Walther Vliegen is in his third stint working at The Plantation at Ponte Vedra Beach and is the current general manager and COO of the club community. There is just something that continued to bring him back to The Plantation and the north Florida area that always felt like home and the right fit for both him and his family.
Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
I grew up in Holland before we moved right across the Dutch border into Belgium because my parents built a very modern house and found a beautiful piece of land on a little stream.
I went to law school in Amsterdam for two years. I liked living in Amsterdam better than I liked studying law.
My father said I could make one change and I told him I would like to go to hotel management school, and I ended up going to the states as part of a post graduate internship in Atlanta, which was very cool.
I did that for about a year and a half before I branched out and did a big tour of the U.S., which is something most Europeans want to do.
My first GM job was in 1986 when I became the general manager of a small club in Springfield, Illinois called the Illini Country Club. It was a great first job to get my feet wet, and I got them wet alright for sure.
What has your career path looked like?
I split my career fairly evenly between hotels and the resorts and the club business.
My first time with The Plantation came in 1989 and I was there until 1995. It was a really unique opportunity, because it wasn’t just managing the club, but also helping to develop it.
When I first arrived there was still nothing much here and we only had a scant 25 to 30 homes at the most, in which most of them were like model homes that various builders would show.
I then went back into the hotel business for 10 years, before coming back to The Plantation in 2005 and that time I was here through 2011.
That was when we did the first masterplan and renovation of the clubhouse, making it into a fitness center and moving casual dining to the same level as the “formal” dining on the second floor. It was a great deal more efficient because everything could operate out of the same kitchen.
That renovation really built us some momentum, because until we built a casual bar, we didn’t have that much social action. It changed it all for the better, and we built a new golf shop.
How long have you been back for your third stint?
I ran a private development up in the Carolinas for 10 years before deciding to retire when I turned 70, because I figured I had worked enough at this.
However, after being retired for about a year and a half, I suddenly got an inquiry from The Plantation in the middle of May to see if I would consider coming back as an interim GM or consultant.
We were living here, so being able to be a GM again with about an eight-minute commute was really attractive, plus it helps that we have a truly dynamite staff to work with.
I have really been welcomed back by the entire staff and a lot of the members also remember me from the times I spent here before.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
The club world is really great because you get to know your customers fairly well because you see them on an everyday basis, while in hotels and resorts everything is so transitional. I think that’s what really attracted me to keep coming back to clubs.
The whole personal level of service and communication is really fantastic at clubs, and in general you can take a great amount of ownership when something is right, or something is wrong. You can truly make it what it should be.
You have instant and direct feedback in the club business.
Those relationships are so important because being GM of a community like this is really not an administrative position. You have to get out there and get to know your community because you are its face and that is who they interact with.
What are some of the fun things you have to get The Plantation community involved?
One of the things we started, and it’s probably been going on for 20 or 30 years now is our luau celebration.
It’s really important to me for the lifestyle that you bring to have a certain element of having a good time, just as much as having a beautiful house and neighbors.
It’s that social dynamic that really creates that community atmosphere that we’ve instilled here.