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Randy Bolstad, of Willow Crest Golf Club, named Merchandiser of the Year - Resort

By Tim Cronin

Tucked away in a comparatively small corner of a large resort, Randy Bolstad’s golf shop features a product line unique to Chicago.

Try to find another shop that features Brooks Brothers clothing. Or similar high-end merchandise beyond the usual run of soft goods.

Bolstad has been at Willow Crest Golf Club, the feature attraction of the Hilton / Oak Brook Hills Resort, it opened in the mid-1980s. He’s seen several different owners and hotel brands come and go – the latter will change again at the end of the year – and has been the constant for every customer, whether it’s the occasional guest needing a set of rental clubs to play in an outing or his regulars, including a small group of club members.

The combination means Bolstad has to serve all manner of customers, most of them with unfamiliar faces. Clearly, he’s succeeded in that regard. This year’s award is his 13th, a section record for any category, and the first for his shop since 2008. (He’s also a three-time Horton Smith Award section recipient, and in 2009, the chain then controlling the 400-room hotel singled Bolstad and his staff out as a key to its being named the company’s golf property of the year.)

It’s quite a set of honors for someone who expanded to get back to a private club after starting in it.

“I enjoy the resort business,” Bolstad said. “I was at Butler National and fortunate to work for Bruce Patterson, Errie Ball and Don Kubiak. I anticipated being here four or five years, and I really liked it here.”

Bolstad offers variety and service, the latter including a recently-opened fitting center for the full line of Titleist and FootJoy products, and including a golf course simulator loaded with 80 courses, including Willow Crest, for customers to try out clubs or play a round on – wearing their new shoes.

Because of the nature of the resort’s footprint, it’s not connected to the main shop, but down the hall. That’s not a detriment, because it’s on the corner of a high-traffic area leading to a restaurant in one direction and the main hallway of the hotel on the other.

The simulator, one of two – the other is in the aforementioned restaurant – should keep Bolstad’s shop busy in the winter. When outdoor play drops off, he’ll have those as an attraction, and the fitting area to boost the bottom line.

Curiously, Bolstad learned over the years that what many guests want isn’t something with the course logo on it, no matter how attractive it may be. Most of his soft goods is sans Willow Crest identification. That’s knowing your audience.

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