A Member's Life Overseas: Q & A with James Quilley

A Member's Life Overseas: Q & A with James Quilley

A MEMBER’S LIFE OVERSEAS: Q & A with James Quilley

We got a chance to take an inside look at one of our member’s lives while working overseas, from how he first started out to where he is today. The story is an interesting one, and is full of insight for members wanting to get something unique out of their career in the golf industry. James Quilley is from British Columbia and has been a CPGA member since 1990 and is now the Director of Operations for IMG in Singapore.

Tell me a bit about how you started off in the golf industry:

My career started unassumingly in about 1980 (cleaning clubs and picking balls at the range), working for my Dad, who was the Head Professional (the 9-hole, Kimberley GC) in Kimberley, B.C. He had established a very respected reputation in the industry, so I felt quite a bit of pressure to succeed, and uphold his standards. I worked for him for several summers while in school, which turned into several years and I turned professional in 1990 and apprenticed under him for another couple years.

When was your first taste of international exposure?

I first worked overseas in 1997-98 as the General Manager of the Doha Golf club in Doha, Qatar. I applied through a CPGA job posting, which I thought was a real long shot, but figured somebody has to get the job, and as they say with lottery tickets, you can’t win if you don't buy one. After that short six month stint and a taste of exotic international lifestyle and tax free earnings, I was determined to get back overseas.

How did you find the application process of getting a job overseas?

I realized that applying for overseas jobs from Canada, was a real challenge. The cost and time required in attending interviews, was a challenge to both myself and prospective employers. I also realized that in almost every instance there were “management companies” bidding for contracts to supply the GM or Head Pro and that I was no match for them on my own. I decided “if you can’t beat them join them” and pursued employment with a few companies such as IMG, Intrawest and Troon. The process of pursuing work with these companies and the several “rejections” helped me understand much better what I needed to do with my skill set in order to be a more appealing candidate to these companies. It seemed every job I applied for was focusing on some skill I did not have or pedigree background I could not demonstrate.

What did you do to keep yourself focused on your goal of working overseas?

After a disastrous GM experience in Lloydminster, I was pretty much at a feeling of rock bottom with my career and aspirations of getting back to a perceived glamorous overseas job. Then I was approached by one of my previous bosses, Gilles Dufort, whom was very understanding and supportive. Gilles has been a mentor of mine for several years and he really helped me to keep positive and committed to learning more and stay focused on my ultimate goal. I went back to the basics in 2003, working on the Grounds crew and then became Food and Beverage Manager in 2004. I did all of this with the intent of becoming a very well-rounded General Manager, with no “holes” in my areas of experience in club management. I have to tell you, that after being a GM at a few courses and living overseas, it was a serious challenge to my patience and pride to be in my homeland mowing grass, digging trenches or delivering fries and beer to drunken boys on a road trip!

So when did you finally get the opportunity?

In 2004, a couple days after Christmas, I got my “big break”. After applying for more than 200 jobs over the past 5 years, I had finally been able to find a way to communicate and demonstrate via my resume, that I would be a good choice for an overseas employer. I am sure that my current boss Patrick Bowers still had some doubts when he made the offer, as coming overseas is truly a challenge and an overseas hire can be costly and very disruptive to numerous people, when it does not work out, so a “sight unseen hire” overseas is very rare. I joined IMG’s Golf Course Management division in February 2005 and have been based in Singapore and traveling Asia in my role as Director of Operations since then. I currently am directly responsible for the operations of seven golf clubs and am often called upon to provide feedback on our other nine clubs as well as provide preliminary information on proposals for new projects that we are bidding on. I travel a minimum of 15 days every month and often am gone for three weeks out of the month (including weekends).

What would you say you do on a day to day basis?

Primarily my job scope is similar to that of a consultant. I work with developers in recruiting General Managers and Superintendents. I help owners create their business and marketing plans, along with membership programs. IMG provides a tremendous library of information resources on club management and I facilitate the implementation of that information to all department managers at our various clubs. Most of our projects are new facilities and we are involved from pre-opening stages, however, sometimes we are called in to “correct a sinking ship”, which often proves very challenging to communicate the solution to the owners as it brings to light previous errors and initially makes the environment more difficult for the staff. Overall though I feel a great sense of satisfaction in knowing we can provide the right solution. Having said that, our solution is not always accepted by the owner, so we have adopted the view that we are golf missionaries, not mercenaries.

What would you say is the biggest difference in working overseas compared to Canada?

This working lifestyle is a huge adjustment! Not only is it a challenge coordinating tight meeting schedules and juggling the logistics of taxis, airports and equally busy clients and staff, but the fact that I am entering different cultures, with different languages, in many cases, still at a third world development level, it gets very interesting. I currently travel regularly to China, Indonesia, Korea, Thailand, and Kazakhstan, but also end up in other countries, like Turkey, India, Mauritius (Africa), Dubai. We have recently signed deals in Cambodia and Vietnam as well, so my passport, looks pretty exotic to many of my friends and family back in Canada. Speaking of family, I am married and am really not sure how it is my wife copes with my travel. She seems to have immersed herself in a community of other wives of “traveling husbands”, which seems to be not only common here in Singapore, but the ‘norm’.

