Exclusive: Troon Golf’s DJ Flanders says he's all for embracing diversity and inclusion to grow the game in the UAE

Golf management veteran notes there is a surge in interest from younger generations, spurred in part by high-profile athletes and influencers engaging in the sport

By Nick Tarratt, Khaleej Times Guest Golf Writer

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DJ Flanders with the caddie team at Vattanac Golf Resort, Cambodia - the 36-hole facility, designed by Sir Nick Faldo and managed by Troon.- Supplied photo
DJ Flanders with the caddie team at Vattanac Golf Resort, Cambodia - the 36-hole facility, designed by Sir Nick Faldo and managed by Troon.- Supplied photo

Published: Tue 28 Nov 2023, 6:19 PM

DJ Flanders, who has managed properties around the world including in the United States, Japan, Bahrain and the UAE for luxury golf development and marketing company Troon Golf, values inclusion as he continues to work with the Emirates Golf Federation (EGF) to grow the initiatives which are enticing younger players to golf.

Khaleej Times caught up with Troon’s Senior Vice President for an exclusive Q & A interview. These are the excerpts.

KT: Congratulations on your recent promotion. DJ, what is your new role in TROON International and how long have you been with TROON? Tell us your story.

DJ: It is amazing to think that 24 years ago I joined Troon as an assistant professional in Texas; Troon’s founder Dana Garmany always said he wanted joining Troon to be a career and not a job, and I certainly feel that way. I joined Troon in 1999 and have more than 24 years of experience in the golf industry.

Over the years, I have managed properties around the world including in the United States, Japan, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. I started in the Troon International corporate office as Director of Operations in February 2014, responsible for overseeing Troon’s operations at some of the top golf courses outside the Americas.

Since 2019, I have been serving as the Senior Vice President for Troon International. Earlier this year I was appointed Executive Vice President, taking over from Mark Chapleski who retired in July.

After working for Mark for so many years, it was an honour to assume his role after he left. They are big shoes to fill, but since I have worked for Mark, the majority of my career, I feel he has prepared me well.

KT: How many golf facilities does TROON operate globally and more particularly in your international role?

DJ: Troon is the world’s largest golf and golf-related hospitality management company, providing services at 825-plus locations in 33 countries. Along with golf, we have a Racquet division led by Cliff Drysdale Tennis and Peter Burwash International while providing Caddie-related services through Club Up and CADDIEMASTER.

We have also recently added Icon Management to our portfolio, a leading property management company offering us expertise in all aspects of Community Association Management Services.

We have huge support from our owners and were delighted to have Rory McIlroy become a Troon investor in late 2021.

Troon International is a division of Troon with our facilities largely operating under our Troon Golf brand while a select few fall under Troon Privé. We operate a portfolio of 45-plus facilities in over 20 countries and have offices in Switzerland, UAE and Australia. Our management and advisory services are specialized towards operations, agronomy, and marketing.

Our division was created 24 years ago, back in 1999, firstly in Australia where we continue to work with Brookwater Golf & Country Club. We then partnered with Emaar at the Montgomerie Golf Club Dubai and established our Dubai presence in 2001.

The Grove in England became our first and flagship facility in Europe and we have, in fact, just celebrated 20 years at The Grove. Our ultimate role is supporting our facility teams with Troon’s wealth of resources and expertise in achieving our clients’ goals.

Since assuming my role on the 1st of August, we have had multiple highlights at Troon International. To name a few; LA VIE Club in Oman reopened (previously named Muscat Hills), Finca Cortesin hosted the Solheim Cup, we have been entrusted by Highgate and QD to manage their golf facilities in Portugal and Morocco – Salgados Golf Course and Al Houara Golf Club. 2024 continues to look promising for us as a division and we look forward to serving the members, guests and communities in which we are across the globe.

KT: How do you see golf in the region and the role of TROON International in developing and growing the game?

