He is Troon’s designated travelin’ man, and no matter what the assignment – the U.S., Australia, Dubai, Fiji, Portugal, Puerto Rico, South Korea, India or even Bahrain – Stephen Havrilla accepts his next job with the aplomb of an adventurous globetrotter.
“I’ve had some very challenging positions in some very challenging locations,” said “the Thrilla,” a nickname that Havrilla (rhymes with Thrilla) wears like a badge of courage. “It all started in Jamaica, and I mean who wouldn’t want to go to Montego Bay?”
Havrilla said his international career was jump-started under Troon’s Dave “Larry” Schneider, Bill O’Brien and Jack Elliott in 1999, when he worked as the head professional at Troon North. It accelerated considerably when co-workers like Ryan Walls and Scott Heideman teamed up to get him the Jamaican job in 2000.
“Jamaica was a real experience, and I met several colorful locals,” he said of his gig as director of golf at the Wyndham Rose Hall Resort on the bay.
“I love being on the islands whether it be there or in the Caribbean or in the Azores or any other island where we can have golf. I like the laid-back style and I don’t fee isolated one bit.”
Not long after that Jimmy Buffet moment, Havrilla took a 27-hour plane ride to Perth, Australia, where he became club manager/director of golf at The Links Kennedy Bay. There, Havrilla learned about pot bunkers, Australian Rules Football and just how good the local wine could be. One such all-day, all-night experience with the local footie club, the Fremantal Dockers, and his moniker was forged forever.
“I’m not exactly sure if this was where ‘Thrilla’ got its start, but that nickname seems to follow me around,” Havrilla said, chuckling at the thought. “Nonetheless, we had a great time that night and a memory for a lifetime.”
There were really no early indications that Havrilla was born to wander Planet Golf. In fact, he had a rather modest introduction to the game as a youngster in Iowa and then in Denver, where he occasionally teed it up with his parents and brother beginning at the age of 10.
“I remember the first time we played golf at a place called the Sioux City Boat Club,” Havrilla recalled of that far-off memory of Iowa. “My mom shot 120 for nine holes and counted every stroke.
“That didn’t discourage her, however, and she kept at it. Mom now shoots in the low 80s. In that regard, she was my inspiration.”
According to Havrilla, “I never really took the game too seriously.” But not surprisingly, he loved the social aspects, especially during his days at Colorado State University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in construction management. But after he had worked for a large general contractor in California, a time when he decided to join ,Industry Hills Golf Club, he knew there was another career calling his name.
“That’s where I really got bitten by the golf bug and, even more than that, became interested in golf management,” he recalled. “So much so that I decided to quit my job and take a another working for a club in the Lake Tahoe area (Plumas Pines Golf Resort).”
It was sizable pay cut, as Havrilla’s salary was sliced to $8 an hour. But well worth it, he added, when he passed his PAT (Playing Ability Test) and upgraded his salary in 1996 at a place called Whitehawk Ranch Golf Club in Northern California. Three years later he made the first of many big leaps at Troon Golf.
“I guess that playing golf with my family and passing my PAT are my greatest memories,” Havrilla explained. “Those both helped change my life for the better, and I discovered that doing what you love really doesn’t feel like work.”
Even though he has hopscotched the globe on six continents, from Jamaica to Georgia to Arizona to California to the Fiji Islands and beyond, Havrilla says he never tires of the mission, even when it seems impossible. And his peers know why he has worked in nine different countries and counting.
“Steve is a do-it-all kind of guy with just the right amount of cross-departmental experience,” said Walls, Troon’s Senior VP of Operations. “His personality is incredibly adaptable, making him perfectly suitable for the assignments he has done for us for the years. And best of all, he LOVES it!”
Added Brue Glasco, the COO who oversees Troon’s International Division: “Steve is a positive individual that thrives on a good challenge. At times, I am sure he has moment for pause, as turning around a club in a foreign land can feel as surreal as the Thunderdome. But given his record of success and desire to better himself, he’s not one to turn down an opportunity to help the company.”
