Meet the PerryGolf Concierge Drivers: Joe Marshall

Joe Marshall (right) and fellow PerryGolf concierge driver Gerry Martin enjoyed meeting Tom Watson, 5-time champion of The Open, while accompanying clients to Royal Dornoch.

PerryGolf’s Concierge Drivers play an essential part in any Customized or Escorted Tour. They fill many roles during your trip abroad – from recommending restaurants to sharing nuggets of local history and culture while also making certain every part of the Tour from the airport to the hotel to the first tee runs smoothly on schedule. This post is the fourth in an ongoing series, during which we’ll profile the devoted, diligent Concierge Drivers who help PerryGolf guests: Play the Game. See the World.

Patience and a sense of humor.

Those are the keys to thriving as a PerryGolf Concierge Driver the way Joe Marshall sees it.

Marshall would know, of course, having served in that capacity for nearly two decades, shepherding clients around his native Scotland, pointing them toward the pubs and restaurants where they can hang with the locals, taste the flavor and savor each experience on their trip.

“It’s my hobby as well as a job,” Marshall said. “When I stop enjoying it, I’ll stop doing it. I like golf, I like working with people. I’ve made a lot of friends over the years at the golf courses and with the regular clients.”

It was through a friendship with another member at his home club that Marshall’s tenure with PerryGolf began. John Finnegan competed against PerryGolf co-founder Colin Dalgleish on the amateur golf circuit and was working as a concierge driver in 2000 when he told Marshall the company was expanding its tours.

Marshall, 60, was working as a taxicab driver in Glasgow at the time. He jumped at the chance to pilot golfers around the land where he’s lived his entire life and where the game was born.

“I had no experience in this line of work,” he said.

He adapted quickly and excelled easily, understanding that on certain tours there might be as many as 16 golfers, pulling in different directions, each having a unique vision of the ideal golf vacation.

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“There are only so many things you can do in a day,” Marshall said. “People are here to have fun. They want to laugh.”

Marshall keeps the mood light and the spirits high. He chuckles when clients arrive in Scotland with predetermined notion of the restaurants and pubs they should visit in the evening.

“They’ll look at guide books and think they know where they want to go,” he said. “The places that are listed in guide books, I reckon they’ve paid advertising fees to get in there. Very few are the ones I would use, I like the local flavor in St. Andrews, Turnberry and Troon.”    

As for his own golf game, Marshall said he’s never won anything other than the ‘odd five pounds’ in a match the club where he’s belonged his entire adult life, Haggs Castle Golf Club. The course, built in 1910, is a parkland layout considered one of the best in western Scotland. For many years it was site of the Glasgow Open and in 1986, the Scottish Open, won by television commentator and host David Feherty.

Near the end of a tour, it’s typical for clients to start planning ahead to their next visit to Scotland, wanting to experience the courses and cultures of one of the country’s unique regions, from the Highlands to Ayrshire to Aberdeen.

With a slight prod, Marshall lists his favorite links in Scotland: The Ailsa Course at Trump Turnberry, basking in the light of its recent renovation; Kingsbarns, host of the Dunhill Links and the first Scottish course to be built on linksland in 70 years when it opened in 2000; Royal Dornoch – an absolute must play for aficionados of prolific architect Donald Ross, who designed more than 400 courses in the United States.

You probably won’t enjoy the good fortune which spun toward Marshall and a group of PerryGolf clients on a trip to Royal Dornoch. They were honored to meet Tom Watson, the American legend and one of the first to convey to the golfing world the joy awaiting on the ancient links where Ross apprenticed under Old Tom Morris.

However, having been there many times, Marshall will offer this piece of advice for those venturing north to the Highlands to play Royal Dornoch – play it twice, on consecutive days because the first round is certain to present a challenge quite fierce.

Marshall remains happily busy during the golf season from April to October, helping host a variety of trips with groups as large as 16 people and lasting anywhere from 5 to 12 days.

During the winter, he rests – as much as his seven grandchildren will allow.

His four sons and daughter all live within a five-mile radius of his home in Glasgow.

“They keep me on my toes,” he said.

