In Conversation With… Juan Manuel Fuentes Pérez

The Royal Golf Club’s General Manager Juan Manuel Fuentes Pérez shares his views ahead of the upcoming Bahrain Championship presented by Bapco Energies as the DP World Tour returns to Bahrain for the first time in 13 years. 

How is the course and the venue looking ahead of the tournament? 
It was a mega sprint towards the end but we made it happen. We always believed in it, some days it was really tough but the course is better than ever before with the changes we’ve made. Now the guys are here setting everything up for the tournament so it’s starting to look like something big is happening and it’s exciting. 

Talk us through the upgrades that have been done to the course in preparation for the DP World Tour stars coming to town? 
The main aspect has been the redesign of 10 greens. The main intention was to provide new and more pin locations to the existing greens but most importantly to upgrade and improve the playability of the course for our members and guests. To bring the course up to date and make it more user friendly at the same time. The greens used to be very undulated. The main designer from European Golf Design, Robin Heisman, has been involved with us on the changes. Some of the holes have been completely redesigned and transformed, others have been partially changed. Everyone, including all our members, is super excited about the changes. It’s like a new course! 

So, it’s actually been about making the course more playable rather than harder? 
Exactly, making it more playable so for our visitors, it’s like having a new product and they get rewarded for their good shots. It’s a fairer test now, which is what it should have been from the beginning. 
Aside from the greens, we’ve done a redesign of every bunker on the course. We’ve put in new liners and brought in crushed marble sand from Oman – one of the best sands you can get. We’ve redesigned the landscape as well to make it more visually appealing and to make the desert land that frames the course fairer in terms of playability again as well. So, it’s a whole new design with the objective of helping the players, all players, not just the DP World Tour pros. 

The golf club has a very good reputation in the region, tell us about the agronomy team and the work that they’ve put in to make sure the course is in prime condition?  
All the credit goes to them. We have a new Director of Agronomy, Jamie Falkner, who we’re extremely lucky to have and he’s taken on the project on a personal level. He’s put his whole life into it. It was hard to believe that we could do a course redesign and have it ready for the DP World Tour but I have to tell you, it has exceeded all expectations. 
Marcus Davies as well, the assistant course superintendent, and the whole team – from Golf Operations, marketing, to F&B –  everyone has been committed to this. It’s a team effort. 

There are some big international events happening in Bahrain now, is this part of a strategic plan to raise the country’s profile?
The tourism authorities of this country made this tournament happen and it’s part of a much bigger vision. They want to attract more visitors to Bahrain and we have a lot of highlights here. We have some of the best horse racing in the world, the Formula 1, darts, lots of concerts, international exhibitions and so on. We really want to be a destination for golf, sport and culture. We want people to come here and discover what Bahrain is all about. It’s a beautiful country and the people here, I believe, are the most hospitable in the GCC. Our golf club can host people from all over the world, it’s not just the course; we’re working on the country club and the F&B – we have a new director of F&B and new chef, a new pastry chef – it’s a whole lifestyle experience at the club now. 
We’re working with the tourism authority to bring national teams from all around the world to Bahrain. We want to be a hub for golf and we’re going to do whatever it takes to achieve that. We have five restaurants at the club, so we can host anything – events, weddings, you name it. It’s not like a regular golf club, it’s a lifestyle destination. 

His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa is reportedly a keen golfer? 
He is indeed a keen golfer and I’ve heard that he’s extremely excited about the upcoming Bahrain Championship. He’s personally been following the developments at the club, so he’s watching! 

What do you think the hosting of the Bahrain Championship presented by Bapco Energies will bring to the golf club and to Bahrain itself? 
For me, the key thing it will bring is awareness of the game. I think F1 is a good a good example of how the profile of a sport has been raised significantly by hosting a big event here. We want to position Bahrain as a premium destination for golf and hospitality, to showcase the country. Really grow the game of golf and show the people that this is a game that is played internationally at all levels. It’s a cool sport that can be played by the whole family. Basically, to discover golf in the country and I think the tournament will be a huge benefit for that.

What will be the main challenges posed by the Royal Golf Club course for the DP World Tour players? 
It’s a very challenging course and the players that will succeed will be the ones who know how to adjust to the winds. The wind can change from day to day, so you might find four different golf courses throughout the tournament. 
They will also have to have an impeccable short game and strong putting. They need to be very precise with the trajectory approaching the greens and know where to place the ball to have the best birdie chances. Tee to fairway, they’ll be okay – it’s challenging but they’re really good players so they’ll be okay but the difficulty will come in the approach shots. It will be fun to watch. 

Is this your first time being involved in an event of this magnitude, excitement must be building? 
I’ve never been involved in the organisation as a GM but I’ve been involved in many other events. I grew up in Valderrama, which hosted the Volvo Masters which used to be a DP World Tour event and I was involved in that for years. It was always my dream as a young golf pro to be like the players I saw there, I watched them all. Obviously, I didn’t achieve my dream of being a DP World Tour player but I can say that being involved in the organisation of events is the next best thing! I started as a kid working at Valderrama, raking the bunkers on the 18th hole for a couple of years and then I moved onto other jobs over the years!

You must have seen some legends of the game at Valderrama?
I watched them all! Tiger Woods, Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia, Colin Montgomerie, Vijay Singh, Retief Goosen – you name it! The Ryder Cup was there in 1997 when Seve (Ballesteros) was the captain. I met Seve so many times, I’m good friends with the family – his brother used to be my coach, his son is my friend. 

The DP World Tour has not come to Bahrain for 13 years, can you feel the excitement building ahead of the tournament? 
Everyone is really excited and I think people will be surprised at how many fans will come and watch. I have to say, the DP World Tour is doing an amazing job to showcase something really spectacular with this event. We didn’t even have to go out and look for volunteers, people came to us. Everyone wants to be part of this tournament. Bahrain is a country where when something is happening, the whole population turns out for it and gets behind it. It’s not going to be only a golf event – it’s going to be something bigger and the DP World Tour are really making this happen. There will be entertainment, kids club and many different activities for people to enjoy, as well as the golf. 

What can the DP World Tour players and travelling fans expect in terms of the hospitality granted to them by the Kingdom of Bahrain?
I first came here in 2015 and then moved away and came back again. I went to a few different countries, including my home country Spain, before I returned. I have to tell you, Bahrain is the most hospitable country in the world. It has to be experienced. Obviously, the UAE, Qatar, etc. are amazing countries but Bahrain is special. It’s a family-oriented country – Bahrainis are proud of their nation. They like to showcase their country and they will open their homes to people. They’re just waiting to show everyone what Bahrain has to offer. 

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