“I look forward all year long to seeing my usual guests that come back,” she said. “I’ll run out and greet them as soon as I see them drive up.”
That warmth and personal attention hasn’t gone unnoticed by guests. Harris and her co-worker Inez Luke won the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau Masters of Hospitality award for 2011, each with 11 individual nominations.
CVB president and CEO Barry White said the program is designed to reward those in the Augusta hospitality industry who go above and beyond the call of duty during their toughest week of the year.
“Our hotel employees make a tremendous impact on our visitors’ experience, and we are proud to recognize those who go out of their way to make that experience great,” White said.
Luke has worked at Courtyard by Marriott for only one year. She said her first Masters experience last year was positive.
“I just get so excited thinking about it,” she said of this year. “I just feel so lucky to be a part of it.”
The eeriest part of working Masters Week, Luke said, was knowing that she might be serving someone famous without even realizing it.
Last year, she didn’t know one of her guests was a PGA golfer until she saw him on ESPN later in the day.
There’s something in the air during Masters Week, Harris said, that keeps everyone in a good mood. She and her co-workers work harder than any other time during the year, but she said they barely notice.
“Everyone is so excited, from the guests going to the tournament to all of us,” she said.
Harris has some names on her recurring guest list that aren’t just tournament attendees. Davis Love III and his family come by to visit her even on years where they waited too long to get rooms in the hotel, she said, and one time Nick Faldo ate in The Bistro.
“I didn’t realize it was him until I walked up, and then I just kind of stared,” she said, laughing.
Les Reagan, the general manager at DoubleTree by Hilton, opened the hotel 22 years ago on the Sunday before Masters. He and his staff received a total of 39 nominations in the Masters of Hospitality program last year.
A lot has changed about how people enjoy the week since he opened in the 1990s, and the economy has taken its toll on the festivities. In past years, Reagan said, his banquet staff would serve corporate parties costing upward of $50,000. His hotel rarely has anything in the banquet rooms during Masters Week anymore, and the banquet staff gets switched to room service for the week. Guests typically eat breakfast, leave for the course, return midafternoon, go out for dinner, come back and stop by the hotel bar for a while, and then go to bed.
“They’re here to sleep,” Reagan said.
In many ways, Reagan said, it’s the easiest week of the year. Room are at full occupancy, reservations are made far in advance, guest traffic is easy to predict and everyone is happy to be in Augusta.
“Everyone wants to be here during that week,” he said. “They know they’re one of the chosen few.”
Reagan and his staff work hard to keep their guests happy all year, but, he said, knowing the increased rate Masters guests are paying provides extra motivation to provide an even higher level of service.
“It’s a little different mindset,” he said.
The main goal for hospitality staff, according to Luke, is to have guests sorry they have to leave and looking forward to next year.
“They’ll remember Augusta and say, ‘Those people are so nice down there,’ ” she said. “Southern hospitality is true, and it is alive and well.”