HOWEY-IN-THE-HILLS, Florida – Seated at a table inside Mission Inn Resort & Club’s La Hacienda restaurant, Bud Beucher smiled and reflected back on his 55 years at the family-owned property here in the middle of this Central Florida town.
“We’ve seen the geographic area (about 35 miles north of Orlando) grow, we’ve seen the competition grow and we’ve seen the competition shrink,’’ said Beucher, whose father, Nick, in 1964 left Chicago to buy what was then a neglected Floridian Country Club in the middle of Central Florida’s orange groves and surprisingly rolling terrain.
Nick Beucher spent the next few years renovating the property – most notably the El Campeon golf course (built in 1917) and clubhouse – and created Mission Inn Resort, complete with the Spanish Colonial architecture the resort is known for today.
“I think we have a different perspective (on family-owned, independent resorts) than someone who moves from place and doesn’t get that consistent view,’’ Bud Beucher said. “Family owned resorts are not as rare as chickens’ teeth, but they aren’t common.
“As with restaurants and pharmacies and banks, there is a lot of consolidation. There are market forces you have to be prepared to buck. Usually that mean that you have to work harder and provide better service. You have to provide continuity, so that customers know your face when they come back.’’
And, Beucher said, you have to have one more important ingredient.
“There has to be commitment from the family. My father came here in 1964. I have brothers and sisters who have worked here and retired. I’ve been here 55 years – I’m 62 years old. This is our life’s work. We’ve been on a lifetime journey here.
“When I talk to customers, I sincerely say, “Thank you for letting us share our life’s work with you.’
“I’ve been in places such as the Dallas airport and on the streets of Mexico City and heard somebody says, ‘Hi Bud.’ Someone who knows me and knows Mission Inn. We are the jewel of Lake County.’’
Indeed. The resort Nick Beucher built in 1964 has come a long way. Its 1,100 acres includes 176 guestrooms, suites and villas; the El Campeon and Las Colinas golf courses; three restaurants, two lounges and poolside bar; Eight tennis courts; a trap and skeet shooting range; jogging and bicycling trails; nautical center with 52-slip marina; and 6,200-square-foot Spa Marbella.
The El Campeon golf course, built in 1917, is one of the oldest courses in Florida and features some impressive elevation changes of up to 85 feet. Where else are you going to find that in Central Florida? The Las Colinas course, designed by Gary Koch, on Aug. 1 will add an 18-hole “short course’’ within its boundaries to make golf more accessible (and fun) for people of all skill levels. The short course will feature 14 par-3 holes and four par-4 holes.
“It’s no fun to play a 7,500-yard course with forced carries on only your third time on a course,’’ Beucher said. “Sometime I think golf can be very punitive. We want to find people who have fun playing the game.’’
Beucher and Mission Inn have found people who enjoy the game, as well as the resort. More than 70 percent of guests at Mission Inn, he said, are repeat visitors.
“Over the past decade we’ve done a good job,’’ Beucher said. “We have outworked our competitors – engaged in hand to hand combat. We have found really good (employees) who buy in and communicate. That’s what we have here. We have communicated better with our customers.’’
Beucher gazed out one of La Hacienda’s large picture windows at the resort’s lush green landscaping.
“This is a beautiful place,’’ he said.
And after 55 years, Mission Inn Resort & Club is only getting better.