An ‘unbelievable ride’ has just got even better for Mission Hills’ group executive director Iain Roberts after he was crowned a PGA Master Professional.
The honour, bestowed in The PGA’s latest Accreditation for Professional Achievement and Learning (APAL) awards, caps another highlight in the 56 year old’s rich and varied career.
Roberts’ CV covers the gamut of roles in golf both in the UK and abroad. He played on tour, became head pro at Muswell Hill at aged just 24 and later moved overseas to become just the third head pro in the history of Royal Hong Kong Golf Club.
For the past five years he has overseen the entire golf operations at Mission Hills – the world’s biggest golf club.
“It’s a great honour, it doesn’t seem as though I’ve been working in golf as long as I have but it’s been a whirlwind career that has gone so fast,” he said.
It’s all a far cry from his childhood in a sporting family whose preferred sport was football including a brother, Bill, who was a Chelsea apprentice and played for Watford.
“I was smitten by golf because it’s a sport you can play on your own,” said Roberts.
He credits a course of lessons with Whiteleaf pro Ken Ward as cementing his passion for the game.
“I was crazy about it and from then I played in every competition I could. I then got lucky and managed to get a junior membership at Ellesborough at the Chequers estates for £5 a year! From then I just wanted to play and got my first assistant’s role with John Garner at Flackwell Heath.”
This was 1975 and Garner, also a PGA Master Professional, was a recent Ryder Cup player.
“I worked for John in 1975 and he’d played in the 1971 and 1973 Ryder Cups. We had one pro-am where the entire Ryder Cup team played. All these great players around was just inspirational.”
Roberts competed on tour for half a season before running out of money.
“I always joke that there were a number of good reasons why I stopped and those were Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle, Ian Woosnam and Bernhard Langer.
“They were all much better than I was. As an assistant I had the ability to score but wasn’t in the same league as them.”
Roberts, who also designed Great Hadham while at Muswell Hill, later moved to Hong Kong.
He spent 15 years there, became national coach and developed Hong Kong’s coaching programme from scratch – all unpaid – as well as brokering the Hong Kong Open as a co-sanctioned European Tour event.
Next stop was Mission Hills where he presides today, organising and running the World Cup, the HSBC Championship and World Ladies Championship.
“Golf’s given me a great career, it’s been an unbelievable ride,” he added.
Also celebrating in the APAL awards is Holland-based Iain Forrester from Hoenshuis Golf and Country Club who has been accorded PGA Advanced Fellow Professional status.
Meanwhile Sarah Bennett from Three Rivers Golf & Country Club, who has worked tirelessly to help rehabilitate injured soldiers through golf, is one of three pros to gain PGA Fellow Professional status along with Anders Mankert from Cosby Golf Club and Nairn Dunbar’s David Torrance.
Further awards go to Andrew Agnoli (Bishop’s Stortford), Patrick Baker (Bleadon Hill), Darran Bird (Made to Measure), Gavin Cook (Elie Sports Club), Craeg Deery (Meydan Golf), Rodney Holt (Silverstone), Richard Hughes (Coalville), Wayne O’Callaghan (Fernhill) and Paul Williams from Top Golf who have been all granted PGA Advanced Professional status.
For more information on the APAL process and to view the APAL Criteria, download the ‘Industry Guide to PGA Membership available at http://www.pga.info/pga-professional/industry-guide-to-pga-membership.aspx