Geoff Russell talks to Dr Sandy Jones, Chief Executive of The Professional Golfers’ Association (Recorded Thursday 17th July in PGA Pavilion at The Open Championship)
Geoff Russell: Sandy, you have been Chief Executive of the PGA for 23 years now, but when we first met you were Scottish Regional Secretary. What was it that attracted you to work for the PGA? Was it a deliberate career move?
Sandy Jones: No it wasn’t a planned move, Geoff. I was working for an engineering company in Coatbridge, Scotland – this is the late ‘sixties that we’re talking about and I had qualified as a structural engineer. It was the very early days of companies looking at computing. Our company had installed a computer and I’ll always remember our managing director saying, “We don’t want the accountants running this, we’re an engineering company.” I was the most recently-qualified graduate that they had and so I was sent off to IBM to learn how to programme this thing for engineering applications. I did that all through the seventies.
During this period I was a member of my local golf club. It was a village course – I was brought up in a small village just outside Glasgow. I played golf and somehow I got connected with committee work. It was just one of those things that you fell into.
Eventually I became match secretary and then greens chairman. I had a couple of years as secretary and then I went on to be club captain in 1976, when I was only 30 years of age. Then I started to be involved with the county. I was asked to go on the county committee and finished up by becoming county president when I was 32.
When I look back at that now I realise that all this was a kind of training programme for me. Nobody set it up; it just happened by accident. I had no big ambitions at the time. I was really happy doing what I was doing and then, in September 1979 there was an incident at an event on the Tartan Tour that was being very successfully managed by David Begg.
It was a dispute between David and Bernard Gallacher over the dress code for a prize presentation – in today’s world it would be regarded as very silly. I think that Bernard was fined the princely sum of £10 for not wearing a tie. He refused to pay the fine and there was a bit of a debate. In the end David resigned and the job in the Scottish region of the PGA became available.
Strangely enough it was one the few times that I had been at a Tartan Tour event. It was at Drumpelier Golf Club where I was a member in those days.
This advertisement appeared. I was interested but not to the point where I wanted to apply for the job but some of my chums said ‘That job’s really made for you’ and I said don’t be silly. But one of them in particular went on at me so much that eventually I decided to write the letter. And there’s a nice little story about that because sometimes odd things happen.
You had to send in a photo of yourself along with the application letter and I didn’t have one. I remember going to the office and saying, “I’ve written this letter but I don’t have a photo of myself so that’s it, I’m not doing it.” And a friend called George said, “Don’t be so stupid, we’ll go to the post office at lunch-time, there’s a photo booth there.”OK we go into the post office and we use the machine. I came out of the booth and stood waiting for the photo but no photograph appears. I remember saying, “Well that’s it, I’m definitely not doing it.”
We came out of the post office and we were walking to where George had parked his car when a lady came out after us and shouted, “Your photographs are here.” She handed them to me and George said, “That’s it; it’s a sign from Above!” So I sent the application in.
I found out later that they had already had a first round of interviews – I missed the date – but there were a few other late entries and they decided to have another round of interviews with six people. From that I got the job. It was December 1979; I was 32. I couldn’t start until the project that I was programming at the time was finished and so I started in the February of 1980.
That was a big shock to the system. Suddenly I was working from home with no real support system around me. I had been with the company ever since I had left school fifteen years before. I have only ever worked for two companies: William Bain & Co of Coatbridge and the PGA.
I sometimes think that maybe it was plotted but I never tried to force the issue. I never thought I’ve got to do that. My view in life has always been that I try to do the best that I can in whatever I do. I never thought that I had another role but if someone decides to give me another role that’s fine, I’ll have a go at that.
I never planned to be Chief Executive – that came later in 1991. I never planned to be Chairman of the PGAs of Europe; I never planned to be a Ryder Cup board member. I just always planned to do the best that I could do with the challenge that I was given at the time and somebody, somewhere kept thinking, “well he could do a bit more.” And I’ve always enjoyed it.
So I moved from a career that I enjoyed to another career that I enjoyed even more. The only difference was that my pastime and my career became one and have been my life ever since.
