Scotland to Saudi Arabia: Gilbert Hepburn on his new role at Royal Greens

Scotland to Saudi Arabia: Gilbert Hepburn on his new role at Royal Greens


Scottish-born PGA Member Gilbert Hepburn talks about how a decade spent working at Gleneagles helped prepare him for his new role as Head Professional at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in Saudi Arabia, which is playing a leading role in growing the game at all levels in the Kingdom.

How did you first get into golf and what set you on the path to becoming a PGA Professional?

I first got into golf when I was eight years old, hitting balls around the garden in the farm that I grew up on in Scotland. I come from a family of teachers, in various fields and industries, so that, along with the fact that my main hobby was golf, probably played a big part in taking me down the route of wanting to become a PGA Professional.

What has been your career path to date?

I did some work experience at The Gleneagles Hotel in 2011, when I was 16, and about 18 months later I was lucky enough to be offered a trainee assistant’s job. I started working in the pro shop before later moving to the golf academy after a couple of seasons. I turned professional in 2016 and began my PGA training later that same year. I really enjoyed my training, and I met some great people along the way who are friends to this day.

After I qualified in 2018, I coached for two years at Gleneagles before being promoted to Senior PGA Professional. This role was rather more diverse than before, as although it still involved coaching, there was now a management element, overseeing the rest of the academy team.

I took a particular interest in helping the young trainee professionals with their studies and continue to do so.

What attracted you to working overseas in the first instance?

Provided you are always progressing, learning and developing, I don’t feel that there are any issues with staying in the one place, but there were quite a few factors in my decision to move out to Saudi, not least the opportunity to break out of my comfort zone and try a new experience.

There was also the great weather, the obvious financial incentives, and perhaps, more importantly, the opportunity to work in a country where golf is a relatively new sport among the local population, but also one that is well funded. There are currently only a handful of golf courses in Saudi, but this number is expected to rise to over 30 within the next 5-10 years, which makes it a very exciting time to be working in golf in this part of the world. I cannot think of anywhere else where golf is a reasonably new concept, but crucially, has the financial backing to make it a success.

How did you hear about your role at Royal Greens and what qualities do you think got you the job?

During the winter of 2022/2023 I was looking, albeit not desperately, for a new challenge. After being offered a couple of positions abroad, all of which I ultimately ended up turning down, I received an email out of the blue from Golf Saudi. This led to an initial conversation, followed by a more formal interview, and then the offer of a job.

Royal Greens is one of the best venues for golf in the Kingdom. It has hosted numerous professional tour events for men and women.

Having spent over a decade working in the five-star environment of Gleneagles, I am more than comfortable dealing with people from all walks of life and delivering industry-leading standards. This, I believe, is one of the main qualities that saw me successful in securing the position.

What does a typical working day involve?

My role is mostly coaching, but from time to time I help to manage our golf operations. We have great facilities here and an excellent team, which makes things very straightforward. On a day-to-day basis, my job is to ensure our members and guests receive the highest levels of customer experience when they come and play the course or visit the club. From a coaching standpoint, we are currently working towards the delivery of golf programmes to local schools and universities, which is all part of our remit to help grow the game in the Kingdom.

Given that so many of your pupils are probably just starting out in the game, have had to change your coaching style in any way?

Personally, I coach ball flight and don’t possess a ‘method’ when it comes to coaching. All I want to do is make every pupil’s ball flight better. This could be changing the trajectory, curvature, consistency etc. Coaching in Saudi Arabia is not any different to the UK – the ball flies the same out here, although perhaps slightly further, but a slice is still a slice. One thing I am very conscious of, however, is adapting my terminology. I take particular care in my explanation and delivery, so all information is relayed clearly and concisely. This is doubly important when you’re coaching people in their second language, although most Saudi national’s speak fantastic English, and certainly miles better than my Arabic, so that hasn’t been a huge problem.

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

By far the most rewarding aspect is the coaching side. As I mentioned before, it is quite unusual nowadays to work in a country where, up until very recently, a large percentage of the population had never really participated in sport, let alone golf. So, to see the excitement and enjoyment new golfers get when they first pick up a club, to the subsequent improvements that they are able to achieve, makes it very rewarding. This can also be a challenge, as some beginners have grown up with a limited amount of coordination, which takes time to build.

What qualities do you look for when hiring a PGA Professional for a role?

There are obviously all the normal skill sets you look for when hiring staff members – being focused, hardworking, driven, polite, timely – but the most important skill I look for is how well the applicant builds relationships and rapports with people.

Although it goes without saying that qualifications are vital, it is also equally important to be able to get on with people. You could be the Trainee of the Year and receive distinctions in all your studies, but if you can’t build a good relationship with a pupil, customer or member, your qualifications can only take you so far. So, when I am hiring people, I always look for someone who possesses the best people skills and is capable of building strong relationships.

Have you had any mentors during your career? If so, who and what have you learned from them?

Andrew Jowett, the Director of Golf at Gleneagles, pretty much taught me everything I know, and I am hugely grateful for all that he has done for me. Andrew has been at Gleneagles for over 20 years, and I started working for him in 2012. I was very fortunate to be a part of the team that he led to deliver the 2014 Ryder Cup, the 2019 Solheim Cup and the Senior Open Championship in 2022 at Gleneagles. I was able to pick up some great tips from him, in particular his way with people. I can remember it taking us over half-an-hour to walk through the hotel sometimes, as he would constantly be stopping to give people his time, show an interest in their lives, and always deliver that personal, yet still very professional touch. Learning those qualities has helped me build relationships with people throughout my career that will last a lifetime.

How important has your PGA training and qualifications been in helping you to develop your career?

Having the PGA qualification has been a great catalyst in developing my career. The training gave me a solid grounding in all aspects of the golf industry and the PGA brand is recognised and respected all over the world, which has certainly opened doors.

What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve received and the one that that you would like to pass on?

Recognise opportunity. This is a piece of advice my father first gave me and is one that has stayed with me. I’m also a big fan of Warren Buffet, the American financial guru, who once said ‘fish where the fish are’. I take that to mean that you should put yourself in positions that make you more likely to receive opportunities by being in the right place at the right time. You do this by educating yourself to stand out, by building relationships with the right people, and, as I have done, by moving yourself to a location – in my case, Saudi Arabia – where opportunity exists. Either way, do what you can to give yourself more opportunities.

What do you like most about living and working in Saudi Arabia?

There are many upsides to living in Saudi. The people are incredibly welcoming, the weather is amazing, and living and working by the Red Sea is stunning.

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

It’s important to keep yourself up to speed with what is happening within the golf market in terms of what courses are being built, when they will be finished, and what management companies are involved. It’s easy to find most of this information from social media. Additionally, keep your skills up to make yourself stand out from the crowd and don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Oh, and don’t forget to recognise what could be a great opportunity!


Our Partners

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