Women & Golf speak to Kenneth Cornelia and Charlyn Alunday from Al Zorah Golf Club about building their careers in the golf industry

Hailing from the Philippines, Kenneth Cornelia, 31, and Charlyn Alunday, 27, knew little about the golf industry when they joined Al Zorah Golf Club in the United Arab Emirates in 2019. Fast forward five years, and the pair are now playing an integral role in helping the club establish itself as one of the region’s premier and most exclusive golf destinations. With Kenneth and Charlyn having both recently been rewarded with further promotions, we caught up with them to learn more about Al Zorah and its burgeoning success story.

Tell us about your role at Al Zorah Golf Club?           

Kenneth Cornelia – In my dual capacity at Al Zorah, I manage two critical areas of operation. Firstly, I spearhead the events that are tailored for corporate clients and golf groups, a sector that makes up 15 per cent of our total business. This dynamic aspect of my role ensures continuous engagement for both the team and myself.

Secondly, I am committed to enhancing the overall experience for our members and guests. This involves conducting individual and group training sessions and championing programs like 59club and Players 1st, which provide valuable feedback on our member's and guests' experiences.

Charlyn Alunday – My role encompasses two key components. The first involves direct engagement with our membership on a daily basis, and with the upcoming addition of our luxury clubhouse, this interaction is going to grow significantly.  Additionally, we are introducing new offerings, including leisure amenities such as a cutting-edge fitness suite, two swimming pools, tennis and a yachting element.  A significant aspect of the role involves formulating and implementing strategies for all aspects of membership, including revenue generation and member programming. 

The second aspect of the role is focused on marketing. In the current year, we have compelling projects underway, including a rebranding initiative to become Al Zorah Golf & Yacht Club, the development of a new website, and the creation of a fresh image library in collaboration with a renowned photographer.  Every day is a learning opportunity at Al Zorah.

What drew you to come and work in the Middle East?

KC – The Middle East, and the UAE in particular, are filled with career opportunities and, after seeing family members flourish, it gave me the encouragement to make this move abroad.  While the Philippines is progressing in various aspects, the development and opportunities there are not as robust as those in the UAE.

CA – Motivated by the success of my family members in the UAE and aspiring to advance my career, I made the measured choice to relocate internationally. My plan always included the opportunity to explore beyond the UAE, using it as a launch pad for trips in Europe.  When you grow up in Asia, Europe is seen as a faraway land. However, from Dubai you can be anywhere in five to eight hours.  

Al Zorah Golf Club
Al Zorah Golf Club - image credit Patrick Koenig

What do you like most about your job?

KC – The dynamic nature of the work keeps me engaged, and the challenges I encounter push me to constantly improve.  Engaging with diverse individuals on a daily basis adds an enjoyable and dynamic element to the people aspect of my job.

CA – A positive team spirit, coupled with abundant training opportunities, fosters a fulfilling environment that encourages both personal and professional development. This creates enjoyable and rewarding experiences every day. Our members are not only fun but also engaging, adding an extra layer of enjoyment to the overall atmosphere.

How much golf experience, either working or playing, did you have before coming to Al Zorah?

KC – Before arriving at Al Zorah, golf was a sport that was unknown to me. While I had heard of Tiger Woods, I had never set foot on a golf course or visited a driving range.

CA – I possessed limited familiarity with golf and sports in general, as my interests have predominantly gravitated towards singing, playing the guitar, and engaging in artistic pursuits.

How have you enjoyed learning to play golf? Did you feel it was important to learn how to play?

KC – Upon reaching Al Zorah, our management team actively encouraged me to engage in golf as both a recreational and learning experience. The club organises golf clinics, competitions, and regular outings to other Troon courses in the country, fostering a culture where everyone is encouraged to play golf.  I have loved the game and, as I have developed as a player, my hunger to get better keeps me playing on a weekly basis, even during those warmer summer months.

