Managing abroad with PGA Member Simon Mees

Managing abroad with PGA Member Simon Mees


Simon Mees, General Manager, Aquella Golf & Country Club in Phuket, Thailand, talks about his career in golf, which has taken him from Scotland to Dubai, Vietnam and Thailand.

What attracted you to working overseas in the first instance?

Growing up, I was fortunate enough to travel abroad on holiday with my family quite often, so the desire to travel, explore and to seek out new experiences was almost engrained fairly early on in my life.

Having heard many positive reports about Dubai from other pros in Scotland who had worked there, or were still based there, it really did sound appealing and when the opportunity arose to work at Dubai Creek back in 1999. I was still living at home at the time, and I thought was better to regret having given it a go and not liking it, rather than regret not giving it a shot. Looking back some 22 years later, you could say everything worked out for the best!

How did you find out about your current role?

By chance really. I was sitting next to James Shippey – a fellow PGA Member – at the 2019 Asian Golf Awards in India. James is managing director of Absolute Golf Services and through a general conversation he mentioned he had an exciting new project in Thailand in the pipeline, but at that time couldn’t really go into too much detail, as it was still not 100% confirmed. I thought nothing of it until a few months later he reached out to see if I would be interested in applying for the GM role as he was now in a position to reveal more about the project. After listening to his introduction of the club, and the project masterplan, I was sold and applied a day or so later.
Having successfully navigated the recruitment process, I joined in mid-2021 after a small delay due to the pandemic. We successfully opened the club in August last year for preview play and recently opened to full operations.

What facilities are on offer at Aquella?

The Aquella resort is located 70km north of Phuket and occupies a two-mile stretch of sandy beach overlooking the Andaman Sea on Thailand’s west coast. It’s a high-end golf and leisure resort featuring a brand-new 18-hole golf course that was built on land previously occupied by Thai Muang golf course, which closed in 2007. Construction of the new course began in November 2018 and we fully opened towards the second half of last year.

In addition to the golf course and clubhouse, there is a golf academy and a mini putting course, as well as some Thai-style villas. Work has started on the resort hotel and lagoon areas and, when complete, the entire resort will eventually include several hotels, a variety of private villas and apartments, a beach club and a tennis academy.

Paul Reeves and Phil Ryan from Pacific Coast Design designed the golf course and oversaw the construction working alongside other stakeholders including Pacific Century Premium Developments, which bought the site in 2016, the Lan Kwai Fong Group and its associated entity Paradise Designs Group of Phuket, and Absolute Golf Services, which is managing the club.

What does a typical working day involve?

As a new operation, I don’t think there is a ‘typical' working day as such, with every day throwing up new challenges. Initially, much of my time was spent working with the club’s department heads, ensuring that processes and systems were in place, along with attending project reviews and procurement meetings. As we have now moved through this pre-opening stage, daily routines have transitioned into more administrative duties while starting to analyse customer feedback and developing on-going training plans for the staff to continue development of the club’s customer service.

What are the most rewarding aspects of your job?

Like most of us, I started out in the golf industry through my love for golf and I still have the same love for it now. Unfortunately, as I’m sure many reading this will agree, I don’t have the time to play as much as I would like, but I do love interacting with members and guests and gain a lot of satisfaction hearing of their fun and enjoyment of the course and services we provide. The most satisfying and rewarding aspect of my role since becoming a member of senior management is seeing individuals working under my leadership developing their own careers.

How has your working life been impacted by the pandemic and how challenging has it to be open and operate a new club under Covid restrictions?

The pandemic has certainly impacted us all severely over the last two years and has been a great learning curve for us all, especially those working in hospitality.

I love the way some of our industry peers have been so creative in developing new ways to interact with their various memberships and it really shows what is possible when necessary. Fortunately, with the timing of our opening it was fairly easy for both our associates and our guests to adapt to the various protocols that needed to be in place as the majority of these had been in place in our everyday lives for some time.

Initially we were impacted from a business perspective due to interprovincial travel restrictions that were put in place three days prior to our planned opening, but thankfully these have now been lifted and Thailand is dedicated to moving on and starting to rebuilt its tourism industry and people are feeling a little more at ease with traveling both domestically and internationally.

How would you rate the current strength of the golf market in Thailand and what are the long-term prospects for golf tourism and golf development in the region?

As a relative newcomer to the Thai golf market as an operator it’s great to see how well developed the domestic golf market is and I’m positive the short-term prospect is good for the health of the game because of this. From a medium and long-term perspective, I believe that Thailand, and the region as a whole, will bounce back strongly as confidence grows in international travel and travel becomes easier again. From speaking with contacts in the travel industry, it seems that there is a pent-up desire to travel, with Asia high on people’s agenda due to the diversity of golf courses, accommodation options and experiences on offer.

How easy has it been to settle into the local community and what are the best parts about working/living in the Thailand?

It has been very easy to settle in due to the excellent help I received from the management team at Absolute Golf Services, and also the team which we put in place before I actually arrived being very supportive when I joined them on site. However, I can honestly say that in the various moves I have made I have been fortunate to have found it fairly easy to settle into my new environment. I relish an enjoy the challenge of learning new cultures, which I think is imperative to helping anyone relocate to a new environment.

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

Go for it! If it turns out being an expatriate isn’t for you, you can always return home knowing that you gave it a shot. Obviously, this is easy to say, as it can be a very daunting thought, but we are fortunate to be part of a very supportive industry and I don’t believe there is a single professional working overseas that would mind if someone reached out to them for their advice on the region they are based.

We have all been in the same situation, so research clubs in the area and reach out and develop a network before you arrive. You will be amazed how supportive people can be. Also try to learn some basics of the language and culture of the country you are planning to move to, which will be greatly appreciated by your new colleagues.


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