It wasn’t a grand master plan. In fact, if someone had asked me if I had a master plan to work in sport, it would probably have been in football rather than in golf. I have always had a big interest in football and may be I could have taken on an administrative role. May be I could have become another Greg Dyke of football.
GR Fast forward 34 years and contrast the role and the reputation of the PGA then and now.
SJ The main change at the PGA and the biggest thing that we have achieved and initiated is the education programmes that we now have. I can remember when I joined back in 1980 that the Scottish Region was very strong in helping the young recruits. It was mainly men in those days although Muriel Thompson would have been around. We held in-house seminars with the older professionals helping the younger ones to be the best that they could be. I remember going along to one of these which run by a man called John Black, the professional at Grangemouth at that time. John was excellent on the technology and club repairs. There were 20 of us squeezed into this little portacabin and I remember thinking ‘here is this PGA with a brand name that I thought was the best in the business; if this is the best we can do that can’t be right. But I had no way of influencing that in those days and I just put it down to experience. When I became Chief Exec I thought that one of things we’ve got to sort out is education and that became a driving force for me. I set up a review group in 1994, led by Philip Payze from Volvo, and the questions that I asked were ‘looking ahead to the year 2000 are we fit for purpose’. And we asked the industry, club managers, all sorts of people – and the answer that came back was a resounding ‘no’.
My view was that if we are not fit for purpose what do we have to do to make sure that we become fit for purpose? And the main thing we had to do was to improve our education and the knowledge that our members had. It was not good enough any more for us to depend upon well-meaning and experienced members handing down that knowledge and experience. We had to become more technical and more academic and that’s what it is now. I do take pride in the fact that under the management of Dr Kyle Philpotts we are now recognised as having one of the best sports development programmes in the world. And I also had a passionate belief – and may be this came from the days when I played a lot of school sport – that those who played, played better when they had a really good coach or teacher or headmaster who was passionate about and understood the game.
So I have always thought that if we are going to be the best athletes in the world – and it’s not my job to produce the best athletes or to give them the stage to perform on; that is the role of the European Tour – but my job is to help produce those athletes by having coaching and coaching starts as soon as you pick up a club.
That’s been our main achievement I think. I’ll always take pride in that. Lots of other people have help make it happened but I have been in the driving seat. Nobody would have believed all those years ago that we would have training facilities like those at The Belfry. We were at Lilleshall in those days and sharing the facilities with all the other sports. So that for me has been huge for the PGA.
We have also developed our brand so that it is a recognised global brand.. When you consider that we have 7,500 members spread across 70 countries of the world. In America they quite rightly say they’re the biggest group because they have 27,000 members but I would always claim that we are the oldest, which is a fact, and my claim would be that we are the most international group with our spread of our membership and therefore the spread of our influence. Those are things that we recognise now and try to be responsible about; I think that’s important.
That’s what we’ve changed but if you look at other things which have changed around us, society has changed. It’s a big challenge for the game now that club membership has gone out of fashion. When I grew up you either played on your local municipal, which had queues and on a Saturday morning you had to get there at 5.00 a.m. for a 7.00 a.m. start, or you joined a golf club and paid a lot more but that was the way to play. Nowadays that doesn’t happen because there are so many proprietary places to play. Even though there has been a fall in the number of municipals, the new proprietary clubs have more than made up for that. I would say now that there’s almost 50:50 proprietary clubs and traditional members clubs so the opportunity to play has never been greater. Some people say it’s too costly but I would dispute that as well in the sense that because of the economy, because we had that spell when we grew all these golf courses. We can question whether we needed to do that but the fact is that it’s done so we shouldn’t go back on that.
