Chris Geraghty: My career is a PGA Professional overseas

Chris Geraghty: My career is a PGA Professional overseas

23/11/2022

PGA Member Chris Geraghty talks about the career path that has taken him from the professional playing ranks in the UK to being hired for senior management roles in Egypt, Bahrain and now Cambodia.

He has recently been appointed general manager at Vattanac Golf Resort, a luxury 36-hole facility in Phnom Penh operated by Troon Golf.

What has been your career path to date?

I turned professional in 2008 and played full-time on the PGA EuroPro Tour and the Challenge Tour for three years. I combined the final year of my playing career working as an operation’s assistant at De Vere Heron’s Reach in Blackpool – I grew up in Lytham St Annes – and stayed there until I stopped competing in 2009. After that I took up a seasonal six-month golf ops role at Stella Di Mare Hotels in Egypt and ended up staying there for almost seven years, progressing to be Director of Golf in 2014. It was during this time that I completed the PGA Foundation Degree.

The opportunity to join Troon presented itself in 2016 when I moved to Cairo to lead The Allegria, which boasts a Greg Norman Signature Course, which was managed by Troon, and was part of a high-end housing development in West Cairo. During this time I enrolled on the University of Birmingham’s MBA program before being offered the job of general manager at The Royal Golf Club in Bahrain, which was also managed by Troon. 

Earlier in 2022, I was selected to become General Manager at Vattanac Golf Resort in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. This is an opportunity which does not present itself very often and one I felt privileged to be able to accept. Vattanac boasts two 18-hole courses designed by Sir Nick Faldo, seven tea houses, a banquet venue, an academy, and the pre-opening of what will be the largest clubhouse in the world which is scheduled to open in early 2024. After learning about the Vattanac Group and the incredible vision and unwavering commitment to quality our ownership has, it became a dream opportunity. I’ve been here four months now, and the size and scope of the resort’s ambition has surpassed my expectations.

 

What attracted you to working overseas in the first instance?

I had always enjoyed travel and seeing different places. The winter had become an unreasonable proposition in the UK for someone who still had the dream of playing tournament golf, so winter abroad was the logical choice. Once being abroad, it was clear that I loved the learning opportunity of seeing the world from different viewpoints, retaining a certain open-mindedness to things being done differently, and learning languages. To this day, 13 years after leaving the UK, this is the most interesting part of being abroad; retaining that openminded approach, understanding other viewpoints, and overall broadening myself to the wonderful world we live in and the different experiences on offer.

How did you find out about your current position, what was the job interview process and what skills were they looking for?

The current position had been posted on the Troon careers page and knowing the scale of opportunity this may become, I reached out to DJ Flanders, Senior Vice President of Troon International, to express my interest in the opportunity. After an initial discussion on what to expect and what strengths would be desirable, we both decided I could be a good fit for this particular property.

I was fortunate enough to be interviewed by Executive Director of the Vattanac Group, Neak Oknha Vattanac Sam Ang, and through that process I learned so much about the ownership’s vision, Vattanacville, group projects and how each of those businesses were integrated. It was an incredibly exciting moment. My perception was that my aforementioned open-mindedness and proven track record of adapting to the nuances of culture were very positive contributors to my eventual appointment.

Describe the facilities on offer at Vattanac?

Vattanac Golf Resort is simply unlike anything I’ve ever seen anywhere in the world. 36 holes of Sir Nick Faldo designed golf across two contrasting courses which rival any top course I’ve been fortunate enough to visit. Around the courses there are representations of ancient Khmer monuments, including UNESCO Heritage Site Angkor Wat, a giant representation of King Jayuvaraman VII, and The Bayon Temple. A fully functioning academy building with school rooms containing Trackman units, V1, Sam Balance Lab, plus three Sim Rooms each with Trackman, driving range with Eagle Try technology, and a VIP Range with Trackman Range. The F&B operation currently comprises an Academy Restaurant, plus seven tea houses across the two courses, and The Pavilion, which forms an incredible banquet and event space surrounded by water in a lake between the East Course’s 9th and 18th holes.

The clubhouse will also be unlike anything ever seen before in the context of golf and leisure facilities. Banquet space for over 1,500 people, indoor swimming pool, spa and massage facilities, multiple F&B spaces, luxury retail space, among many other facilities. All of which is congruent with the quality and reputation of both the Vattanac Group and Troon brands.

What does a typical working day involve?

On a weekday I am generally in the office around 8am. It’s a 45-minute commute for me, so I spend time in the car setting up the day, and my secretary gets into the office by 7.30am so my day is completely organised by the time I arrive. I spend a lot of time with our management team in a mixture of one-on-one and group settings and ensure the day-to-day running of the business, and the guest experience, is smooth. I always keep one day a week – generally a Thursday – clear for business development, planning, reporting and catching up on general admin.

On the weekend, I am generally in before 6.30am. Vattanac caters for many VIP guests – government ministers and officials, heads of state, ambassadors and company CEOs – so I ensure my weekend days are spent supporting our teams to provide an experience befitting the expectations of our guests. I generally stay ahead of our VIP guests on their journey ensuring that, as a team, we are one step ahead and can predict our guests needs while we are fortunate enough to host them at Vattanac Golf Resort.

