seen across all club divisions. “We are the finest golf and recreation community in North America,” beamed DiOrio. “You don’t join here for one reason.”

New initiatives implemented by Damon include Helping Hands, a charity established to exclusively help Desert Mountain staff suffering a life crisis. “If we treat our staff with care, respect, and dignity, they, in turn, will treat our residents and members right. Each morning, we have the opportunity to start with a clean canvas to make it a better day,” concluded DiOrio.

After spending an afternoon with Damon, I'm confident he has several Picasso paintings in his future.

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