Based on the R&A report that came out in the ‘80s the opportunity to play at a reasonable price is even greater and, sadly, (although I understand why it happens) that means clubs just trying to survive are saying ‘come and play and if you bring a friend you can play 2 for 1’ so everyone gets 50% off. I’m not sure that Ford Motor Company would say ‘come and get a car and your wife can have one for free’, so the economics of that are poor. So golf hasn’t been good at looking after its own business. So that’s one thing that has changed and the other thing that has changed significantly (and we see so much evidence of this in our Ryder Cup programmes) is the involvement of government. The evidence is that government have realised that sport is a huge item on their agenda. The Ryder Cup and the Olympics have become massive economic drivers from their revenues for the country and governments have been prepared to invest. That would not have happened 25 years ago. That’s a whole new thing and you see it across the world. Countries are getting government investment and that is going to become even greater with golf going into the Olympics in 2016.
That is perhaps going to be the biggest change of all with all these countries competing in the Olympics and young people in a sport thinking I’d like to be like that Olympic athlete and governments being prepared to put money into a sport because it carries the Olympic rings.
I have said this to our PGAs of Europe: if you are one of those smaller countries and you get your player into the Olympics, even if it is at number 60, that boy or girl in your country will become an iconic person. Even if they finish in 60th place, they are an Olympic athlete. If it is a development country that person will be role model for the rest of the country and the youngsters in that country will say I want to a medal winner. So I think there are huge opportunities.
I know people look at the game and say that there are not so many members and not so many rounds are being played but we’ve still got nearly 4 million people playing this game. I don’t think we are in a state of disaster.
If you look over golf’s 500 year history it has gone up and down but I’m not sure if we have ever had more than 7% or 8% of the population actually playing the game of golf through history but now we have built so many facilities, to fill them we probably need to get closer to 15% or 20% playing.
We have built an impossible task for ourselves and now in England we have got Sport England who are trying to drive activity for people. Quite rightly they are using golf as one of the activities to do this– it’s a good participation sport – but they are measuring us against what cycling can do or swimming can do and we are entirely different. – you don’t go out to play golf for 15 minutes or half an hour – you’ve got to be prepared. So when people from the survey ring up and ask you if you have played for golf for half an hour in the last five weeks or even in the last month and then, ‘did you do it regularly once a week’ you say well I’ve played four or five times in the last month but not every week – it might be three times in one week and not at all in the others. So how we participate is not measured correctly – that’s the price you pay in the environment we work in. I’m not sure how best to put this but it is where we are in the game.
The money that England gets from Sport England – £4 million per year – is important particularly for the amateur game. It’s their life blood. But I do think we could do better if those people who distribute the money could understand the game a bit better and what we can build as a sport.
The other day I heard something on the radio that made me think about this in a different way. They said that loneliness is a big problem for many people in Britain today. It affects so many people. It’s a big issue when a lost husband or wife is left alone in the home with no social contacts. I can relate when so many golf club members have lost a partner and the golf club becomes their social hub. And I was thinking that may be there should be a government grant for this. We could save them from spending money on solving loneliness and golf clubs should get grants because we actually do that. I’m not sure that there are many other sports where you can participate so actively beyond the age of 55 and 65 – not football, rugby, cricket, may be some gentle tennis. Golf covers a different spectrum and I don’t think we are properly recognised for that because we are all being measured by the same model.
All sports are being measured in the same way. I don’t believe that’s accurate and I think that is in fact unfair. But it’s unfair on Sport England as well because it means that they are not spending their money in the best way. They are trying to impose one model for everyone.
So all these things have changed plus, of course, there’s been a big change in technology. This means that when I play now, and I don’t play all that well, but when I do play reasonably well I strike the ball as far as I ever did when I was 18 years of age and that shouldn’t happen because my swing speed is now around 85 or 90 instead of around 100 but the distance is the same.
I do not see that as a disadvantage. I know that there are people who say we should wind the ball back because they can see these elite players hitting the ball 300 yards but I look at the scores at the tournaments every week. People are still not shooting 59 so the game has stood the test of time. Most of the problems that the game has ever had have been caused by human intervention. We should leave the game alone and let it develop naturally. I think that’s more the way forward.
GR Phil Weaver has just retired as Chairman of the PGA after 25 years; what is his legacy?