What are the most rewarding and the most challenging aspects of your job?

Due to the professional set-up, the facilities on offer, the quality across all Vattanac Group products and bringing the Troon experience to Cambodia, the expectations of our guests are understandably very high. When our guests feedback positively and notice the experiential focus all of our associates have, when we get the feedback of ‘our experience was worth every penny spent’ we know we are at a level we can be satisfied with our performance.

However, therein lies our biggest challenge; thinking of new ways to pre-empt our guests’ needs and to remain committed to finding new ways to excite and exceed the expectations of all of our guests.

What do you aim or are hoping to achieve in this new role?

It is a very interesting time for Southeast Asia as golf is experiencing a significant growth in this part of the world. Cambodia is also going through incredible development both economically and infrastructurally. There is a new airport in development near the resort and Vattanacville will see thousands of new luxury homes, hotels and schools being developed. I am committed to continuing the great work already done by my predecessor Karl Whitehead, by Troon, and by our ownership, to ensure Vattanac Golf Resort is on the global stage as a world class venue known as the best in this region.

How many staff are employed at the resort and how would you describe your management style?

There are just over 500 associates at Vattanac Golf Resort. I have a team of 12 direct reports which I spend most of my time with. However, I make effort to be on the ground with our staff to support them in providing the experience our guests have come to expect from us as a team. Being on the floor and interacting with guests is also where I enjoy being the most.

I don’t like to label my leadership style as I believe the best leaders can adapt their styles to any context. However, if I were to define a style, I would say I have a very participative leadership style, always accepting other viewpoints and methodologies before deciding a direction. However, when it comes to making ourselves accessible to guests, providing personalised and attentive service, I hold myself to account for guest experiences at all contact points.

What is the general state of golf development/participation in Cambodia?

Cambodia has a bustling golf scene. I am very impressed with the passion and knowledge for golf which I have seen here through interactions with both Cambodian friends I have got to know, and also to the expatriate groups based here. Golf is perceived as a great family sport, so initiatives like the Vattanac Golf Resorts 2-Gen Tournament and the Vattanac Junior Program are really driving participation among younger players new to the game and providing families with an activity they can enjoy together.

How easy has it been to settle into a new country? What you do away from work?

That is always a concern when moving to a new location or region. However, the sheer genuine warmth, welcome, and support I have received from all I have interacted with in Cambodia so far, has made it a very easy transition and after a few months, I already feel settled and adapted.

To be honest, this has been true everywhere I have worked – Egyptian people were absolutely wonderful in accepting me and being very welcoming; Bahrain was the same; a very pleasant, friendly country. I have been very lucky to experience these wonderful countries with incredible people whom have all been exceptional in making me feel at home the last 13 years I have been away from the UK.

Have you had any mentors during your career or someone who you have been able to lean on for advice? If so, who and what have you learned from them?

There have been so many whom I have leaned on over the past decade or so. Initially, after leaving the UK, Josh North and Isabelle Cutrona at Stella Di Mare were exceptional to work for and I learned and developed so much through this time. Since joining Troon, honestly, I lean on the entire network; when experiencing agronomy questions, we have a specialist to ask; when experiencing marketing questions, we have a specialist to ask; when needing certain templates, budgets, files, or info, we have an operations manager to ask.

Most of all, both Mark Chapleski, Executive Vice President, and DJ Flanders, Senior Vice President of Troon International, have been exceptional supporters of me since joining Troon back in 2016. Most recently, since joining Vattanac Golf Resort, I have learned a lot from our ownership. I always felt myself adventurous and able to think big, however the scale, commitment to quality, attention to detail, and long-term orientation of the strategic thinking has blown me away. 

 

What do you know now that you wish you’d have known when you first started out?

Nothing springs to mind. The major enjoyment factor of my personal journey over the last 13 years since leaving the UK has been around learning. I feel that if I had known everything when embarking on this journey, I would have not approached these different experiences with the same open-mindedness and willingness to learn as I have, and certainly wouldn’t have had the same opportunities and experiences I have been fortunate enough to earn during this time.

What advice would you pass on to other PGA Members who may be thinking about working overseas?

I always thought of the PGA degree as a very valuable qualification. My advice to all PGA Members is to consider that the PGA Degree, whether Bachelor or Foundation, is only the beginning of your educational journey. There is so much more to go on to learn outside of that which will make you a valuable asset to an organisation.

Since completing the PGA programme, I have learned to speak Arabic fluently, embraced three different regions of the world with differing cultural nuances, and I consider most of my learning to have been done outside the classroom. For those considering an international move, don’t think twice; grab the opportunity, embrace it, enjoy it, and retain an objective view and a level of open-mindedness.

Related

Our Partners

  • Banyan Tree
  • The Belfry
  • Coca-Cola
  • EVC
  • FootJoy
  • Gleneagles
  • PING
  • St. James's Place
  • Therabody
  • Titleist