Interview with Michael Meldman
Michael S. Meldman is the founder and chairman of Discovery Land Company, a private luxury residential golf community developer with more than 26 projects worldwide. Meldman is also one of the three founders of Casamigos tequila with George Clooney and Rande Gerber.
In 2007, he launched Discovery Land Company Foundation, the company’s charitable arm that donates $1 million each year to nonprofits that support the children and families in the areas surrounding each community.
The Meldman Story:
I founded Discovery Land Company out of a deep love for my family and a desire to create a place for us to reconnect and unwind.
When my sons were young, I used to get them to the golf course with me by stashing coolers in random spots full of their favorite snacks. It kept them interested, and this was the beginning of the idea for our comfort stations on our courses. My sons also hated getting dressed up for the course, which is what inspired me to get rid of dress codes at our courses – you can golf barefoot if you want to. Ultimately, the chance to golf with my sons was about so much more than building their skills as players– it was, first and foremost, a chance for us to bond and connect outside.
Beyond the golf course, however, I loved taking my sons on outdoor adventures – whether in the mountains of Montana, the rivers of Idaho, or the Pacific Ocean. At Iron Horse, one of our first developments, we began including guided outdoor adventures as part of our programming and Discovery’s signature Outdoor Pursuits program was born. When we were developing Kuki’o Golf and Ocean Club on the Big Island, we expanded this program to include land and sea adventures to give parents and kids a chance to have fun together in a beautiful natural landscape.
Now, our clubs have incredible outdoor adventures for every skill and age – you can throw axes and skeet shoot at Driftwood, ride through the Hudson Valley on horseback, go cliff diving at Gozzer Ranch, kiteboard along the beach at Barbuda, and so much more. Every club builds on the programs and amenities from the one before, and it’s an ever-evolving and ever-improving formula that we hope allows our member families to make plenty of memories together.
You wake up in the morning — what’s the driving passion?
My driving passion will always be family. I strive every day to create an environment for my family that fosters connections, memories, and most importantly – fun. This is my primary motivation with Discovery too – our communities are a place for families to come together to spend their days doing whatever they want, and having a blast while doing it.
What separates Discovery from all other companies involved with golf course / club development?
Discovery has an integrated development approach that allows us to control every step of the way from the ground up. When a member buys a home in one of our communities, we try to make every single step as hassle-free and enjoyable as possible – from construction to picking out the fixtures and finishes to well beyond after the family moves with programs and events.
Our teams are incredibly skilled and they collaborate to create the best possible product, and the fact that we can create such a cohesive member experience is what keeps many of them coming back for more. A huge number of Discovery members have houses in more than one project, and I think that’s a testament to this streamlined and strong business model.
Describe the impact from the pandemic and how you see things faring in ’22 and beyond.
One thing that was evident during the pandemic was that our members seek a safe place when the world is uncertain. Our clubs became refuges for members escaping the worst of the virus, and because they are all set in spacious and secluded areas – landscapes that also happen to be the most beautiful on Earth – our communities were perfect places to spend their time in lockdown.
Additionally, because our communities have their own medical staff, food and beverage, wellness, kids academic and recreational programs, and more, our members had everything they needed. One huge impact from the pandemic – at Discovery communities and in society in general – was the new lifestyle of living and working in the same place.
Can golf as a sport succeed in the years to come given the time it takes to play, the associated costs to play it and the difficulty in learning the game? Given those clear impediments what is the approach Discovery is following in overcoming those gigantic obstacles?
Making golf playable and fun is certainly our hope at Discovery. Golf will always be a major pillar of our company, as it is a huge draw to our members. This is why we pick project locations that will make the best possible backdrop to a player’s round, and why we take a very relaxed approach when it comes to the game. As I mentioned, we don’t have a dress code or tee times, so members can truly enjoy their time on the course.
We also have incredible comfort stations along the way, with each club’s comfort stations reflecting the local cuisine and vibe. We are also committed to giving our members a chance to improve their game, with plenty of golf professionals on our staff to teach lessons.
We have also recently paired up with TrackMan to bring Discovery courses to their menu of course simulations, and we will be offering these in-home simulators to our members so they can play any Discovery course alone or with other virtual players. I think these methods are all ways we are able to keep golf fresh and fun for everyone.
One of the lingering elements from the pandemic has been the inability to fill job openings throughout the USA economy. How has that development impacted Discovery and what specific approach is the company following in dealing with those issues?
Discovery attracts some of the most skilled professionals from every industry – we have award-winning chefs in our kitchens, professional golfers or equestrians teaching lessons to our members, seasoned law enforcement members on our security teams, and more.
We continuously welcome new faces at every club, and we invest in our current staff’s professional development which allows them to move from one club to the other when they are ready for new challenges and responsibilities.
What’s the mark of a successful club — and what are the telltale signs of a failing one?
I believe the mark of a successful club is a sense of community. If your neighbors turn into friends which turn into family, that’s a huge success. I know that that sense is something we have at all of our clubs. Even staff members tend to become close friends and chosen family for our members.
That’s not to say members at our clubs do everything together – there are plenty of parcels and neighborhoods perfect for families seeking a little peace and quiet, but these members are still such a huge part of the community and still contribute to that welcoming feeling. Missing this sense of community, this deep and spontaneous camaraderie, would feel to me like a failing club.
Many companies routinely tout the importance of customer service. Define the term and the approach followed at Discovery and the manner by which customer feedback is assessed and acted upon?
At Discovery, our main focus is on the member experience. As I mentioned, every step of the homebuying process is an enjoyable experience from start to finish. Additionally, once a member is moved in, our Member Services team will do everything from hiring a babysitter for that night out to making travel arrangements to and from the club.
Each club also has an attentive Residential Services team, which ensures that member homes are cared for year-round – our team will stock the members’ fridge, put air in their tires, even turn the pool on so it’s the perfect temperature for a dip when the member arrives. We are always open to feedback from our members; in fact, many of our staff all the way up to the club presidents are like friends and family to members, and it’s a continuous dialogue to ensure they are always getting top service.
You can change one thing in golf unilaterally — what would it be and why?
When I started Discovery, I set out to change golf by making it more accessible to families of all ages and skillsets. I wanted to make it an incredibly fun experience for all. I think that’s the allure about our golf tradition – it’s just a really great time.
A lot of factors contribute to this vibe – the fact that you can golf barefoot, head to the comfort station for an Oreo blizzard, or take a dip in the ocean between holes – this is what makes Discovery golf different, and has improved the game for so many of our members. We have many pros that call our courses home because of this energy, and I think we will continue to make changes to the game in this positive way.
You have a mulligan to return to one specific moment in your life. What would that moment be and what would you do differently if given a second opportunity to do so?
I’m not sure I want a mulligan. I have been fortunate to have so many things go right throughout my life. Even the things that seem like mistakes or challenges at the time I’ve been able to overcome, always improving myself and my business to make each year better than the last. Each year gets better and better.