SJ I think that his legacy is many of the things that we have talked about. Growing up Phil and I didn’t know each other at all. We first met in the late ‘eighties. I was still in Scotland but I was looking after the Scottish Region and stuff there and Phil became Chairman of the Midlands region. It was about ‘87. We met then and we got on. We had a kind of rapport. I don’t know how you measure those things. Maybe we saw the game in the same way to a certain extent. We are totally different characters – you know that thing about ‘chalk and cheese’ – but it kind of worked. Little did I know then that I would become Chief Executive, I was still four years away from doing that and Phil was two years away from becoming Chairman.
Suddenly we were thrown together and it somehow gelled. We made quite a good double act. Phil had the feeling that I should run day to day business and he should be there as a sounding board, to make sure that we were staying on programmes that made sense to the membership. From that point of view we got on really well.
In all the things that I have talked about achieving Phil supported me totally. With the development of education, I could have had a Chairman who said ‘Education? Oh that’s not for golf professionals’. But Phil bought into that and challenged me to deliver it. I always remember the day when we started to get the education programme going and then we realised that we could not deliver it all at Lilleshall. I remember him saying that we’ll have to find somewhere else and I said, “Yes, we’ll build our own Academy!” Phil said, “How are you going to do that?” and I said I’ve no idea but would that be a good idea? He said OK I’ll back you on that. That was the kind of relationship we had. Even the Europro Tour, which we set up for our young trainees who really wanted to be players rather than coaches. They had nowhere to play so they would join our training programme just for the sake of it, not because they wanted the training. I said to Phil that what we should do is start our own tour – it would at a level below the Challenge Tour – and he said ‘How are going to do that?’ I had no idea but he said I think it’s a great concept, go ahead and do it.
That’s the sort of relationship that we had. I always had his backing to go ahead and done things and that’s the sort of relationship we had. Any achievements that may be put down to me they were only achieved by me because I had his backing. I think that’s a good Chairman : Chief Executive relationship. Phil had his own business to run day to day. One of the things about being Chief Exec is that it can be quite a lonely role. You may have 120 staff but you can’t go round saying to them ‘what do you think?’ because they would all think, “I thought that he was supposed to be the leader”. Phil was always able to sit outside that and occasionally when I needed one, he was an outstandingly good ‘sounding board’. I probably knew what I thought but sometimes, just hearing it you hear your own voice coming back at you. I’ll forever be grateful for that relationship. We will remain good friends. He is happy doing what he’s doing now. He’s retired from the Club (Coventry). He is into his environmental stuff and he loves his work but is also a seriously good artist – a first-class painter. He can paint anywhere and be respected. So he’s got all that opportunity. Maybe occasionally I’ll still be able to use him as a sounding board.
I have known my new Chairman, David Murchie, since he was a trainee. I have a fantastic relationship with David and I don’t think much is going to change in the way that we work.
GR Have you had an opportunity to sit down with David yet and to set out the objectives for his term of office?
SJ I think the objective is to continue to do what we do and do it well. I have always said that whatever we do there’s no point in doing it badly – if we are going to do it badly, let’s not do it all – and David would totally support that.
Also we’ve got this ‘bottom line’ thing coming on – I don’t mean in a financial sense but we must never forget we are a members’ organisation and everything that we do must in some way eventually filter back and benefit the membership, not necessarily every member (we’ve got 7,500 of them) but at least a significant group of them. When you put the resource time in, not just financial but also in human terms, that’s very, very important.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be commercial sometimes – to make the money to help us help our members.
It’s the same with the Ryder Cup. Every time we sit there debating an issue to do with the Ryder Cup, I ask myself what would Sam Ryder have thought? We were given trust of his trophy and so we have got to think what would that person have done? Not everyone will always agree. Not all 7,500 people are going to unanimously put their hands in the air. The day that comes, I’m going to retire because the job’s done. We’ve got this thing which we try to do: it’s one PGA, one membership and one brand. I think that’s really important. Every member has got these same three letters on their sweaters. We are all part of the same thing. We might have different views, we might live in different communities. If you take the membership in Scotland it’s a different community to the community in other parts of the world. You’ve got to understand that we can’t do things the same way everywhere but we’ve all got to try to get the same achievement which is to grow the game and employment. Which is why we have opened an office in China. It’s to help the Chinese to grow the game and in doing that we will create employment opportunities for our members. The Chinese like that; it’s a shared experience. We are not invading China and saying this is how we do things and there is no other way. We are there to say we will help you grow the game and in doing that they will provide good opportunities for our members. That’s a number which is beginning to grow.
