‘It’s starting to look like something big is happening and it’s exciting,’ says Perez

Bahrain Royal Club Club’s new GM believes that next week’s Bahrain Championship will bring will bring more awareness of the game

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Juan Manuel Fuentes Pérez – the GM of the Royal Club, Bahrain. - Supplied photo
Juan Manuel Fuentes Pérez – the GM of the Royal Club, Bahrain. - Supplied photo

Published: Tue 23 Jan 2024, 6:24 PM

Juan Manuel Fuentes Pérez, the General Manager of Bahrain’s Royal Golf Club, believes that next week’s Bahrain Championship will bring more awareness to golf in the country which aims to become a premium destination for sport and hospitality.

Speaking ahead of the upcoming DP World Tour event presented by Bapco Energies, which returns to the kingdom for the first time in 13 years, Perez spoke enthusiastically about the event and what the future holds for golf in the Middle East,

Excerpts

KT: How is the course and the venue looking ahead of the tournament?

Perez: it was a mega sprint towards the end but we made it happen. We always believed in it, some days it was really tough but the course is better than ever before with the changes we’ve made. Now the guys are here setting everything up for the tournament so it’s starting to look like something big is happening and it’s exciting.

Talk us through the upgrades that have been done to the course in preparation for the DP World Tour stars coming to town?

The main aspect has been the redesign of ten greens. The main intention was to provide new and more pin locations to the existing greens but most importantly to upgrade and improve the playability of the course for our members and guests and to bring the course up to date and make it more user-friendly at the same time.

The greens used to be very undulated. Robin Heisman, the main designer from European Golf Design has been involved with us on the changes. Some of the holes have been completely redesigned and transformed, and others have been partially changed.

Everyone, including all our members, is super excited about the changes. It’s like a new course.

So, it’s actually been about making the course more playable rather than harder?

Exactly, making it more playable for our visitors, it’s like having a new product and they get rewarded for their good shots.

Aside from the greens, we’ve done a redesign of every bunker on the course. We’ve put in new liners and brought in crushed marble sand from Oman – one of the best sands you can get. We’ve redesigned the landscape as well to make it more visually appealing and to make the desert land that frames the course fairer in terms of playability again as well. So, it’s a whole new design to help the players, all players, not just the DP World Tour pros.

The golf club has a very good reputation in the region, tell us about the agronomy team and the work that they’ve put in to make sure the course is in prime condition.

All the credit goes to them. We have a new Director of Agronomy, Jamie Falkner, who we’re extremely lucky to have and he’s taken on the project on a personal level. He’s put his whole life into it. It was hard to believe that we could do a course redesign and have it ready for the DP World Tour but I have to tell you, it has exceeded all expectations.

Marcus Davies as well, the assistant course superintendent, and the whole team – from Golf Operations, marketing, F&B, everyone has been committed to this. It’s a team effort.

Some big international events are happening in Bahrain now, is this part of a strategic plan to raise the country’s profile?

The tourism authorities of this country made this tournament happen and it’s part of a much bigger vision. They want to attract more visitors to Bahrain and we have a lot of highlights here. We have some of the best horse racing in the world, the Formula 1, darts, lots of concerts, international exhibitions and so on. We really want to be a destination for golf, sport and culture. We want people to come here and discover what Bahrain is all about. I

We’re working with the tourism authority to bring national teams from all around the world to Bahrain. We want to be a hub for golf and we’re going to do whatever it takes to achieve that. We have five restaurants at the club so we can host anything – events, weddings, you name it. It’s not like a regular golf club, it’s a lifestyle destination.

His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa is reportedly a keen golfer?

He is indeed a keen golfer and I’ve heard that he’s extremely excited about the upcoming Bahrain Championship. He’s personally been following the developments at the club, so he’s watching.

What do you think the hosting of the Bahrain Championship presented by Babco Energies will bring to the golf club and to Bahrain itself?

For me the key thing it will bring is awareness of the game, I think F1 is a good example of how the profile of a sport has been raised significantly by hosting a big event here. We want to position Bahrain as a premium destination for golf and hospitality, to showcase the country. Really grow the game of golf and show the people that this is a game that is played internationally at all levels. It’s a cool sport that can be played by the whole family. Basically, to discover golf in the country and I think the tournament will be a huge benefit for that.

What will be the main challenges posed by the Royal Golf Club course for the DP World Tour players?

It’s a very challenging course and the players that will succeed will be the ones who know how to adjust to the winds. The wind can change from day to day so you might find four different golf courses throughout the tournament.

They will also have to have an impeccable short game and strong putting. They need to be very precise with the trajectory approaching the greens and know where to place the ball to have the best birdie chances. Tee to fairway, they’ll be okay – it’s challenging but they’re really good players so they’ll be okay but the difficulty will come in the approach shots. It will be fun to watch.

Is this your first time being involved in an event of this magnitude, excitement must be building.

I’ve never been involved in the organisation as a GM but I’ve been involved in many other events. I grew up in Valderrama which hosted the Volvo Masters which used to be a DP World Tour event and I was involved in that for years. It was always my dream as a young golf pro to be like the players I saw there, I watched them all.

Obviously, I didn’t achieve my dream of being a DP World Tour player but I can say that being involved in the organisation of events is the next best thing! I started as a kid working at Valderrama, raking the bunkers on the 18th hole for a couple of years and then I moved on to other jobs over the years!

You must have seen some legends of the game at Valderrama.

I watched them all! Tiger Woods, Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia, Colin Montgomerie, Vijay Singh, Retief Goosen – you name it! The Ryder Cup was there in 1997 when Seve (Ballesteros) was the captain. I met Seve so many times, I’m good friends with the family – his brother used to be my coach, and his son is my friend.

What can the DP World Tour players and travelling fans expect in terms of the hospitality granted to them by the Kingdom of Bahrain?

I first came here in 2015 and then moved away and came back again. I went to a few different countries, including my home country Spain, before I returned. I have to tell you, Bahrain is the most hospitable country in the world. It has to be experienced. Obviously, the UAE, Qatar etc are amazing countries but Bahrain is special. It’s a family-oriented country – Bahrainis are proud of their country.

They like to showcase their country and they will open their homes to people. They’re just waiting to show everyone what Bahrain has to offer.


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