Warm tributes have been paid to John Stirling – one of the founders of the modern day PGA Training Programme who has died aged 89.
The Hampshire-based Life Member of The PGA, enjoyed a wide-ranging career in golf and was one of the first PGA Master Professionals in recognition of his achievements.
One of his biggest was as one of the first PGA swing tutors, helping in the early 1960s to establish the training programme for assistants at Lilleshall and Bisham Abbey which is now world recognised.
He along with Eddie Whitcombe, Reg Cox, Sid Collins and Keith Hockey were instrumental in laying the foundations to improve the education and training of PGA assistants – John and the late Alex Hay wrote the training manual.
Although he captained The PGA in 1989, it was a humble start in golf for the Scot who left school at 13 to become a greenkeeper at Eastwood Golf Club in Glasgow.
His talent though soon won admirers – the Eastwood club captain spotted him practising and invited John to join the club and paid his subscriptions for him.
In 1945 he joined the Royal Air Force and was posted to the Suez Canal Zone in Egypt.
His first golf pro’s job was at Roehampton Golf Club where he was fifth assistant. Fate intervened when the head pro at Woking Golf Club was taken ill and Stirling stood in. The incumbent pro sadly later died so he stayed on as head pro.
This was back in the 1950s – an era when at certain clubs, the professional was not permitted to enter the clubhouse. Roger Mace, a friend of more than 50 years, revealed that had been a source of frustration.
“He was a bit upset because Woking was a fine club and fine course, but he was not allowed to play in tournaments and competitions and as the pro was also not allowed into the clubhouse. He found this frustrating and applied for a similar role at Meyrick Park in Bournemouth.”
John spent more than 20 years at Meyrick Park, from 1961-1982, but his great friend John Jacobs then persuaded him to apply for the job at the then newly-built Meon Valley Golf & Country Club in Southampton.
“It was a new course, created as part of a hotel, and John, who was in his 50s at the time, thought he was too old to apply but John Jacobs insisted if he applied he would get the job,” added Mace. “Of course he did and it was fantastic for him. He and his wife, Christine, who was also a very talented player, were a wonderful team.”
Other career highlights included being national coach to the English Golf Union while as a player he won the Hampshire PGA Championship and was crowned the Bournemouth Alliance Champion on five occasions.
“John was a wonderful all-rounder as a club pro, he didn’t have any weaknesses,” said Mace. John was also blessed with wit and humour and was a natural story-teller and as such he was much in demand as an after dinner speak. “How John did not end up on television, I will never know,” added Mace.
“He was by far the best after-dinner speaker I have ever seen. He was amazing, he would travel from Hampshire up to Manchester for a speaking engagement but would never stop over in a hotel. He would always drive back and be teaching back at the club, first thing the next morning.”
PGA chief executive Sandy Jones described his fellow Scot as a ‘legend of The PGA’. “There must be so many of our members across the world that in some way owe their career to John having been taught by him and through his efforts in education,” he said. “And there are also so many golfers across the world who will have seen him as an after-dinner speaker and enjoyed his humour and friendship.
“So he has been a major influence in the game – both in bringing his skills and knowledge to generations of PGA Members and also in the entertainment and enjoyment he gave to the ordinary golfers who played the game.
“On a personal level he was a great friend and companion and who in terms of after-dinner entertainment, I was privileged to share the same platform with him on many occasions – always coming off second best.John will be fondly remembered by many across the world of golf and sadly missed.”
Dr Kyle Phillpots, the PGA’s executive director – education and global development, said: “John had retired as a Tutor by the time I started here in 1999, but he was still a big presence and the tutors would talk about him with not just respect but also great affection and esteem.
“Some of the younger ones had been tutored by him at places like Lilleshall and so they talked about those times as well, with stories about John the raconteur, storyteller and clearly someone who helped create a real bond between the tutors and the trainees.
“When I did eventually meet him, while he was not large in stature, he was certainly a large personality and he still had great energy and enthusiasm for golf and coaching and had a great knack of illustrating a serious point with an amusing anecdote from the past. I think my abiding impression of him was that he was a great communicator and certainly someone who could inspire others in golf.”
** The funeral service will be held on Monday, November 28 at 1pm at Wessex Vale Crematorium Chapel; Bubb Lane, West End, Southampton, SO30 2HL
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