GR Is the PGA’s accommodation at The Belfry sufficient for your future needs or are you getting a bit cramped?
SJ It is a wee bit cramped. It’s amazing because we started off with only 6,000 sq ft but now that’s grown to 20,000 sq ft. In the early days of course we didn’t have an Academy. We’ve taken on more space with a lease on a property just 2/3 miles down the road to provide some additional space for us in the Tournament area. That’s allowed us to free up space in the existing premises. We’ve had to enhance our Media Department from those early days. We are now very much into social media and that’s a huge change. When I started my working life you wrote someone a letter. Now you hardly ever do that. One of the dangers of social media is that people go off very quickly without giving things enough thought.
I have always said that in any communication there are three elements: there’s the transmitter; there’s whatever needs to be written; and then there’s the receiver. And if one of those fails to work properly you’ve got a problem.
And the problem now is that because of the speed of the transmission the expectation of the person who has transmitted it is that the response time should be as fast. I agree that the response time will be as fast, just the press of a button, but what hasn’t changed in the need for thinking time. But we are forced into trying to change that too. People are making fairly poor decisions sometimes because they haven’t given things enough thought.
People send me an email and then ring me up 30 seconds later and say, “I’ve sent you and email.” And I say “yes, you have and I’ll send you an email back with the same response time, but the bit in between hasn’t changed. You still need to think about things first. That’s one of the challenges.
We live in a society where the expectation is for an instantaneous reply. Sometimes therefore bad decisions are made and sometimes we need to go in reverse. That’s hard to do and I think we need to be careful. As a mode of communication it is hugely powerful. It’s been proved that you can start riots with it! Next day you have to start the clean up….
For me, and I go back to those early days of computer programming on punch-cards and so on, I am a big believer that communications is the strongest tool we’ve got. I have been slow in taking the PGA into the world of social media because I wanted to be cautious. I wanted to be sure that we got it right. I wanted to avoid getting into a situation where we found ourselves in deep water. I’ve brought Dianne Weston in as Head of Media, Marketing and Communications and an important part of her remit is to manage our social media activity.. She is changing thinking, changing attitudes. These are all things that you have got to do but change is difficult. It took me four years to change our Education programme. It’s all about finding the best way through and you just take small baby steps. But we are in the world of social media just as any modern body needs to be.
GR Just going back to The Belfry for a moment, does the PGA own its premises there?
SJ No, we have a 100 year lease. We are about 40 years in. I’m not sure exactly how much longer the term has to run but it’s my ambition to be around to negotiate the new contract!
GR At last night’s PGA Reception you referred to having a closer relationship with the Golf Club Managers Association. What are the benefits of this?
SJ I am looking carefully at where some of our members might go in the future – it’s quite instructive sometimes to look back at the past. Look back to 1901, for example, when we had Clubmakers, Ballmakers, Teachers of the Game, Keepers of the Green, and Players.
Now we have moved on a long, long way from that. The advance of Greenkeepers has been fantastic. With Jim Croxton as Chief Exec the whole standard is so much higher than anyone could have imagined, even 20 years ago. Look at the Golf Club Managers Association managing the courses. I look at our members and think that they sit in the heart of all that. Every element of the game touches them. Because of our academic training we now have members who are not only highly trained in the golf skills but also have academic skills which can take them through on to the management side. I think that in future many of our members will become managers. They bring together their golf expertise with their business expertise. We would encourage that but not to the detriment of the golf club managers. We want a strong partnership with them and we have these meetings with them all the time. The same applies to the greenkeeping side. I don’t expect our guys to go back to being greenkeeping pros but for them to have a really good relationship with the greenkeepers or superintendents because they are at the front line with the people who play at that club be they members or visitors because, when you arrive at a golf club the first place that you go is usually the pro shop. And if the pro can be that ‘connector’ between the managers and the greenkeepers, that’s all aspects of the game being brought together. Of course you have also got the food and beverage side and many of our members are doing food and beverage courses as well.