DJ: Globally we saw an increase in participation during the pandemic as golf offered individuals an opportunity to, somewhat safely, engage in a sporting activity and get outside. Additionally, there is a notable surge in interest from younger generations, spurred in part by high-profile athletes and influencers engaging in the sport.

This is encouraging the development of more youth-centric programs and beginner-friendly facilities like Top Golf and Top Tracer ranges.

Ultimately, these trends are not only enhancing the overall experience for golf enthusiasts but also contributing to a more sustainable, technologically advanced and inclusive game for the future.

Here in the UAE, we have seen more interaction with the game since the addition of TOPGOLF in Dubai along with more technology-driven practice facilities, which has made the game more accessible and fun to non-golfers. How we retain and continue to engage those individuals is key.

At Troon facilities, we feel it is imperative to accept golfers as they are, and not become the “clothing police” when new golfers are looking to play.

The younger generation and those coming to our golf courses, who were introduced to the game at mass participation facilities like TOPGOLF have different expectations of what to wear on the golf course which we have been trending more casual over the last 20 years.

Being more inclusive and embracing this diversity makes the game more inviting and we have a better chance of those golfers remaining engaged with the sport if we do not make an issue out of the hoodie, t-shirt, or hat on backwards.

In the UAE, we continue to work with the Emirates Golf Federation (EGF) on growing the initiatives which are enticing younger players to play the game along with introducing the game to our local Emirati golfers.

In this region, we have some extremely strong junior programs and due to the quality of this programming, we are starting to see some of our local junior golfers go on to college scholarships in the United States and other countries. One of our facilities in the region,

The Els Club Dubai, has even created a cooperative educational program with GEMS Education to provide golf-specific training in conjunction with the required high school education to further prepare aspiring golfers.

This type of programming is incredibly popular in the United States and gives quality golfers in this part of the world an option to have a strong educational program that specializes in golf closer to home. Here in the Middle East, the R&A are supporting the game of golf tremendously with their commitment and efforts such as the recently announced Golf in Schools program.

Further, the EGF continue to lead the way in providing entry and elite opportunities within the UAE.

Another part of growing the game is to be sure that the facilities that we manage push to be as sustainable as possible to protect our game for the future. Water conservation is an immensely crucial issue for golf courses, as they often require substantial amounts of water to maintain the quality of conditioning expected from most golfers.

Recognizing the significance of this, our Troon properties have increasingly prioritized sustainable water management practices. This is pivotal not only for environmental responsibility but also for economic and community considerations.

I think you will see a notable shift revolving around sustainability and increased environmental consciousness within the golf industry. Courses are increasingly adopting eco-friendly practices, incorporating renewable energy sources and implementing water conservation measures to reduce their environmental footprint.

Al Zorah is a great example and I must commend our General Manager Phil Henderson and Al Zorah’s CEO George Saad for their commitment to protecting the environment and communicating their efforts.

In the UAE and globally, accessibility and inclusivity to the game are gaining momentum, with efforts to make golf more welcoming to a broader range of participants. Many of our properties have signed on with the R&A’s Women in Golf Charter, putting in writing their commitment to make the game and the business of golf more inclusive for women.

We are also seeing initiatives like shorter courses, family-friendly tee options, and welcoming atmospheres such as music on the range and the golf carts being prioritized to attract a diverse demographic of players.

Lastly, to continue to grow the game in the region, we need to continue to work with our owners to be sure we are providing the best experience possible and continuing to reinvest in the facilities and the game.

Our owners can do this more economically by leveraging Troon’s best-in-market-preferred pricing. At the moment, we are seeing Al Zorah, Arabian Ranches and The Montgomerie Dubai all upgrade their fleet of carts. In addition, The Els Club Dubai has a newly revamped 261 restaurant, which is certainly worth a visit.

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In 2024, we will see Al Zorah add a new clubhouse, which will only make that exceptional golfing experience even better, and we are seeing significant enhancements at Al Hamra to their arrival experience and practice facility making the facility an even better home for the DP World Tour event in early 2024.

KT: Thank you for your time DJ and keep up the good work.!


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