Sandy Jones talks about Yorkshire's influence on golf

PUBLISHED: 00:16 27 December 2011 | UPDATED: 20:29 20 February 2013

Sandy Jones

Sandy Jones

Sandy Jones, the man who heads British golf, talks to Chris Titley about the Ryder Cup,<br/>the top players and Yorkshire's influence on the game

The people who run sport tend to be a motley bunch. Whether its the gaffe-prone arrogance of Sepp Blatter, top dog at FIFA, or the politically controversial figure of Formula One tycoon Bernie Ecclestone, theyre not a crowd who inspire a great deal of affection.

Sandy Jones is the exception. The mild-mannered Scot, smart but not flashy, serious about his sport but quick to laugh, has quietly transformed the Professional Golfers Association in his 20 years at the helm.

In that time hes rubbed shoulders with the golfing greats, turned the Ryder Cup into one of sports greatest fixtures and built the PGA into an international brand, with 7,500 members and a turnover of 13 million.

We meet at the Golf Show at Harrogate International Centre and everyone, it seems, wants to shake Sandys hand or share a joke with him. When he finally escapes he gives an upbeat assessment of the game.

Compared to all other sports, I think golfs in a good place. I think football is in a bad place, Im not sure rugbys in a great place, he says.
Crickets probably moved forward a bit at international level.

But at county level you wouldnt say it was in a great place. So golf for me is the best placed sport.

One reason for this has been the emphasis placed on education since Sandy took over. He has overseen the creation of a training academy for golf professionals at The Belfry, the PGAs headquarters, and the development of golfing degrees run in association with Birmingham University.

That, he says, has had a direct impact on the resurgence of the UK as a golfing power. Im a believer that any great player has always got a great coach.

And now were in a situation where everybody who played in the last Ryder Cup under Colin Montgomerie had been encouraged to start the game by a PGA professional, and were all coached at the elite end by a professional.

He names Rory McIlroy, winner of this years US Open, as one of the new generation of golfers whove benefited.

He could be one of our hottest properties, in terms of world brand, Sandy says. Obviously Lee Westwood, and Luke Donald, leading the money list in America that generation is just driving on at the moment. Theres a whole group of them coming through at the back.

Good as they are, none of these guys make it to number one in Sandys book. The greatest character hes met in golf? Seve Ballesteros. Seve came from a poor background in Spain. He came over here as a young 17-year-old who didnt speak much English but he had lots of charisma. He just engaged with people.

I know he could have that Spanish dark mood at times and Ive had some of that when Ive spoken to him but he had great charisma and everybody loved him, even non-golfers.

You could say that about McIlroy today. Im not sure you could say that about Tiger Woods to the same extent. I know hes made a mess of his life. Everybody respected him for his greatness and ability to play, but he wasnt charismatic.

Sandy describes Yorkshire as the heartland of English golf. I look at it and think its got all the terrain and you look at the people, theyve got that grittiness you need. It is a golfing destination. Youve got three Ryder Cup courses, and its played Walker Cups in these venues as well.

Outside Scotland, Yorkshire has been the biggest potential county with influence in the world of golf.

Six times Ryder Cup player Howard Clark from Leeds, Pete Cowen, coach to the likes of Darren Clarke, and Lee Westwood, and Alison Nicholas, captain of this years winning Solheim Cup team, are just some of the Yorkshire golfing greats he mentions.

Everybody knows Yorkshire for its cricket. Its a legend for that. But its a legend for golf as well.

Its still a source of astonishment to Sandy that he, a boy brought up in a village outside Glasgow, who first played golf on the course built by the local steelworks, has rubbed shoulders with the games greats.

His father wasnt keen on the game, but loved his football. Sandy was first taken to a Rangers match aged four weeks old. It was his mother who was passionate about golf.

Although he knew hed never be a pro Sandy got a taste for the administration side of the game. He became president of his county Lanarkshire when he was only 31: I think Im the youngest ever president of any county, he says.

In the meantime, he was pursuing his career as a structural engineer. Then, in 1979, he was asked to run the Scottish section of the PGA, his first professional post in golf, before taking over as chief executive and moving to The Belfry in December 1991.

That also secured him a position on the Ryder Cup board. In 2001 the tournament was due to take place at the Belfry only to be cancelled when the American team refused to fly to England in the wake of the September 11 atrocities, a decision which attracted controversy. There was some criticism of them about why they didnt travel. But I could understand they were a nation in shock. Total shock.

After a week of phone discussions with the American PGA, Sandy was
told they were not coming. There was no great decision process. I said thats OK and put the phone down thinking: I think Ill make a cup of tea!

The cup was played the following year. This is a terrible thing to say, because it came out of tragedy.

But I think for the Ryder Cup it was one of the better things that happened, says Sandy.

At the preceding tournament near Boston in the US in 1999, an unlikely comeback by the American team led to wild celebrations at the 17th hole,
before they had won. One of the European players described it as a
bear pit.

It was a poisonous atmosphere, Sandy says. Ive done Rangers and Celtic in Glasgow, Ive done Scotland and England at Wembley. But I never remember anything like it was in Boston, it was just awful.

The 9/11 terrorist attack brought a feeling of reality back. Golfs a game where we want to compete as hard as we can, but we compete with respect for our opponent, and we take our caps off and we shake hands at the end.

Join us for the Ryder Cup Lunch 2012 sponsored by Sanlam UK

Archant Life hosts its first sporting event of 2012 - the Ryder Cup Lunch at Mere Golf Resort and Spa, Knutsford, Cheshire on March 15th attended by Peter Alliss, the legendary golfer and BBC golf commentator, together with Sandy Jones, chief executive of the Professional Golfers Association. The Ryder Cup trophy will be on display at the lunch. Tickets for the lunch are 55 each.Tables of 10 are also available for 650 plus VAT.

To reserve your place or table email or call 0161 928 0333. Full payment is required on booking either by credit card or cheque. Businesses booking tables can be invoiced.

Click here for more details

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