That doesn’t mean that I am trying to take over everyone else’s job, I’m trying to enhance their jobs by helping their communications with the golfer. Explaining what everybody here does. I think that’s really important. Some of our guys will inevitably go on tour– of course it’s not just guys – it was a girl, Emma Clifford from West Essex, who recently won the 2014 Golf Club Managers’ Association Manager of the Year award.
I wanted to highlight that. It was great that Emma started to play golf, then she went on tour. She never felt that there was a barrier which stopped her from reaching a successful position.
One of the things that’s been thrown at us recently is about the game being so ‘male-dominated’ that women don’t stand a chance. And I would argue against that by saying that they have got every chance if they have the desire to do it. Emma has proved that.. I can see me using her example to hammer home that message and say that we have got equal chances. One of the things that I would like to develop is more female coaches teaching the leading players. Wing down the line on the practice ground at Hoylake you didn’t see any female coaches, but I saw female caddies. So why can’t we have a female coach coaching one of the leading players in the world? That’s the next challenge for us. That perception needs to be broken. I don’t think that there’s any real barrier, it’s just a barrier that is in people’s minds. That’s something that I would really like to achieve. That’s a target. Can we do that? Yes, we can. Why aren’t we doing it? Well let’s find out.
The first three places in our graduation ceremony this year were all taken by girls. They now have job opportunities for a lifetime. And yet we didn’t have a woman teaching on the practice ground during Open week. It’s going to be my little project – it’s stuck in my head now. I mean in top-level football we’ve got female referees and linesmen but we can’t get a female coach on the practice ground!
GR You are a Director of England Golf. In what ways has your experience helped England Golf’s development?
SJ Maybe you’d better ask England Golf that! What I would like to think is that I can take maybe another view sometimes. When we started talking I was explaining how I was involved with county golf in Scotland so I have got some experience of the amateur game albeit some years ago. But when I look at things now I think the structure hasn’t really changed all that much. It’s not for me to go and tell England Golf to change the way they run the game. David Joy is the man for that and also Graham Yates, the England Golf chairman. But sometimes I am able to say at a meeting ‘have you considered this?’ It’s only a viewpoint from outside looking in but, hopefully to the benefit of the game.
England Golf has gone through a huge challenge with the amalgamation of the men’s and women’s game. Obviously that’s a major step forward and now we’ve got this top level of amalgamation, which is still finding its feet with a few bumps along the way, but beneath that in the county structure it hasn’t happened; there is no amalgamation so it’s difficult to say that the game in totally connected. Now I would hope that one day there will be a way that that can happen and it filters all the way down.
I’m proud to say that at the PGA men and women are absolutely equal. Some people say that we haven’t got many ladies on our committees. When I talk to our ladies about joining the committees they mainly say that they are too busy. Actually sometimes filling all the places on our committee with any candidates at all can be a bit of a challenge! But that is something that will change slowly but surely. And Emma Clifford is a good example of why it will change.
GR What are your thoughts about how we can grow the game? Everyone wants to do that.
SJ I think one of the challenges for the game is that we are working with a club structure which in the main, in the membership category, is a hundred years old. There’s a core there that have been traditionally doing what they do.
Then we’ve got the other sector, the proprietary sector and they are very commercial. That’s what they exist for. They have got to make profits whereas the mentality of the members clubs is ‘if we’ve don’t make a profit that doesn’t matter; we’re not for profit.’ We have got to find a way of recognising that there’s been a change in society. People are not going to pay membership fees of £1,000 or £1,500 per year if they are only going to play ten times a year. Family life has changed. With more wives working too husbands are not going to be out all weekend. It’s their wives’ leisure time as well. Clubs have got to recognise that trend and also that they can engage with the community. Private clubs are different; they can keep the community out.