He always looks forward to resuming his duties behind the wheel. Like other longtime PerryGolf concierge drivers, Marshall relishes the relationships formed through the years.

“It’s good when you get to know some of the clients,” he said. “Over the years we’ve become friends. And we stay in touch two or three times a year and get to know our families … build a bond and a friendship.”


Experience is the cumulative effect of many things

I was having coffee this week with an old friend who mentioned he had  stayed this past summer at the refurbished Greenbrier  in West Virginia. I asked him how it was and he lit up. He described the renovation and the superior service level he enjoyed during his stay…but the one story he took the time to recount was at departure. All luggage was loaded into their car and the bellman said, please wait one brief moment and then ran inside. He reappeared quickly with two cold bottles of water for the trip home. The point of my story is that for literally a few pennies and an engaged bellman, a guest who probably just spent a significant sum for 3 or 4 nights left with a great service experience to tell his friends. Another fine example of that special service experience can be read here.  It all seems simple enough, but is it really?

I have blogged before about how your service experience and therefore opinion is the cumulative effect of many small touches; it can be the smile at check-in, the conversation with the bellman on the way to your room, the rapport with the cocktail waitress, the pool attendant who appears with a dry towel when you most need it, the housekeeper who places your child’s teddy bear carefully & strategically on the bed at turn down service….the list is endless but each touch make an incremental difference.

I am forever amazed at how many companies in the service business simply cannot incorporate this concept into their business model. In recent times, it seems like more are engaged in corporate speak, saying the right thing and forever thanking their best customers but when it comes to meaningful action it falls flat. Believe me when I tell you we appreciate your business, but please, please do not ask me to meaningfully show it!

Another camp who do not get the service concept are the ones who build and focus all of their energy and resources on building the best and grandest. The attention to detail is remarkable on the construction…but then it all stops.  It is similar to the airline business with massive capital investment but the final experience, despite the greatest hardware on the plane or the latest premium seats and entertainment systems or lounge complexes is the simple smile of a flight attendant. Engaged personnel who genuinely care for their customers is sadly an endangered species.

I recall years ago the General Manager at a Four Seasons Hotel explaining he would only hire happy people, “…we can always train them for the needed skill. On the other hand, it is far harder to train well skilled, grumpy people to be happy.”

As consumers we can easily set ourselves up to be disappointed. You go to a hotel or restaurant or holiday destination with high expectations, only to be disappointing.  One service provider who has historically managed to over deliver is Southwest Airlines. Call it the “Southwest Syndrome” but they are regarded in the minds of many consumers as a low cost airline. Minimal service. No advance seating, etc, etc. As a result you purchase a ticket with fairly low expectations and more often than not they meet or surpass you goal of an on time flight in modest comfort with luggage delivered to the baggage carousel. Compare that experience to legacy airlines in the U.S. (Delta, United, American, etc) with whom consumers have historically placed a higher service expectation…this expectation is often missed albeit they may possibly deliver a similar travel experience to Southwest. But from the travelers perspective Southwest is a better airline than a legacy carrier because they matched or surpassed expectations…lets ignore the fact we used different standards!

A recent family trip of mine to Atlanta reminded me of the importance of realisitic expecations. For various reasons, including a lot of thought to consider alternatives, I opted for the Atlanta Hilton Hotel. Other than the location, which my young son enjoyed, and some very engaged hotel staff, I was disappointed on various levels by their service delivery at the hotel…mostly due to expectation of the brand.

Lesson learnt is to try to match up your expectations with some level of reality. Generally a 3 star hotel is going to deliver a 3 star service much as you may prefer differently.  The Greenbrier example above took a 5 star hotel and with that extra effort improved on that. Enjoy the times of the extra effort for sadly it is more the exception than the rule.

At PerryGolf we take great pride in the service we deliver and I very much hope that we surpass your expectations…as always, if there is anything I can do to assist, please do no hestiate to contact me directly.

Gordon Dalgleish

About the Author: Gordon Dalgleish is the Co-Founding Director of PerryGolf, the leading provider of international golf vacations. You can find him on Google+