Andrew Whitelaw has spent the majority of his career in the UAE and has watched Dubai grow into one of the world’s top golf destinations, helping put the the Majlis course at The Emirates Golf Club into the world’s top 100. Andrew, who gained his CCM in 2013, has now been appointed the General Manager of one of Ireland top golf clubs Portmarnock Golf Club.
In this Q&A he gives us an insight into how golf has developed in Dubai over the past 20 years and how the transition has been moving from Dubai to Ireland.
Did you have any mentors who helped you to transition from east Lothian to the UAE?
My PGA professional training was under the watchful eye of John Chillas who instilled the fundamentals of running an efficient golf club. This guidance by John is still very relevant today. My transition from East Lothian to Dubai took me via Germany where I spent 2 seasons running an academy with the extremely forward thinking and entrepreneurial PGA professional Ian Peek. My take away from this time was the importance of continuous personal and professional development which I exercised during my time in Dubai.
Golf was still in the early stages of development when you first arrived to the UAE in 1998. What is the biggest change you have seen over the past 20 years and where do you see it going in the future?
When I arrived in Dubai there were only a handful of clubs and a small local golf market. Two decades later, and like the city itself, Dubai is now firmly established on the map as a key international golfing destination. It was extremely exciting to be part of this growth and development. Alongside investment in golfing facilities, new courses and international events such as the Omega Dubai Desert Classic and DP World Championship, was a very sharp focus on delivering extremely high standards in the conditioning of the courses and customer service. In terms of outlook going forward, without doubt Dubai will continue to grow as a must visit golf destination with the quality of golf courses on offer coupled with the ever-expanding range of activities to be enjoyed off the course. Where there may be change operationally is in the membership dynamic as members look for the best value for money. The pay and play aspect of the local market is increasing and the ability not only to retain and grow the membership base is becoming more challenging. I believe that membership models will continue to evolve with more flexible options becoming available.
You are a talented golfer and have played in the Dubai Desert Classic four times. Does being a good golfer make the job of managing the club easier?
Being able to play golf to a good standard is always an advantage in networking and building relationships with members and guests. It is also very advantageous when working alongside Superintendents and Agronomists on the design, maintenance and management aspects of the course.
You have now left Dubai for your new role as General Manager of Portmarnock Golf Club in Dublin. How have you found the transition particularly given the change in climate and culture?
The transition was seamless not least as my wife is Irish so I’ve been coming here for years but also as Portmarnock Golf Club did an extremely professional job with Colt Mackenzie McNair in the recruitment process.
Portmarnock is an amazing club, steeped in tradition and with such a strong golf heritage so it contrasts with the modern golf market of Dubai yet many of the fundamental elements of running the business such as service quality, course conditioning and people management are similar. I am enjoying the challenge of new learnings and of course we are very much gearing up for the 124th Amateur Championship which will be hosted here in July and for the celebrations in honour of the 125th anniversary of the club this summer, so it’s a very exciting and busy time to join.
What impact do you think having the CCM certification had on landing your new role at Portmarnock?
I have always been a strong proponent of further training and education for golf industry professionals and the CCM certification was a priority for me. The CCM ensures golf business managers are current on the most up-to-date management techniques and best practice in this constantly evolving industry. It also enables access to a network of industry peers for collaborating and sharing ideas. I believe it is absolutely an advantage having the certification.