If I had my own club I would want to engage with all the sports community around me whether it was a rugby club, a football club, a cricket club. Golf could so easily become everyone’s second sport. For an active sports person, as you step back from rugby, football and so on, where there is a high degree of fitness required, you still want to be a sportsman but you can’t perform to the level that you want to any more so golf offers a superb option.
But golf clubs can be intimidating places. People don’t walk through the gates because of the notices saying PRIVATE. Golf clubs need to look hard at this. Proprietary clubs are much better at this. How you welcome people into the game, how you show you care. It’s not just, ’oh, I got your cheque, that’s good you’re a member now.’ Because next year, if nobody takes care of them, they probably will not be.
Customer care is something that is growing across the whole of our life experience now. Wherever you go now you find that there’s somebody there who is going to take care of you. I heard a nice saying the other day, “when you do business with somebody you don’t need to care what they know, you need to know that they care!” And that’s what golf needs to do. We need to look at where we are in society today. We shouldn’t worry about silly rules saying you can’t come into the clubhouse this way or ‘how dare you dress like that?’
I mean I’m traditional but the trouble with tradition is how far back do you what to go? You need to set a baseline, because if you go back to when these clubs started people wore tweed jackets and stiff collars so if you say well that’s tradition people say that you are just being silly. On the other hand where do you draw the baseline? Golf is really a fashion thing and that’s got to be embraced.
The only thing that really matters is good behaviour, manners, honesty, taking your hat off on the green when you shake hands with your opponent. Those are the traditions that you want to maintain. How we dress has got to change in line with society.
When you think of early photographs of women playing the game they were wearing long skirts. Then they played in trousers and now they play in shorts. I think that we are all challenged in society by this change of attitude and it changes faster than it’s ever done. That’s the problem. If you are on a committee you are not geared to make decisions quickly but nowadays because of the speed of social media, the speed of life – people want to do things in shorter segments. Everything seems to need a two hour segment. Well that’s fine. When golf started it used to have 6 hole courses, or 9 or 8 or 12 or 11. Then for competitive reasons it was regulated as 18 holes. But there’s nothing wrong with playing fewer holes. I think clubs have to ask themselves what have we got here and how can we blend ourselves to fit in with today’s society not how can we mould society into what we have always believed is what it should be.
If people start thinking along those lines I think that we can make the game work.
GR What about ‘FootGolf’?
SJ I think for a golf club it’s a way – a desperate way- of trying to fill the facility. But I think it’s a passing trend, it’s a fashion that will sweep through. Will it replace golf? No I don’t believe it will. But it replaces how you use the facility and I think we should be cautious how we do that.
If you are desperate and you need the money, you can cut a bigger hole in the green and let people in with a football and that’s fine. But I’m not actually sure that it will replace regular golf.
I am more concerned about why I can’t use my mobile phone in the club house. This seems to me to be nonsense. In the old days there used to be a fixed phone in the clubhouse. So if I wanted to make a phone call, I could make a phone call. But those phones will have been removed from most clubhouses. Now if I want to make a phone call I’ve got to go and stand in the car park. On a wet January day that’s not very nice. I can understand that we don’t want the intrusion of phones ringing in the clubhouse but why don’t we have a room in every clubhouse that says “this is the communications room” and you can go in there and phone, do you emails, sip your beer and chat to your pals while you are doing it. We haven’t thought about some of these things. Everyone sees complications.
So to me FootGolf is a fun version of the game but it’s not the answer to golf’s problems.
GR How many people work for the PGA and what are the various departments?
SJ We have about 120 staff, with half of them based at The Belfry. The biggest department is the Education department which is run by Dr Kyle Phillpots.. It’s full of academics, which at one time I would never have believed possible, and there is a smaller number involved in selling the PGA brand worldwide.. We are present in 50 countries and the commercial, marketing and financial departments have all expanded recently.. They are not all golfers; I haven’t got 120 Jack Nicklauses! We employ the best people that we can with the talents and skills necessary for the role that they have to play and I talk regularly to almost all of them.