CA – Golf was important to learn as I was surrounded by golf enthusiasts and I felt the only way to be successful was to integrate myself fully.  We also have a culture at the club where everyone plays the game.  It has been a journey, learning golf is a challenging sport and in the beginning period, you need to invest time.  I am happy with my decision to take up the game, and I have set ambitious goals, aiming to achieve a single-figure handicap within the next 24 months.

How does golf compare between Al Zorah and the Philippines?

KC – The Philippines, located in south-east Asia, features a tropical climate characterised by well-defined wet and dry seasons. In contrast, Al Zorah enjoys lots of sunshine year-round, warm temperatures and minimal rainfall. This weather disparity results in a unique and contrasting experience between the two locations.

CA – Having immersed myself in the world of golf, I have had the opportunity to explore numerous golf clubs in the Philippines over the years. One notable distinction lies in the varying degrees of investment between Al Zorah and the prominent clubs in Manila.  The facilities on offer at Al Zorah and in the Middle East in general are sensational.

How have Al Zorah and Troon Golf helped in enabling you to progress within the golf industry?

KC – Since my arrival at Al Zorah, I have found myself immersed in a community of individuals from Al Zorah and Troon who are dedicated to inspiring and encouraging personal growth. At the core of this support system is Philip Henderson, our general manager. His unwavering commitment to elevating those around him is evident, as he consistently makes time for individuals, even amidst a demanding schedule. 

Throughout the years, I've been fortunate to experience first-hand Troon's robust training and development programs. Additionally, Al Zorah boasts a library stocked with more than 100 books, accessible to every team member. These thoughtful touches are scattered throughout Al Zorah, contributing to an environment that actively encourages and supports personal and professional advancement.

CA – I've been fortunate at Al Zorah to have an encouraging general manager who places a high value on learning and development and acts as a mentor.  We also have an active human resources department that wants to see growth in the team; it is a brilliant support system. The Troon team is filled with exceptional individuals, such as Clinton Norris, who heads the sales and marketing sector, and Miriam Finerty, who leads marketing and social media. They have proven to be invaluable sources for bouncing ideas off and learning from.

This month, I have submitted an application for the Troon Leader Program, aiming to secure another opportunity for professional growth. If accepted, this program will provide me with additional tools to propel my career to the next level.

What would you say to other women who may be thinking of working in golf but do not have any playing experience?

KC – The golf industry revolves around people, and anyone can gradually grasp the game if they choose to. At golf clubs in the UAE, many individuals find fulfilment in their roles without actively participating in the sport.

CA – Entering uncharted waters, especially in a domain like golf with its unique terminology, can be intimidating. However, it is crucial to remember that you will acquire knowledge along the way. In golf clubs, I have discovered that people are very helpful to those that are new to the game.   

Al Zorah Golf Club - image credit Patrick Koenig
Al Zorah Golf Club - image credit Patrick Koenig

Charlyn, tell us about The R&A Women in Golf Leadership Development Foundation program?

CA – This program created by The R&A is an excellent initiative that emphasises education, mentorship and networking for women aspiring to assume leadership roles in golf. Throughout the year, participants engage in six online workshops and the topics range from communication to emotional intelligence to leading people.  Each student is paired with an experienced mentor in the industry, presenting a valuable opportunity for continuous learning and professional development. 

As my career advances, I intend to seek enrollment in the Women in Golf Leadership Development Program.  The second phase will involve moving deeper into the subjects of leading high performing teams and developing leadership skills.  Being a participant in this course would entail visiting St Andrews which would be an incredible experience.

How much have you benefitted or think you will benefit from being part of the global program?

CA – We are nearing the end of the program and to date I have connected with numerous women across diverse industries, fostering relationships, particularly with my coach, Gaia Zonchello, who is based out of Rome.  I’ve really enjoyed listening to the shared experiences from our group and used those as learning opportunities. 

The body of the course has and will further develop my critical thinking and communication skills that are effective for leadership.  This program not only supports my career goals but also aims to inspire women interested in entering the field of golf.

Al Zorah Golf Club is managed by Troon Golf and is located in Ajman, just 25 minutes from Dubai International Airport - find out more about the club here. To find out more about career opportunities at Troon, please visit their website.

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