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Bahrain’s Royal Golf Club is abuzz following the recent announcement that the splendid Riffa Views complex will host the DP World Tour – Bahrain Championship in the New Year. Adnan Sipra and Stanley Szecowka speak to the man of the moment, Juan Manuel Fuentes Perez, the recently appointed General Manager of the Royal Golf Club (RGC)
The DP World Tour – Bahrain Championship will take place from February 1-4, nearly four months after the Royal Golf Club (RGC) at Riffa Views reopened its greens, fairways and bunkers in early October after an extensive redesign and overhaul of 11 holes that took almost seven months to complete.
The 2024 season will see the DP World Tour hold more than 40 tournaments across 26 countries, giving participants the chance to compete for an overall staggering prize fund of $148.5 million.
And the RGC, with its partial course facelift sculpted by leading European designers and carried out by the best project companies in the world, will be more than ready to provide some of the biggest names in golf a truly world-class experience, promised General Manager Juan Perez, who took charge last January.
Perez, 37, is no stranger to Bahrain. A highly respected top golfer himself and coach, who won the Andalusian Professional Golf Tour four times in the Spanish region of his birth and competed on the European Tour, he first came to the kingdom in 2015 when he was appointed a teaching professional by the RGC.
After two years, he joined the Bahrain Golf Association (BGA) as head coach and enjoyed another two-year stint.
Perez then joined Velaa Private Island in the Maldives as director of golf in 2019 before heading back to his hometown of La Hacienda in southern Spain in 2021 where he assumed its senior post at the La Hacienda Links Golf Resort.
However, when the RGC came calling at the end of last year, inquiring if he would like to ring the New Year in as the club’s general manager, Perez, despite being happily settled in familiar and homely surroundings, did not hesitate to jump at the opportunity.
“Honestly, I had such a good experience from the time I arrived in Bahrain in 2015, and how well I was treated in this country throughout the time I was here, that it made sense to come back,” Perez explained.
“The relationships and friendships that I formed, which continue to this day, played an important role too.
“Even though I was in my Spanish hometown and had a really good project going, I always believed that you have to go when the right opportunity comes along, at the right time. Therefore, when this offer came, it was a no-brainer to say ‘yes!’ immediately!
“Perhaps, the most important factor was that I had unfinished business in Bahrain and a genuine vision for taking the Royal Golf Club forward with the owners, having worked here before. I knew what had to be done and I knew how I would work to get it done.”
As soon as he took charge as general manager, Perez initiated what he calls the ‘reset phase’.
“This was the cog of the new vision I had; it envisioned bringing the place ‘back to life’, so to speak,” he explained.
“We’re tackling all the departments, have a really good marketing team in place and we’re reshaping our relationships with everyone in the country.
“We believe this club has so much potential, so we identified what we did right in the past and what areas we were lacking in, or hadn’t touched, or where we hadn’t been doing so well … and we got down to business.”
As part of Perez’s new strategy, the RGC also underwent an overhaul on the management side. “We have a good strategy in place now,” he said. “We have a new management team, a new director of agronomy, a new director of F&B, a new head of the golf academy and new coaches.”
Under Perez’s stewardship, the RGC’s mission has clearly focused on making golf as popular a game as possible for Bahrainis, as well as expatriates.
“We know well where we are,” Perez continued. “We know what we want to do. We are tapping into the local communities, making them aware that golf is not meant for an ‘exclusive clientele’, that it’s a sporting adventure meant for everyone.”
Still an active golfer, Perez believes that his experience as a player – as well as the Club Management Diploma (CMDip) he received from the Club Management Association of Europe – helps him to handle his current role better than if he was just stepping up the hospitality sector’s ladder.
“I have worked in every position imaginable in the golf industry, along with earning the knowledge that comes from being a professional in the sport,” he said.
“So, I can look at things in this field from every conceivable angle: as a golfer, as someone who’s now been involved in the hospitality industry, as someone who understands what a customer wants and needs, as well as being able to look at things from a customer’s perspective.
“I believe I can identify the needs of a customer and know very well what the client requires. You need to know the game well from all aspects.
“My main passion is to make golf popular for more and more people and to make this place even more accessible for those who might want to try their hand at the sport,” he remarked.
The revamp of 11 holes on the 18-hole course is part of that strategy, Perez added.
“The objective is to make the golf course more user-friendly,” he explained, fully aware that even seasoned professionals in the past had pointed out its peculiarities.
The course was ‘noted’ for being ‘challenging’ to play because of the severity of some of its slopes and a leading European contender, Ian Poulter, launched a savage critique during one competition, highlighted by the global sporting Press.
Caddy locker room chatter suggested that the original course designer, the legendary Scot Colin Montgomerie, had been teased by fellow players about how a course he had created was ‘too easy’ to play so he deliberately made the next one – in Bahrain – a tougher encounter.
Sometimes you have to take the ‘bull by the horns’ and there was perhaps no better a man to take on the task than the determined Spaniard.
“We had to make the playing experience more enjoyable and attract more people to the game,” Perez decided. “We reopened at the start of October and players have found it to be a different experience, it’s totally enjoyable!
“Earlier, it was too hard, too complicated for the day-to-day player and, it would appear for some seasoned professionals too. It really did not encourage them to play more because it would simply tire them out and they would lose interest … as well as balls! Now, it is a lot more fun.
“I can confidently say it is on a par with the very best of international standards. I am very happy with that because the whole revamping exercise was a collaborative effort.
“There was so much going on and I had to provide as much input as I could to the team so that they fully understood what I had in mind and, in return, they were able to make it happen,” he added.
The DP World Tour – Bahrain Championship will now display to the world just how wonderfully thrilling and fun the experience of playing the RGC golf course can be, Perez added.
“Next February, we’ll have some of the biggest names in world golf competing on our links,” he said, proudly, adding a message to members: “The news of the DP World Tour coming to Bahrain is truly exciting. It brings with it numerous opportunities for our club and members. I encourage each and every one of you to mark the dates on your calendar and get ready to immerse yourselves in this incredible golfing experience.”
The off-course experience will also be important to attract new members and their families. The gourmet experience guaranteed at the RGC outlets includes exciting steak nights, salads and pizza perfection and the offerings continue to attract large and growing custom throughout the week and weekends to Links, Slice and Repartee.
The club is also famous for its selection of rolls and sandwiches for famished players, particularly the ones filled to the brim with the contents of an English breakfast at Café T.
The players and support teams from around the globe coming to Bahrain in February 2024 will not go hungry.
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