Meet the executive vice president: DJ Flanders

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick February 22, 2024 11:15

The executive vice president of Troon International, who oversees more than 45 golf facilities in more than 30 countries, discusses plans for the future, water conservation, utilising technology, being cost effective and the state of the global golf industry.

Some of our readers probably know the Troon International name but not how big the company really is – can you tell us about the organisation?

Troon International is a division of Troon, the world’s largest golf and golf-related hospitality management company, providing services at 825-plus locations.

We operate a portfolio of 45-plus facilities in over 30 countries and have offices in Switzerland, UAE and Australia. We offer expertise on everything from initial due diligence and course construction to golf operations, agronomy, food and beverage, and marketing. Troon® is the leader in providing golf and club-related leisure and hospitality services.

DJ Flanders

Troon International operates three major venues in the UK – how have those clubs been performing in recent years?

All of our properties in the UK continue to exceed our owners’ expectations. Since the global pandemic we have seen a resurgence in golf participation which has proven to be beneficial for our properties in the UK and globally.

Are there any plans for further growth? Is Troon likely to work with more clubs in Europe and especially the UK?

Europe is definitely an area of focus for us and a region that we would like to expand upon. We already work alongside several courses in Germany and Switzerland, supporting their agronomic operations and have relationships in Spain, Greece, the UK and most recently, Portugal, after being selected to manage Salgados Golf Course in the Algarve. As a team we are continuing to look at opportunities in Spain and Scandinavia.

Al Hamra

What is your career path to executive vice president of the company?

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, leading our expansion in numerous countries, including at Solheim Cup host venue Finca Cortesin in Spain; relaunching the previously named Muscat Hills as LA VIE CLUB in Oman; and Vattanac Golf Resort in Cambodia.

Last 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 a majority of my career, I feel he has prepared me well.

What plans have you got in your new role?

Our goal is to increase our focus on growth in Europe and in Asia, markets that present several key strategic opportunities. Over the past several years we have increased our presence in these markets, and this will continue.

Furthermore, I want to look at ways to increase our engagement with our associates around the globe. We have so many talented individuals but we are so spread out, so I would like to find a way to continue to leverage technology to find ways for us all to connect and make the most of our global industry knowledge, adding value to Troon and our owners.

Much of the golfing world has seen a rise in participation since the pandemic started. Do you think the industry will have to work hard to keep these newcomers playing golf and, if so, how will that be achieved?

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. As you say, how we retain those individuals is key.

Many of our facilities around the world have been working to engage those new golfers; at Troon it’s things like ensuring the golf experience from the moment they arrive to the moment they leave is the best it can be, whether that be the starter addressing them by name, a cold towel on the course, or a friendly post-round conversation with the golf reception team. Engaging newer golfers in our academies is important to help develop the technical skills too, so they play better and enjoy the course.

And then there is the social element; events that allow new golfers to experience the fun and community elements of a golf club.

Royal Greens

Troon International runs numerous venues in hot climates. How important an issue is water conservation for you, and what measures, if any, are your clubs adopting to ensure they use a sustainable amount of water for irrigation?

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

With growing concerns about water scarcity, it is imperative for our facilities to use their water cautiously. This includes implementing advanced irrigation technologies like moisture sensors and weather-based controllers to optimise watering schedules, reducing unnecessary water usage. Additionally, courses are exploring alternatives such as using recycled or treated water for irrigation purposes. These efforts not only reduce the overall water footprint but also contributed to the overall sustainability of the golf industry, aligning it with broader environment goals.

Furthermore, educational programmes and outreach initiatives are being undertaken to raise awareness amongst members, staff, and the community about the importance of water conservation in maintaining the beauty and playability of the course, while safeguarding precious natural resources for the future generations.

Al Mouj

Much of the western world has seen rising inflation in the last year or two. Is this having an impact on the clubs, both in terms of their costs, as well as financial pressures on members to end their memberships?

Inflation has indeed had a discernible impact on golf courses around the world. The rising costs of essential costs, such as labour, equipment and maintenance materials, have posed significant challenges for golf courses and operators. Labour costs have surged, leading to higher expense for maintaining the courses while providing quality service to the increase in golf participation which we are experiencing.

Compounding this, the price escalation of equipment and supplies, including fertilisers, pesticides and irrigation systems, has placed additional strain on the operational budgets of golf courses. To mitigate these effects, several measures can be taken.

Firstly, embracing sustainability and cost-effective practices, like adopting efficient irrigation techniques or implementing organic maintenance strategies, can help alleviate some financial burdens. Secondly, exploring partnerships with local suppliers or leveraging Troon preferred partner best in market pricing relationships can provide some stability in procurement costs.

Additionally, leveraging technology to optimise operations, such as using data-driven approaches for resource allocation and predictive maintenance, can enhance efficiency and reduce wastage. Finally, diversifying revenue streams by hosting non-traditional golf activities, events, offering unique memberships, or providing unique experience can help offset rising expense and ensure long-term sustainability of golf operations in the face of inflationary pressures.

Do you have any predictions for the global golf industry over the next few years?

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. Another significant trend is the integration of technology into the game.

Advanced analytics, GPS tracking, and swing analysis tools are becoming commonplace, allowing players to refine their skills and track their progress more effectively. Also, accessibility and inclusivity 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 prioritised to attract a diverse demographic of players.

Additionally, there’s 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 programmes and beginner-friendly facilities like Topgolf and Toptracer 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.

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick February 22, 2024 11:15
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1 Comment

  1. Byrom February 22, 13:25

    Great article DJ Flanders and delighted that you are doing so well. I feel very fortunate to have visited and played at many of those great venues. Always good to follow you on your travels!

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