Neil Coles MBE, one of the most respected figures in the world of professional golf over the past six decades, has announced his decision to step down as Chairman of the Board of Directors of The PGA European Tour.
The 78 year old Englishman took on the role of Chairman in November 1975 and, over the past 38 years, has overseen not only significant growth and development of The European Tour, but also the formation and subsequent establishment of the European Challenge Tour in 1989 and the European Senior Tour in 1992.
“I took the decision last Christmas at the same time as I agreed with the board for the entire structure and the constitution of The European Tour to be reviewed by an independent body,” said Coles. “This was done to ensure the Tour, and its constitution, was equipped to face the many and varied challenges of the modern age.”
With the review having taken place over the early months of 2013, the new structure was accepted by The European Tour Board of Directors during their meeting at Wentworth on Monday May 13, meaning the task of finding a new chairman has now begun, with Coles remaining in situ until the board decides on a new appointment.
The successor to Coles will be determined by a selection committee who will take into consideration a number of factors including the candidates’ involvement in a modern, international sporting arena as well as their experience in dealing with diverse sporting, business and political issues.
Coles added: “I have thoroughly enjoyed my time as Chairman and it has been an honour and a privilege to serve such a prestigious organisation in a sport which has been my life, both inside the ropes and inside the boardroom.”
George O’Grady CBE, Chief Executive of The European Tour, led the many tributes from the world of golf. He said: “For as long as I have worked in professional golf, Neil Coles has been a constant figurehead, giving stability to The European Tour at all times.
“Since I became Chief Executive in 2005, he has given me personally, great consistency and confidence in implementing the policies of the Tour in a fast changing world, as the Tour has expanded to embrace golfing organisations and countries throughout the world.
“He has always possessed a calm demeanour and a great concern for the game, and his unique contribution to professional golf has not only influenced the growth of the Tour, but will also make him a very hard man to replace.”
Coles turned professional at the age of 16 in 1950 but soon progressed to become one of the dominant figures of his age, winning a total of 25 European Tour titles and representing Great Britain and Ireland in eight Ryder Cup Matches between 1961 and 1977.
During his European Tour career, his consistency was legendary. Between 1973 and 1979 he played 68 consecutive tournaments without missing a cut before, in 1982, he won the Sanyo Open at Sant Cugat at the age of 48 years and 14 days to become the oldest winner in Tour history, a record that remained until it was surpassed, firstly by Des Smyth in 2001 and subsequently by Miguel Angel Jiménez in 2012.
After turning 50, Coles’ assault on the record books continued apace, winning 15 European Senior Tour titles in total including the 2000 Microlease Jersey Seniors Open, a victory which saw him become the first professional golfer in history to win in six different decades.
His final victory on the European Senior Tour came in the Lawrence Batley Seniors in June 2002 when he beat David Creamer and Steve Stull in a play-off at Huddersfield Golf Club. At 67 years and 276 days, the victory not only extended his own record as the oldest man to win on the Senior Tour, he also comfortably confirmed his place as the oldest winner in Senior golf worldwide, a record that stands to this day.
Outside his many playing achievements, Coles, an Honorary Member of The European Tour, was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2000 and is also a respected and internationally acknowledged course designer.
John Jacobs OBE, the Founding Father and first Tournament Director-General of The European Tour, said: “From the moment he started as Chairman in November, 1975, Neil brought the same qualities of quiet authority he so ably exhibited on the golf course throughout an outstanding career. I was there from the start but, unquestionably, Neil has been the bedrock of the whole Tour – it is absolutely fantastic that he has done it for this period of time.
“There was no better man than Neil for the role of Chairman – he was totally unflappable, one hundred per cent committed and commanded the respect of everyone in the game. It was so vital that the Tour had someone who was firm, fair and loyal at all times and who stood his ground whenever he needed to, in the best interests of the players and the game.”
Ken Schofield CBE, who followed Jacobs and was Executive Director of The European Tour for 30 years from 1975 until 2005, said: “Neil Coles was the player to whom John Jacobs turned to provide the authority upon which John founded today’s modern PGA European Tour. Neil continued to provide that massive authority throughout both my tenure and George O’Grady’s continuing tenure as Executive Directors for the better part of 40 years. No sports administrator or sports organisation could have asked for a finer Chairman to be at the helm.
“Every past, present and future Member of the PGA European Tour owes Neil Coles a debt of gratitude that cannot be overstated – and must never be underestimated.”
Peter Dawson, Chief Executive of The R&A, said, “Neil’s calm and dignified demeanour distinguished him both as a player and as an administrator and, under his leadership, The European Tour and The R&A have formed a strong bond. On behalf of The R&A, I thank Neil for his hard work and dedication and wish him well for his retirement.”
Philip Weaver OBE, Chairman of the Professional Golfers’ Association of Great Britain and Ireland said: “Since the inception of The European Tour, Neil Coles has had a profound influence on its growth and development. Indeed his steady hand on the tiller helping to steer the Tour along a course on continual success has, in turn, bought international recognition and acclaim.
“Neil has been a leader in professional golf throughout his long and distinguished career both inside and outside the ropes. On behalf of all professional golfers who play and love the game I want to express my sincere thanks for all his efforts to make our game better.”
Thomas Björn, the most successful Danish golfer in European Tour history and the current Chairman of the European Tour’s Tournament Committee, said: “Neil Coles has forever been admired by the Membership of The European Tour and his golfing knowledge and ability is something which has always been respected.
“The players are immensely grateful that a man of Neil’s ability and personality has presided over the Tour as we have developed into the amazingly successful business we are today. All the players greatly appreciate the time Neil has given over the years and we wish him well for the future.”
European Tour www.europeantour.com