A hotel once saved his life. And it’s an experience he won’t forget.
“Hotels are a lifeline. They generate memories,” was one of the first things hospitality industry executive Sven Wiedenhaupt said to me as we settled in for lunch at Vue Grille and Bar – the panoramic clubhouse restaurant he oversees at Indian Wells Golf Resort in the Palm Springs, California area.
I spent the remainder of the lunch learning why he was uniquely qualified to state that. A hotel once saved his life. And it’s an experience Wiedenhaupt won’t forget.
“I worked in Damascus, Syria during the civil war,” he shared. “They were targeting Americans for kidnapping. So, I sent my wife home to America and stayed in my suite.”
Wiedenhaupt worked from his hotel suite hoping not to hear a bang on his bolted door, but there were plenty of sounds below outside his window.
“I learned to recognize the distinction between the sound of a car bomb and a firebomb. Car bombs sent pieces flying. Firebombs just fanned out flames and scorched other cars,” he explained. It was knowledge he didn’t when he was transferred from Damascus. “I had to move to Beirut for a safer environment.”
While Beirut might seem to be an ironic place to be moved “for safety,” Wiedenhaupt insisted that Lebanon is misunderstood.
“CNN would be claiming there were tanks in the streets while I was headed to dinner. Friends would call concerned and I would explain to them that what they were hearing wasn’t true.”
Cautioned in Qatar
Wiedenhaupt was worried while working in Qatar in 2010 – but it was over exuberance.
“We got word the announcement was about to be made that Qatar had won their bid to be the host country for the 2022 FIFA World Cup soccer tournament. They told us all to go home and make sure we were not in the streets when the announcement came down. It was a big celebration!”
The USA finished second in the bidding as Qatar became the first Arab nation to host the tournament.
Wiedenhaupt was in the right place at the right time when he met Britain’s Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, in his hotel’s elevator.
“Where are you from?” his Royal Highness asked him.
“New York,” Wiedenhaupt answered.
“Then why are you working in Qatar?”
“I was promoted, your Highness.”
“Is that what they told you?” the duke deadpanned.
Wiedenhaupt said a year later Andrew returned and recognized him with another shot:
“I see you’re still “promoted.”’
He’s now working in Palm Springs, but first Widenhaupt’s professional hospitality Middle East tour also included a different desert: Dubai.
“I worked for five years at three hotels in Dubai for the Jumeirah company at the Emirates Tower, which we nicknamed the ‘Tower of Power;’ and the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, with its’ Wild Wadi Waterpark and an expansive marina; and the Zabeel Saray hotel, the high-rise Tom Cruise scales in the movie Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol.”
Wiedenhaupt now works with four hotels on one campus when managing Indian Wells Golf Resort in the Palm Springs area.
“It’s dynamic with lots of stay and play packages at The Renaissance, Hyatt, Miramonte, Indian Wells Resort,” said Wiedehaupt – the latter of which was once owned by golden age TV stars Lucy and Ricky Ricardo – and it has plenty of memorabilia to show it still loves Lucy.
Golf courses dot the desert floor with such saturation that resident superstar comedian Bob Hope quipped: “I never know which course I am going to play until I see where my opening tee shot lands.”
Hope’s star-studded Desert Classic was a winter mainstay of the PGA Tour in Indian Wells for decades. One Indian Wells Golf Resort’s two 18-hole courses is called the “Celebrity Course.”
“We treat everybody like a celebrity,” Widenhaupt insisted. We get tour players and a fringe element of Hollywood types that play golf here. In fact, Wiedenhaupt’s brother is in the movie business working as a screenwriter in Los Angeles – 100 miles away.
The green grass of Indian Wells Golf Resort’s two Troon-operated, John Fought and Clive Clark-designed courses below The Vue Grill and Bar balcony, glow when contrasted against the golden-brown backdrop of the mountain panorama.
“You should see this view from Vue when there’s white snow on the mountain peaks,” Wiedenhaupt said.
Wiedenhaupt said he loves his current location in the Coachella Valley, but that contentment didn’t come without a life spent exploring opportunities.
“I have been a professional gypsy,” he admitted. “I had the good fortune to be born into a family that was curious about travel, so we lived in the United States, England, and Australia, and I went to hotel school in Switzerland.”
Switzerland and Germany are often ranked as the globe’s most livable countries, and that doesn’t surprise Wiedenhaupt.
“Fundamentally society works there in that there is a mutual understanding of community and responsibility. There is pride in the ownership of having a clean village and an acceptance that it takes all of us,” he explained. “It’s not an ‘us or them’ environment. It’s one country and one environment. There is an insane amount of pride in those communities no matter where you’re from and everyone contributes.”
So, in Switzerland and Germany, no man is an island. But Wiedenhaupt has had that experience, too.
“Yeah, I also worked on an island in the Caribbean,” he admitted.
He hasn’t missed many of the contiguous United States, either.
“I spent 20 years crisscrossing America.”
Crisscrossing, by car, it turns out – driving across America’s flyover states, plains, mountains and deserts, snapping photos of scenes and scenery that struck him as artistic examples of the nation’s diverse cultures and lifestyles. He loves to revisit those vivid pictures stored on his phone.
Tickling the Tummy
Over lunch the detail oriented and innovative Wiedenhaupt, with his high-end, international hotel food and beverage experience, coaxed me to try different dishes he’d added to the menu to get my opinion. Fig and prosciutto flatbread with goat cheese, arugula, and a balsamic drizzle was his focus that day.
“I took the job with a mission to add flair to Vue,” he admitted.
And he’s done it. Vue is not your average golf clubhouse grille. It’s a stand-alone dining experience. Everything pops in the stylish, multi-level, indoor/outdoor space, from the uniforms to the saltshakers to the yellow pillows on the patio and the music playlist.
Wiedenhaupt added wine tastings and a space-age “Shots in the Night,” a glow golf, light-up pinball-style target golf game with firepits and fun. The solar panels that shade the driving range tees from the daytime desert sun provide enough energy for 98-percent of clubhouse’s power needs and charge the golf course’s 160 carts.
They’re as energized as he is!