UAE has embraced changes quicker than many mature golf markets, says Troon International boss

Mark Chapleski, Executive Vice President of Troon International.
Image Credit: Supplied photo

Dubai: Mark Chapleski, Executive Vice President of Troon International, has been a perfect example of being there done that in UAE golf. In an exclusive chat, Chapleski holds forth on Troon, golf in the UAE and the sport’s future in the Middle East.

Following are the excerpts:

Question: How long have you been in the UAE and where has your career taken you to date?

Mark Chapleski: I have been extremely fortunate to have been in and around golf my entire life. Following a brief period playing professional golf in various parts of the world, I settled into the business side of the golf industry, working at several top private and resort facilities including the ultra-exclusive Vintage Club in Palm Desert, the Marriott Desert Springs Resort, Ko Olina Golf Club in Hawaii, and The Phoenix Country Club in Miyazaki, Japan.

In 1999, I joined the Troon team and moved to Tokyo in May of 2000 to act as Director of Operations for Troon in Japan. Here we completed due diligence of over 200 golf courses for Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Lehman Bros, and Credit Suisse among others, and our team eventually assisted Goldman in creating the Accordia Golf brand in Japan, which is now the second largest golf management company in the world behind Troon.

My move to the UAE coincided with the expansion of the Troon Golf Middle East office in 2004, along with David Spencer moving to Nakheel to head up their new golf division. In 2014 we formally created ‘Troon International’, Troon’s international brand supporting world-class resorts, private and semi-private clubs outside of the Americas. We are headquartered internationally in Dubai with offices also in Australia and Switzerland. I have been heading the International Division since 2017, when Bruce Glasco was name Chief Operating Officer for the entire company.

I have loved my experience to date across Asia and the Middle East as each country is uning ique and interesting to work in, and to see the growth of our sport in places that have had very little previous exposure to the game, is very rewarding.

Give us a brief history of Troon Golf in the US and especially, globally and in the Middle East region.

Troon Golf was formed in Arizona, USA, in 1990 as a private company at Troon North Golf Club, by our founder and Chairman Dana Garmany, and focused on daily fee and resort facilities initially. 1999, we launched Troon Privé, specializing in private club management and have grown that division to well over 100 facilities.

The past seven years has seen incredible growth at Troon with the additions of Troon International, Honours Golf, Caddiemaster, Cliff Drysdale Tennis, and more recently Real Food Hospitality, OB Sports, and Indigo Golf Partners. OB and Indigo are collectively now known as Indigo Sports.

Troon is now the world’s largest golf management company providing services at 590-plus locations around the globe, including managing 640-plus 18-hole equivalent golf courses. With properties located in 45-plus states and 30-plus countries, we are also the largest employer of PGA Professionals and have over 20,000 employees.

Catch them young: Troon Family Golf Month in Abu Dhabi gives a fine opportunity for children to take to the sport early.
Image Credit: Supplied photo

What are the plans for Troon Golf this coming season and longer term in this region?

Our focus as an international division continues to be navigating the unique dynamics and cultural attitudes pertaining to the various regions, and while best practice models are implemented on central resources such as agronomy, operations, sales and marketing, individual ownership has to be respected. We will also continue to monitor the pandemic as challenges such as supply issues, outbound golf tourism from Asia, and the well-being of our members, guests and associates, continue to be of concern.

With the growth of the company, we are excited about the coming period and delivering more resources to our facilities to assist with our ownerships goals. This transcends to golfers, both members and guests, with the experience we deliver and the benefits they receive. More than 230,000 club members can benefit from Troon Advantage while all golfers who sign up to our free loyalty programme, Troon Rewards, earn points redeemable for rounds of golf and get status at Troon facilities worldwide.

Our associates, or employees, are always at the center of our focus. Last year we relaunched our long standing Troon intranet as The Troon Hub, our enhanced online resource and education centre. The Troon Leader programme has gone from strength to strength with nine international future leaders going through the program this year. Past leader graduates include Karl Whitehead – General Manager at Vattanac Golf Resort in Cambodia, Freddie Rexstrew – Director of Golf at Centurion Club in London, and Clinton Southorn, our newly appointed Director of Construction & Agronomy in the Troon International corporate office.

With Expo Dubai 2020 on, Covid cases on the decline here in the UAE and travel to this region returning, we are excited for the short term future. Longer term, it is imperative we have the right strategies in place to continue growing the game. We must stay proactive as an industry to continue the growth in golf participation that the industry has experienced in 2020 and 2021.

What do you see as the strengths and challenges for the UAE golf industry moving forward?

The UAE, and the region overall, is very forward thinking and has embraced many of the initiatives introduced over the years, in some cases quicker than mature golf markets such as Japan, Europe and the UK. Relaxed dress codes, shorter round times, new formats, embracing technology, music on the golf course, and opening up clubs to the community for food and beverage have all been implemented and widely embraced.

One trend we are seeing in this region is higher participation at the range with technology such as TopTracer making practice more fun and interesting. We are also seeing many more golfers having lessons. This is a combination of new golfers and existing golfers, resulting in improved golf games and their enhanced enjoyment in the sport, which is fantastic for the industry. More golf facilities coming online will further assist this growth, along with golf-based entertainment venues, such as Topgolf and Popstroke.

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