Like when Havrilla arrived in Dubai in 2002 as the corporate support manager for The Montgomerie Dubai, back in the days when the United Arab Emirates was attempting to become the “Las Vegas of the Middle East.”
“I remember I was in California at the time and I got a call from John Easterbrook to come to Scottsdale,” said Havrilla, whose frequent flyer account tops 250,000 miles.
“I jumped on the plane and was so excited to hear what Easterbrook’s plan for me was all about. When I got to Scottsdale, I remember he had a large whiteboard in his office with several properties listed on it from coast to coast in the U.S., as well as a few overseas. He said to me, ‘You can go here, but what do you think about Dubai? Or you can go here, but how about Dubai? Or you can go here…’ and I said, ‘Do you want me to go to Dubai?'”
So off Havrilla went to the desolate desert of Dubai although the job lasted just three months when another new Troon property in Fiji beckoned.
“That was a magical place,” said Havrilla, who became the general manager of the Denarau Golf & Racquet Club in Fiji. “Tropical, crystal-blue water, game fishing, white sandy beaches, friendly locals and a deep, rich culture and tradition… And the staff at the club was the best part of the experience.”
But after a little less than two years, Havrilla left the South Pacific and the sparkling waters of Fiji for the even brighter waters of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. As director of golf, he said he polished his management skills with the help of the resort staff at the posh El Conquistador Resort.
“I enjoy working at resort facilities and find them the most appealing to me, a good fit for my management style,” he said. “I enjoy coordinating with the hotel team, developing packages, working on marketing schemes, and meeting new faces at the resort daily. I love bringing exceptional experiences to our guests. Yes, it can be stressful, with long hours in a strange land, but when you’re enjoying what you do in an environment you love, it makes it easy.”
He needed all of that attitude when he eventually got to South Korea and the Alpensia Resort in Hoenggye in 2011. Even though the dictator next door in North Korea (Kim Jong-Un) is viewed as a recluse capable of starting a world war, Havrilla said he never really gave it a thought.
“What I find when you live in these different countries is the issues you see in the news back home, you rarely experience when in country, and often it doesn’t appear as unsafe as one might think,” he said. “South Korea was a very friendly place with the locals being so warm and accommodating.”
The same could be said of Havrilla’s most recent assignment as general manager of the Prestige Golfshire Club in Bangalore, India.
“Of all my jobs, the worst place as far as living there would be India,” he said. “Just a difficult place to get anywhere in, and the constant social issues of poverty and infrastructure always are in your face. I call it organized chaos.
“But having said that – everyone marching to their own beat – it all seems to work for them. India has a long way to go, and I hope (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi will be able to turn the country around. It was a great place to live and experience the culture and I have met a lot of good friends there.”
Notice that Havrilla said “was a great place to live,” meaning the next place is probably right around the corner. But what else would you expect from Troon’s travelin’ man?
“Let’s see how we get along in Bahrain,” he said of the small island in the Persian Gulf. “It is a great property and Bahrain is very comfortable to live.
“Who knows? I could see myself staying a few years.”
Except that his colleagues know that his wanderlust won’t let Havrilla rest for long. Even “the Thrilla” seems to be resigned to such a fate.
“I would go tomorrow to ‘wherever’ if they called, and I’m not sure that I would question the location,” he conceded. “I just like traveling and working in the different cultures for a great company.”
Not lost on Stephen Havrilla is the fact that his nonstop adventures never would have happened had Troon not grown into today’s industry leader with over 200 upscale courses in 30 different countries.
“It’s been pure pleasure,” Havrilla said of the past 15 years. “I am very grateful to be working for such a dynamic company under creative leadership that has afforded me the opportunities that I have had…
“I guess it’s obvious that I like traveling, and doing my best to spread the word on how great Troon really is.”