Can you share some interesting tales with us from your travels thus far?

I have far too many to tell, every day is honestly a bit of an adventure, although I would not say they are all of the exciting, thrill-filled kind. But there are a few…

Fulfilling ones:

1. I was entertaining current and potential clients at the Johnnie Walker Classic (the most prolific PGA Tournament in Asia), taking them snorkeling and sightseeing through the James Bond Islands around Phuket, Thailand. I had to take a breath and ask myself, how I ended up there from my days cleaning clubs from a frozen bucket of water in October in Canada.
2. Meeting several of the world’s best players in the game of golf and getting to spend some one-on-one time with them, away from the course. They think my job is as cool as I think theirs is.
3. Getting to play some of the nicest golf courses in the world for free and getting the VIP treatment throughout.
4. Meeting incredibly intelligent and visionary people that are finding unique places in the world to build very enjoyable and memorable golf courses / resorts.
5. Standing outside in the rain, on a hill off the coast of South Korea to get reception on my mobile phone, while hosting a global conference call with IMG executives in Thailand, New York and London, discussing the arrangements of a hosting PGA event for our client in Kazakhstan. Again had to ask myself, how did I get here?

Funny ones:

1. Eating some very ‘foreign’ foods; snake, worms, crocodile, turtle, beetles, and drinking horse’s milk. I have never thrown up, but did get ill from the horse milk for about 36 hours.
2. My friend and I were going golfing in the Philippines. It was early and we both fell asleep in the back of the taxi, during a one hour ride out to the course in the countryside. We both heard each other snoring, then woke up in the ditch, to realize it was our driver we heard snoring! I have had three other taxi drivers fall asleep on me, while traveling (in China). They work 16-18 hours a day, just to earn enough to survive, so it is no wonder they fall asleep.
3. Realizing after 30 minutes that my cab driver has no idea where I want to go and can’t tell me that! Then even better is me still trying to explain to him where to go. A few times both of us have had very good laughs, realizing it was hopeless. I am sure they have told their friends a similar story about the foreign businessman in his taxi, trying to speak to him. Many times I have simply got out, paid him for where he took me and started my journey over from that location, in a new taxi, with a driver that I could communicate with.

Tough ones:

1. After one month on the job, I had to endure back to back overnight flights from the coast of Africa to Korea, flying economy and only getting about two to three hours of sleep through the journey. Then walking straight into morning meetings with a very wealthy and “royalty like” owner, with most of the discussion in Korean. Lunch at noon was traditional shots of red wine, followed by scotch and beer. It was all I could do to simply stay awake for the afternoon discussions. Business in Asia involves routine heavy drinking, in order to establish trust, BEFORE talking business. This was a very tough adjustment for me philosophically and physically.
2. Having a hallucinogenic state of fever / flu and being stranded in the New Delhi airport for 10 hours, overnight. The workers had gone on strike and brought truckloads of garbage into the airport and strewn it about in protest. I had serious thoughts of quitting my job, when I got home.
3. Being stranded on the side of the road in Phuket, Thailand at 6:30 am, with no way to call a taxi and having my golf clubs and 2 suitcases and my briefcase with me. The hotel front office was closed and I had less than 60 minutes to get to the airport and make my flight for a very important meeting in Bangkok. By a miracle a Tuk-tuk (equivalent of a motorcycle with a bench seat in the back) came by and I had to barter with him to take me to the airport. I made my flight with minutes to spare and will never forget that bumpy, 45 minute ride, breathing exhaust fumes and sweating incessantly in the morning, sweltering heat, wearing my suit!

What would you suggest to other members interested in pursuing an opportunity like this?

I love this job and its many challenges. I like to think I am proving that ‘anything is possible’ if you set your mind to it firmly enough. If you really want to work overseas, you must enjoy instability and the unexpected. And if you really want to make it successfully over here, you have to find the self discipline to remain professional, ethical and energized in order to be productive, because as chaotic as it does seem, for those native to Asia, this is simply normal and they have hired people like myself to help them, not just come over and “survive”. If any CPGA member is interested in finding out more about work overseas in the golf industry, please feel free to contact me. I will never forget my roots with the Canadian PGA.

Members...Check out the latest Job Opportunity for IMG in Singapore in our Employment section!!

For more Information on James’ story please contact:

James T. Quilley
IMG Director of Operations
Shaw Center, 1 Scotts Road #21-01/03, Singapore 228208
mobile: 65-8333-8066


Erica Bury
Communications Coordinator
Canadian PGA
C: 416.797.9814

About the CPGA:

Established in 1911, the Canadian Professional Golfers’ Association is a non-profit association comprised of approximately 3,500 golf professionals across the country with a mandate to promote and advance the game of golf, serving the needs of both its membership and the golf public through professional and junior golf development programs and high-calibre competitive events. The National Office is located in Acton, Ontario with nine Zone Offices across the country. For more information, visit www.cpga.com