Roy Barth Makes Service Count At Award-Winning Kiawah Island
By Roger Cox
On May 1, 2006, Roy Barth celebrated his 30th year as the tennis director at Kiawah Island Golf Resort near Charleston, S.C. Over those three decades, he has survived multiple owners, hurricanes, open-heart surgery, and a brain tumor, and yet still shepherded Kiawah to a ranking as the No. 1 tennis resort in the U.S. in Tennis magazine and No. 1 in the world on TennisResortsOnline.com.
And now, in recognition of his decades of stellar service, Kiawah recently renamed the 12-court East Beach Tennis Center in his honor.
Low-key and personable, Barth joined Kiawah fresh off the professional tour, where he held a Top 10 ranking in the U.S. in both singles and doubles. “I knew nothing about the resort business,” he recalls. “I knew tennis as a player, and I liked people. Those are my two assets.”
He admits to early mistakes, like offering a stroke-of-the-day clinic several times a week without changing the topic, but he quickly realized his error. To make sure the programs he offered were those guests wanted, he began to keep track of their requests, a system that continues to this day.
“Every year we look at what the guests have asked about that we didn’t have,” he says, “and each year we’ve added things based on their comments.” Often he test-markets first, as he did with a singles round-robin for adults. “It was successful and like other round-robins, takes the pressure off our game-matching,” he notes.
The very nature of his camps and clinics also evolved to reflect what guests desire. “They really want the workout,” says Barth, “so you’ve got to favor the workout first and then really help them as you go along instead. When I try to teach too much, their eyes start rolling.”
What he teaches in a resort setting also has to avoid conflicting with the instruction at their local club. “We have to be careful not to contradict the pro at home or put them down,” says Barth. “So we try to emphasize things that are common denominators that all good players do well, like how to watch the ball properly, how to get down low, how to use ‘leverage’ — a term they probably haven’t heard. These are things that can improve their games without radically changing their strokes.”
Not only are his camps booming, but participants liked this instruction so much that they asked Barth to write down the tips. Responding again to guests’ requests, he created a “Tips For Better Tennis” booklet that he gives to campers and sells in the shop.
Tennis Director Roundtables
When he was new to the job, he often called other tennis directors for advice. Eventually, he started an annual roundtable that brought together six or seven pros from resorts in the mid-Atlantic and South during the slow season for a weekend of discussions about common issues, from guest services to the best-selling lines of clothing and equipment.
They also shared information about their budgets, submitting their gross numbers and percentages anonymously and then compiling a chart. “You knew what your numbers were so you knew where you stood with everybody else: percentage of payroll to total revenue, percentage of controllable expenses to total revenue, then the bottom line: profit to total revenue,” he says.
“We also brought in guest speakers,” Barth recalls. “One year we had a guy who worked for a display company and he went through the basics of merchandising, how people walk in and they look from left to right and they look for color first. We also had Wade Herren come in to talk about court maintenance.”
That led to a perpetual maintenance program at Kiawah, in which Barth blocks off one or two courts and deals with lines, algae, nets — anything that can be a safety or aesthetic problem. “We get more out of these two, three days than we would at a national convention because it’s very specific to our business, plus we can talk to each other directly,” he says.
Barth’s employers have tended to be bottom-line oriented, so budgeting has been a crucial skill for him to acquire. “You’ve got to be organized and plan in advance,” he insists. “I’ve got my folder for my ‘07 budget right now. So when things come up, I write them down.”
That way he avoids items easily forgotten in the crunch of preparing a budget — things like teaching carts, for example, new awnings, or replacement water fountains, all of which subtly impact the guest experience. “For the first 10 years, I didn’t do that,” he says.
Meanwhile, although Kiawah holds the No. 1 ranking, Barth isn’t resting on his laurels. He’s revising his tips booklet, preparing a poster with tips for the pro shop, and looking to add Cardio Tennis. “You have to keep coming up with new stuff,” he says.
Roy Barth’s Secrets to Success
- Keep track of your guests, or members, requests. Then review them periodically to adjust your offerings to fit their needs.
- When instructing transient players, emphasize things that are common to all good players and things that can improve their games without changing their strokes.
- Seek out advice from and share information with other tennis directors or teaching pros in situations similar to your own.
- Start the budget-planning process early.
See all articles by Roger Cox
About the Author
Roger Cox is the founder of Tennis Resorts Online, an award-winning guide to tennis resorts and camps worldwide.