Not His First RodeoApr 01, 2023 ● By Lisa Sciortino
By Lisa Sciortino
You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone around these parts who knows as much about what it takes to open and operate upscale hotels and luxury resorts than Jeff Smith.
This year marks Smith’s 40th in the hotel industry. He started in the business as a front-desk agent working the overnight shift. Today, he is vice president and managing director of the Omni PGA Frisco Resort, which is set to open May 2.
“I’ve come full circle to be honored to lead the team that will open what is literally the largest resort development (project) in North America” currently, says Smith, who has spent the bulk of his career (nearly three decades, to be exact) with the Omni Hotels & Resorts company.
Frisco STYLE recently toured the sprawling Omni PGA Frisco Resort, which is in its final weeks of construction adjacent to the PGA of America headquarters on PGA Parkway, and sat down for an exclusive interview with Smith, who discussed his career, shared details about the property and his thoughts on how it may change the face of hospitality in Frisco.
Smith previously spent 12 years as vice president of operations for Omni and was involved with each of the company’s approximately 20 property openings (new builds as well as those acquired from other corporations) from 1999-2013.
This is not the first luxury Frisco hotel in which he has had a hand: In 2017, Smith was part of the opening team of the Omni Frisco Hotel at The Star, where he was based as a regional vice president for four years.
“I’m really proud to have opened that hotel,” he says. “It’s been incredibly successful” and was “a really fun project to be on in terms of the partnership with the Dallas Cowboys.”
Although he is a resident of Coppell, Smith is entrenched in the Frisco community. He has served as the board chair of Visit Frisco for four years and is also on the board of directors for the Frisco Chamber of Commerce as well as the advancement board of the University of North Texas’ College of Merchandising, Hospitality & Tourism.
“The friendships, the partnerships and really having that involvement with the city has meant much more than I could ever imagined,” he says.
`Modern ranch’ style
Smith says the scale of the “modern ranch”-inspired Omni PGA Frisco Resort is what sets the property apart from others in which he has been involved.
Situated on a mile-long campus and boasting a $520 million price tag, the six-story resort features 500 guest rooms and suites and 10 private “ranch houses” (each with four bedrooms, four-and-a-half bathrooms, a chef’s kitchen and a luxury concierge service) overlooking Fields Ranch East and Fields Ranch West, a pair of championship golf courses designed by Gil Hanse and Beau Welling, respectively. (The East course is scheduled to host its first event, the 2023 KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship, May 24-28.)
Also onsite is what’s dubbed “The Dance Floor,” a 2-acre putting course that is one of the largest in the nation, as well as “The Swing,” a lighted, par-3, 10-hole short course. There’s also the PGA Coaching Center and the Fields Ranch Practice Facility where golfers may warm up before games.
“Golf is a vitally important amenity to the resort, but whether you enjoy golf or not … you can have an exceptional experience that really goes beyond that,” Smith says.
Those in search of relaxation off the links may want to take a dip in one of the resort’s four swimming pools that are complete with cabanas (there is a private infinity-style pool on the sixth floor). Meanwhile, the 15,000-square-foot Mokara Spa features 20 private treatment rooms as well as its own private pool area and a fitness center.
If shopping is more your speed, visit the PGA District, which has several stores including Blue Lacy Mercantile, Gimme Toys, a PGA Shop and the Fields Ranch Golf Shop as well as several eateries (additional retail concepts are set to be announced later).
“That district was built to be a destination district like The Star, like Legacy West, like Grandscape,” Smith explains. “This is our version of that, but we’re anchored by golf. … Where The Star has (Tostitos Championship) Plaza, we have The Dance Floor.”
There are 13 dining options at the Omni PGA Frisco Resort including Trick Rider, its signature steak-and-seafood restaurant that will be as much a feast for the eyes as the palate courtesy of a massive, 1,500-pound, Quarter Horse-shaped, sparkling crystal chandelier crafted by artists in the Czech Republic.
Other eateries include: Ryder Cup Grille (classic American dishes and cocktails); IceHouse (an indoor/outdoor patio barbecue restaurant and bar); Lounge by TopGolf (a sports bar with simulated game experiences); The Apron Kitchen + Bar (serving breakfast, lunch and dinner daily in a casual atmosphere); Green Cactus Cafe (with a menu of healthful selections); The Bunker and Fields Overlook (with grab-and-go options); Margaret’s Cones & Cups (an ice cream and coffee shop); Toast & Tee Coffee Collective (coffees and teas); a lobby bar called The Lookout; and the Blue Stem Bar and Leisure Pool Bar (both located poolside).
Omni PGA Frisco Resort will undoubtedly become a popular meeting spot in Frisco given its 127,000 square feet of event space including nine outdoor venues, the 5,000-square-foot Panther Creek Pavilion that overlooks the golf courses, 19 individual meeting rooms, and the large Ryder Cup and Wanamaker Ballrooms.
Smith says the resort is the largest single investment in an asset in the history of the Omni Hotels & Resorts company.
`A Top 10 Destination’
One thing is certain: the Omni PGA Frisco Resort is on track to change the face of hospitality not only in Frisco but throughout Collin County.
Development in the city — particularly from Main Street in downtown Frisco and southward toward Highway 121 — has been “extensive,” Smith says. The resort “really is going to be the anchor that brings that development north.”
He points to other projects — including The Fields 2,500-plus-acre development, the Firefly Park mixed-use development and the Universal Studios theme park — that have since been announced or commenced construction and says the Omni Frisco PGA Resort “really has been the catalyst to make all of these other developments begin to come to fruition.”
Hotel staffers will be thoroughly trained “to be exceptional. We’re going to create memorable experiences and, really, that’s where the magic is going to happen.”
While walking through the nearly completed resort, Smith says what he experiences “is not as much about pride as it is making sure that I’m a good steward of what this will be, and that is defined by incredible guest experiences.”
For those visiting the property on a family vacation, for example, “We’ve got to make it memorable. We want you to be talking about that (trip) for 10 years,” he says. “If you’re here for a business meeting, we want you say, `Wow, I’ve been to 10 of these conventions in my career. I’ve never had an experience like I did at the Omni PGA Frisco Resort.’”
The resort’s 1,000 staffers will play a key role in creating those memories, he says. “Omni is a family-owned business. We are a family here at this resort. … We’re taking the Omni culture to a whole new level and I want to make sure that I take care of those people who work here. … If we can do that right, then they’re going to take care of the guests and it really will be a level (of service) that will be unmatched.”
Most importantly, Smith says, Omni PGA Frisco Resort aims to be “a business that really is thought of very highly in the community. … We don’t just want to be one of the leaders in hospitality in Frisco. We want to be one of the leading businesses in Frisco and give back, so we involve ourselves in the community. … We’re here for a lot of reasons, but one of them is to be a good partner with the community.”
Lisa Sciortino is managing editor of Frisco STYLE Magazine.