Grand Geneva Resort & Spa

Grand Geneva golf

Whether it's tapping trends or delivering unparalleled customer service,

Grand Geneva Resort & Spa does everything with its guests in mind.

By Bianca Herron

Before Grand Geneva Resort & Spa became the award-winning year-round destination it is today, Hugh Hefner launched it as the first Playboy Club Hotel in 1968. Complete with Playboy bunnies wearing corsets, puffy tails and tall ears, the Playboy resort served as a luxury escape for Midwest travelers.

The Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired hotel featured an indoor swimming pool with connecting passage to an outdoor pool area, two championship Grand Geneva Resort and Spa infogolf courses and a ski lodge designed in the shape of two interlocking snowflakes.

In addition, the hotel’s members-only club was $25 per year to join and its cabaret stage attracted some of the era’s most famous acts including Bob Hope, Phyllis Diller, and Sonny and Cher. It also had a recording studio where the soundtracks for Rocky and Top Gun were made.

From 1982 to 1993, it was known as the Americana Hotel. In 1994, Milwaukee-based Marcus Corporation acquired the property, renaming it Grand Geneva Resort & Spa. The hotel was completely renovated with updates to its 355 guest rooms, golf courses and property grounds. New additions included the opening of its day spa, the WELL Spa + Salon, and an outdoor fireplace lounge.

Keys to Success

When the Marcus Corporation acquired the property, Managing Director Steve Magnuson explains, it had a long-term vision to not only invest in, but also grow the 1,300-acre property. He adds that the company’s keys to successfully reviving Grand Geneva included tapping into three key Midwestern markets that were underserved at the time: families, couples and the conference industry.

Located a short drive north of Chicago, today Grand Geneva offers several amenities to support those key groups including 62,000 square feet of meeting space, two championship golf courses, rock climbing, archery and horseback riding. “We understood the Midwest market and found that we needed to create a year-round destination,” Magnuson says. “We also added lobby space for people to congregate, whereas before we didn’t have much indoor space.”

Next, Grand Geneva began to create year-round amenities including a 35,000-square-foot spa. “In the winter we have our ski hill, so we created a world-class spa,” Magnuson says. “We have a world-class facility with 19 treatment rooms in it. We also have indoor tennis, rock-climbing and a full-size basketball court.” Additionally, an onsite vacation club was added and the 50,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor Timber Ridge Lodge & Waterpark was built to help drive more business to the resort year-round.

Delivering Quality

Whether it’s a stay of one night or five, the AAA Four Diamond resort not only offers its guests plenty of amenities, but also several quality accommodations that include villas, executive hotel suites, deluxe hotel suites, deluxe guest rooms and junior rooms. “We have the Grand Geneva Lodge, Timber Ridge Lodge & Waterpark, Holiday Inn Club Vacations and our White River Villas, which are 600- to 1,500-square-feet townhomes,” Magnuson explains.

The resort recently completed a $5 million renovation of its 29 villas, which are located adjacent to the resort in small, secluded areas. According to Magnuson, it took nearly nine months to renovate the two-story villas, which offer studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom units.

“They are all upscale villas with private bedrooms and full kitchens with state-of-the-art appliances,” he says. “They also have fireplaces, private patios and share two swimming pools. It’s great for couples, spa weekends, golf groups, family reunions and those who are conducting meetings.”

The Geneva Club was added, too. “It’s a private lounge and we also serve complimentary breakfast there,” Magnuson says.

Quality Characteristics

Grand Geneva LobbyGrand Geneva believes it delivers an unparalleled guest experience, which it attributes to its 1,000 employees. “Guest service is the key to our success,” Magnuson says. He adds that not only training, but also building a culture play critical roles in that success. “If we have a solid culture that people can buy into, then we can work towards that end goal,” he says. “We have made a culture plan, and every associate goes through it.”

This starts with hiring for six characteristics that Grand Geneva believes employees must possess: They must be service-minded, have high expectations, be accountable and a team player, feel empowered and demonstrate integrity. “Once we find associates with these characteristics, they come on board and go through an onboarding training program,” Magnuson says. “Depending on the complexity of the position, they’ll have departmental training as well.”

Grand Geneva also conducts enhancement-training programs throughout the year including service culture training to further instill “love and sense of pride” for serving its guests. “We emphasize the mantra ‘people pleasing people,’” Magnuson says. “This has been the hallmark of our company and the root of our existence since Marcus was founded 82 years ago. We have people pleaser of the month and year awards. Our employees learn what it means, which is pleasing our guests.”

Magnuson adds that Grand Geneva’s vision is to make a positive difference and deliver great experiences to guests. “We do that through serving, creating memories and delivering exceptional experiences,” he says.

Tapping Trends

Magnuson started his career with Marcus Hotels & Resorts in 1994 as general manager of the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa. In 1998 he was promoted to area vice president. He resumed his prior role as general manager in 2015. According to Magnuson, he’s a “field general,” and the field is where he does his best work because it is a hands-on environment.

He notes that he is most proud of helping to grow the Grand Geneva into a year-round destination. “We provide a place for guests to get away, and make a difference in their lives,” he says. “I’m also proud to work at a place that provides associates with incredible job satisfaction. We have employees who have been with us since day one.

“Grand Geneva is a very special place with wonderful and caring associates,” Magnuson continues. “Every guest comes here on purpose and with a story. We’re not a roadside place where they come to sleep for the night. They come here to rekindle, reconnect and rejuvenate. We are a part of their experience and memory being created, which we don’t take lightly.”

Looking ahead, strategic growth is top of mind for Grand Geneva. “We’re not done growing,” Magnuson says. “We have 1,300 acres, some of which is still developable. We are watching the market, seeing the trends and meeting them head on.”

As an example, he notes that nontraditional meeting space is becoming a trend. “We’re starting to ponder if we should have an outdoor meeting space, or host meetings around a camp fire,” Magnuson says. He adds that the resort has found that some people no longer want traditional ballroom weddings. To meet that need, Grand Geneva has modified one of its venues, The Chalet, to host weddings.

“We’re always looking for the next big thing at the Grand Geneva,” Magnuson concludes. “No matter what we tap into, the Grand Geneva will always be a year-round destination for groups, couples and families where they can co-exist together.”

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