U.S. golf course expert finds work-life balance in South America

By David Hammond
The Gran Torre Santiago is the tallest building in Latin America
Image by David Hammond
Randal Thompson, an expat from Texas, lives in the suburban La Dehesa neighborhood of Santiago, Chile.

He first came to South America in 1991 for a job and stayed for the lifestyle.

Randall grew up in Massachusetts where he graduating from the University of Massachusetts with a degree in golf course turfgrass science and management.

He moved to Texas in 1980, a time when many new golf courses were under construction.

After 11 years working in Texas, Randall took a job overseeing the construction of a golf course in Buenos Aires, Argentina for a US-based golf-course architect. The job lasted for three years.

After that, Randal went to Europe, where he was hired on a six-month trial basis to manage the turf for courses in the South of France.

By the end of the six months, he was offered full-time employment in Cannes, France, with a second offer to work in Milan, Italy.

The money they offered was good. But I missed South America and wanted to go back,” says Randall.

What was so good about South America? “ I missed the balance of work and play. In South America, people are always getting together and having fun. 

"When I lived in Argentina, there were regular paddle tennis games, barbecues, and golf. 

"I'd go with a group of friends to vacation at the beach in Mar del Plata or across the river to Punta del Este, Uruguay.

"Also, the families in Latin America are strong. Families take care of each other,” says Randall, who married his wife Pamela, a Chilean, in 2000.

Randall followed his heart. After a couple of years back in South America, he started his own business.

Since then, he's designed and/or overseen the construction of 22 golf courses in Central and South America. “There is so much more virgin land available for golf courses in Latin America. And much less competition,” says Randall.

In addition to designing and overseeing golf course construction, Randall offers consulting services to prepare courses for big tournaments.

Because he covers all of Latin America, he often travels 12 to 26 days a month.

I can live anywhere I want. I just need an Internet connection and to be close to an international airport,” says Randall.

And while Randall appreciates aspects of many Latin American countries, he chooses to live in Santiago, Chile.

Compared to other South American countries, it's much easier to do business here. Chile is more organized. It's easier to start a company, to do the paperwork, and pay taxes. 

"The politics don't seem to affect the country so much. And Chile has very little corruption.

Chile has been on a steady climb for 25 years. Santiago continues to grow and gets more modern every day.

Chile's government sees problems ahead and solves them. As an example, the traffic is terrible in many Latin American cities. However, in Santiago they built an underground highway, right under a river that goes through the middle of town, to help relieve the traffic congestion,” says Randall.

Besides being close to a good golf course, Randall is close to good skiing. “Anywhere else, planning a ski trip is something you need to do three months in advance to make sure you have a good place to stay. And then hope the skiing is good during the time you are there.

However it's different in Santiago. If I wake up in the morning and see fresh powder in the mountains and the sun is shining, I can leave my home at 7:30 am, be on the slope at 9:00 am, and by 9:15 I am skiing.

It's the same with the Pacific Ocean. I love going to the beach. The beach where I go is a two-hour drive from my home in Santiago. 

"Like Southern California or the French Riviera, Central Chile has great snow skiing and popular beaches in close proximity. It's a big attraction,” says Randall.

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