Chris May and Dean Nelson on Shaping Dubai Golf: The Essential Role of PGA Professionals in the Industry

Chris May and Dean Nelson on Shaping Dubai Golf: The Essential Role of PGA Professionals in the Industry


Chris May is the CEO of Dubai Golf, a man who has been at the forefront of shaping the growth of golf in Dubai for the last three decades. Dean Nelson is a PGA Member who plays a key role as the Club Manager at Dubai Golf’s Emirates Golf Club. In this exclusive interview both men discuss the vital role of PGA Professionals within the golf industry and the importance of professional development through initiatives like PGA Excel and PGA Learn.

Why is it important for Dubai Golf & Viya Golf to hire PGA Members?


We have 32 PGA Members working for Dubai Golf and Viya Golf so it’s hugely important to us. Those members encompass fourteen different nationalities, reflecting the variety and diversity we have in our teams within the Middle East.

Golf runs through every aspect of our business and represents the core of what we do.

Hiring people with PGA qualifications means the employees also have experience in other areas - the food and beverage side, marketing and even some knowledge of legal matters. We've got some PGA Professionals working more on the golf operations side and the delivery of events, right up to positions like club manager. An important note for us is that six of those PGA Professionals are female, one area where it’s been very important for us to grow recently. In our Topgolf setup, we have four golf Professionals, two of whom are GB&I PGA qualified.

We are likely one of the few Topgolf venues that would actually employ PGA Professionals. One of the reasons we introduced Topgolf was to allow Topgolf users to make that transition into the game of golf itself. After speaking to some of the Professionals here, they're estimating that roughly 20% of beginner golfers in Dubai are having their first ever golfing experience while at Topgolf. The PGA Members we hire can then help these beginners to commence their transition into the wider game of golf.

How supportive is Dubai Golf & Viya Golf of PGA Members completing the PGA Excel programme, and improving their designation?


I want nothing more than to see people succeed, whether it's in our company or whether it's outside the UAE. We’ve got lots of examples of some ex-colleagues that have gone on to great things, but also some great examples of individuals within our own company that started as PGA Professionals.

I place a great amount of emphasis on continuous improvement and learning, so I think that the development of PGA Excel is something that should be commended. We encourage our entire team to continuously up-skill so that they can go on to bigger things in the future.


For both of you, what qualities do PGA Members bring to a golf facility?


Quite simply, ambition, dedication and a willingness to learn. Ambition means you won’t settle for something going well, you want to seek out the fine details to see where we can get collectively better. Dedication means you will go above and beyond in your job and be proud of your work. A willingness to learn is a great trait to have in any industry – it has served us both very well!


PGA Members come in armed with a professional understanding of what our core operation entails. I think the basis of that PGA qualification is really strong. Over the last decade or so The PGA has worked hard on the CPD and continuous improvement aspect [with the introduction of PGA Learn]. The whole industry that we're working in has changed so much. A PGA Professional now has a really good knowledge base in the management of golf clubs and operation of tournaments and events, which enables people to embrace the other aspects of learning across the business. That could be in food and beverage, marketing, golf course maintenance, leisure or recreation - all of which are crucial to the running of the entire club.

What attracted you to working overseas in the first instance?


I've always had a curiosity to travel and engage with new cultures. My parents moved a lot, although it was only in the UK. Moving was never something I saw as a challenge, having the opportunity to go to Dubai was exciting rather than nerve-wracking for me! I think for everyone in our industry, our unique PGA training allows us to grow the game almost anywhere in the world. I was lucky to speak to people like PGA Master Professional Peter Downie and ask him what it was like. He simply told me to ‘just get on the plane’. I was able to see Dubai develop from a front-row seat and the entire experience fed into my taste for international travel.

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


I think the most rewarding part of the job is achieving things with other people. Every business has successes and failures, but letting colleagues know what they've done that has led to that success and seeing how people develop is very satisfying for me. I was lucky in Hong Kong with my excellent team of colleagues, seeing how they developed and grew. Dubai has been similar because it's always been very strong in promoting the development of people. The evidence is there to see, where people have gone to after they've been here and how successful they've been. I always emphasize the importance of celebrating successes and using any setbacks as opportunities for growth. We are fortunate to have a highly dedicated and talented team, and working together to achieve our goals brings me immense satisfaction.

Have you had any mentors during your career or someone who you have been able to lean on for advice?


I've had the privilege of working alongside some very talented PGA Professionals throughout my journey, including Ron Wallace, Phil Taylor, Paul Burley, Mark Henderson, Peter Downie and many others. Their mentorship has been invaluable, shaping my early training and providing guidance as my career expanded internationally.

In terms of making me look at things differently and not sticking to golf, a recent colleague, Mark Henderson, has been a huge influence. I can't stress enough the importance of building a strong professional network.

For your role as a Club Manager, Dean, what does a typical working day involve?


With three food and beverage outlets, two 18-hole courses, a par 3 course, and a variety of recreation facilities, there aren’t many quiet days! My main role is spending time with each of the department heads focusing on what's coming up soon, preparing for all contingencies and spending as much time as I can around our member events and with our colleagues.

Do you feel that you had to change your management style according to the different countries that you have worked in?

Yes, 100%. Throughout my career, I’ve learned that you have to adapt to the culture that you're in. The way you would manage people in my hometown of Glasgow is completely different compared to Dubai. I make sure I understand what the customs and the etiquette are in that country. Working on how to communicate with multiple nationalities has to be factored in to your management style - what you say may be interpreted one way by one nationality and differently by another nationality. Understanding the business etiquette in a foreign country is always critical. When I first moved overseas, I did have to adapt and improve the way I managed especially with a multicultural team. Having a positive, solution-based mindset is crucial to succeed in any new role, and I was fortunate to learn this early in my career.

What’s the best piece of management advice you’ve received?

Listen to experience, seek guidance where required and use data to help make decisions. Train and develop the team around you first and create a working environment where colleagues can thrive and contribute. This stimulates growth and inclusion. I’m proud to have been able to train and develop the team and create an environment where colleagues can thrive and contribute. Dubai experienced a real shift around the turn of the century, it was great for me to experience. We also saw a huge interest in real estate development around this time – creating the gap for people to live and work here.

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

Wow, so many things! I would have learned more finance earlier and would have tried to work in a 5-star hotel environment sooner. They provide great training, especially on the guest experience. Linking financial performance, colleague performance and guest experience all together is something that I have since become very good at, but in hindsight more financial knowledge in the early years would have helped me when I was starting out.

What advice would you pass on to other PGA Members who may be interested in working abroad in general and the Middle East specifically?

Engage with PGA Professionals who are in international roles and get as much advice as you can, whilst building your personal network. Don’t be afraid to take a risk! Research into various locations is certainly important. Today we can find out anything. The great thing about our network, be it PGA Professionals, club managers, general managers, or pub managers, is that they can be found all around the world. I also think PGA Members should look at starting their careers in hotels or big operators to learn more than just the golf side of things.

Everyone in this industry is more than willing to help. We've all been helped and we're happy to help others too. Get to know people, ask the questions, build your own network, and don't be afraid of taking a risk. I think making that first step is the toughest for a lot of young guys. My advice would be to take a leap of faith, give the great people out here a chance to help you.


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