From The Blog

Amy Cook Takes on New Role as Director of The Sandcastle

KICA’s new director of The Sandcastle, Amy Cook, has been a consistent presence at The Sandcastle for nearly 10 years, and has overseen everything from member event planning to annual facility maintenance. During her time with KICA, she’s embodied KICA’s leadership values and standards of excellence, while creating a welcoming environment for members. 

The Sandcastle is KICA’s most visited member facility, with nearly 90,000 member check-ins in 2022. With that volume of attendance and only 11 year-round staff positions, Amy and her staff stay focused on ensuring the facility is running smoothly, whether it is hosting Our World, a wedding or both. “We all do each other’s jobs, from laundry to setting up chairs.” Amy notes that maintaining a positive environment is key for members and staff alike. “I have to check on the cleanliness of the facility as well as the way staff greet members. In my position, I need to critique without being critical; I can do it in a way that is still positive.”

As with any community asset, the everyday things are also some of the biggest challenges. “Little mundane things that affect how we feel that are the challenge,” she says. “The basic things: temperature, noise and lighting. How do I get the right temperature every day for every person? We know you can’t please 100% of the people all the time but, in the hospitality business, your job is to try.”

During her time at The Sandcastle, Amy has balanced a critical eye with her own brand of positivity,  while raising the level of service in a number of key areas. Amy spearheaded the outsourcing of the Castle Grille operation to Cru Catering. The partnership with the award-winning catering company was a win for both organizations, thanks to Amy’s intimate knowledge of the industry. “I knew that the catering off-season was summer, and they wanted to hold onto their chefs and servers. So we met each other’s needs.” The switch to a professional caterer was clearly appreciated by the membership, with a big boost in usage after the change. 

Before being promoted from interim director in December, Amy served as assistant director of Recreation. She’s led the planning for our annual member events like Celebrate Kiawah and the Oyster Roast, as well as the Private Events and Member Services teams. Before coming to KICA, she worked as a server at The Atlantic Room at the old Kiawah Island Inn, then at The Sanctuary. When the Fat Hen opened on Johns Island, she left to become the director of catering.

She knows that it’s often the small things that matter in a large facility. “When I worked at the Waldorf Astoria (in New York), the general manager left a gum wrapper in the middle of the lobby. I was walking through, picked up the gum wrapper and threw it in the ashtray.” He was waiting there and saw her. He noticed something we can also see in Amy, saying “It’s not your job to do that but you did it because you care.” It’s one of Amy’s best attributes, and one of the reasons for her consistent performance. Whether it’s a staff evaluation or Celebrate Kiawah, Amy cares about the experience she’s creating for others.

Asked what her favorite thing about leading the Sandcastle is, she doesn’t hesitate. “My team. I’m only as good as my team is. So my #1 job is to lead a staff that is happy.” She’s proud of the connections her team has made with the members who use the community clubhouse day in and day out. “Members go on vacation, and they’re missed. People come in on certain shifts to see specific staff members.” The same is true for Amy herself. She and her team often find themselves helping members with things that are outside of The Sandcastle’s technical purview; staff have been known to offer tutorials on KICA’s various websites, troubleshoot cell phone issues, and recommend books from the lending library.

The Sandcastle User Group has been exploring a number of access changes and, should the board approve them, they will be the biggest changes to come. Her biggest change so far is one she made as interim director, splitting her previous assistant director position into two and promoting staff members to fill them. One, the Event and Member Services Manager, was filled by Stephen Whitaker, and the new Sandcastle Operations Manager position was filled by Hayes Looney. These peer roles will enable a focused approach to these essential, but divergent, Sandcastle functions. “I love to promote from within,” Amy says. Ashley Tallent has also been promoted to Private Events Coordinator. 

She grew up in Larchmont, NY with her parents and two siblings. Her imagination for events may be traced back to her mom, who held international nights for the family during her childhood. The evenings focused on one country (Germany, Russia, Japan, etc.) and had elements for all the senses. “For Indian night,” she remembers, “we had sitar music and a special table cloth with our food.” A love for Indian food stuck; it’s one of Amy’s favorite things to cook now. “I love to cook, especially anything with herbs and spices. Sauces are my specialty, but there’s also nothing like a delicious cheeseburger.” She has two sons, Charlie and Owen, who members might remember. Both worked seasonally at the Castle Grille while they were in high school.

The past two directors in Amy’s position had titles of ‘director of Recreation,’ but Amy is KICA’s first ‘director of The Sandcastle.’ Part of the change was for clarity: the former title “sounds like you’re in charge of fitness instruction, instead of the actual position which is more operation.” The director still oversees and staff services all the member recreation amenities, including Cinder Creek Eagle Point, and Rhett’s Bluff. Amy thinks the new title is “more encompassing.” Not only that, but she’s “proud to have The Sandcastle in my title. The Sandcastle is the premier member amenity on the island.” Stop by the premier amenity soon and say hello to KICA’s newest director.