I have never had a deputy, People sometimes ask me about that and I say, “Well a deputy is number two. I’ve actually got a team of number ones because everybody has the skills that they need to be number one in their own skill. So why would I need a number two?” The Education department has 1,500 students. There are various levels of courses. The CPD programme sits outside that and is available to all the members. It disappoints me that not every member takes advantage of that. I suppose I’m happy that we do as well as we do.
We could certainly do better. One of the things that I thought would happen when we got our education sorted and somebody came through and they qualified – I could understand that someone aged 40 or 50 would not want to be re-educated but at that age, because you come through such a good academic programme, you should be comfortable in the world and continue your education. In actual fact what happens is that as soon as they qualify they drop out of the education programme and don’t take it any further. That’s a huge disappointment for me and so we have not succeeded in getting that continuing education that I wanted.
I’m a big believer that you should drive yourself on. I’m a 1% person which means I want to be 1% better tomorrow than I was yesterday
Just sitting talking to people like yourself you sometimes learn things and you always learn something new every day even if it’s only to confirm that what you have been doing is correct. That’s a huge boost to your confidence. At other times you say I’ve seen somebody doing something slightly different to me so I’ll just tweak our programme to make it better. So there’s always something you can do better, so when I hear people say ‘I don’t do on this programme because what am I going to learn?’ I go up to them and say I don’t know what you are going to learn but I’m absolutely certain that you are not going to lose your knowledge by going, you will only enhance it. If you can’t take a day off two or three times a year to go and improve yourself then I’m sorry but that’s a sad situation.
GR Everyone is looking forward to the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles but I am sure no-one more than you. Tell me about the importance of the Ryder Cup to PGA finances and activity.
SJ The PGA’s share of the financial return from the Ryder Cup allows us to do these things with our education programme, to market our members better and to grow the brand because of the exposure that the PGA gets.
I’m eternally grateful to Sam Ryder who gave us that trophy in 1927. He made it the property of the PGA. Without it we would be a totally different organisation. It’s hugely important to us financially, exposure-wise, and credibility-wise.
We are more than happy with the partnership that we have with the European Tour because, after all, the players come from the Tour even though they might have started their careers with the PGA. In the last Match every member of the team was coached by a PGA professional and had been for years, so the PGA has a big influence in the event. It’s right that the Tour gets the huge recognition for their role in the event, week in week out arranging top level tournaments so the players have a platform on which to perform and grow their skills. I think that’s why Europe has been so successful – the relationship between the PGA and the European Tour is very, very strong.
You talk about me being involved with England Golf. I can be the bridge to reach back to where the next generation of players is coming from. I see myself sitting in the middle of all of it trying to be a connector, a conduit.
That already connects to the ladies game in England. We have got these events for our lady club professionals and we invite 10 young players from the amateur group in the area that we are in to join us that day. So they play in this competition and we try and give them an insight of the experience of a career in golf. The girls explain that. You don’t get an instant pay off the girls are good but to be on the main tour requires a different level to being a good amateur.
GR Who is going to win and, as long as we have an exciting match, does it matter?
SJ It does matter especially this year to me! It’s in my own territory – my own backyard, almost.
I can always remember talking to Seve the year that he was Captain at Valderrama. In one of those quiet moments he told me that he didn’t know why he was Captain in Spain because it just added more pressure because it’s your home country.
I don’t think that at the time I understood that but I appreciate what he was saying much better now. Of course I’m not Captain nor even close to it but I just know that if we lose at Gleneagles, every time I go there in future it will just bring back memories of losing the Cup. And I love Gleneagles and I don’t ever want to have those feelings. So this year for me it is important that we win.
It’s so tight to call. I think that, as it has done in most of the recent years, it will come down to those last few matches on the Sunday. I can’t get away from the fact that that will probably happen again at Gleneagles and that among those twelve players going out some will be become heroes and some may become villains. Last time at Medinah it was on the Saturday that Ian Poulter became a hero. And of course there were so many heroes on the Sunday.
I would like to think that we have a slightly stronger team but having said that I don’t want to incentivise the Americans just to prove me wrong so I think it will be close.
GR Sandy, thank you very much.