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Calling the shots at the Home of Golf
He may not occupy a swanky office on the upper floor of the R&A clubhouse, but as the chairman of the St Andrews Links Trust, Alan McGregor has enjoyed being the chief power broker in the historic town

So you think you know who pulls the strings at St Andrews? You are confident you could pinpoint the man whose word is law in matters golfing at the Home of Golf. You know the man who can get you a round on the Old Course, the man who says whether or not the Open can come to St Andrews and which year, which month and which days in that month?

Sorry about this but you almost certainly do not.

You think that golf’s kingpin in the auld grey toon is the man with an office on the first floor of the R&A clubhouse and a telescope outside it. If his organisation sets the rules of golf that are abided by in every country in the world except the US and Mexico, then he must surely be the most important man in St Andrews. Allow me to introduce the man who really controls St Andrews, the man who decides whether and when the Open will be staged over the Old Course, who has brought women’s events to the most famous course in theworld,who has turned the university town into arguably themost successful and certainly the best-known place for golf in the world.

This man’s name is not Peter Dawson, though he is of similar age to the chief executive of the R&A. His name is Alan McGregor, a former captain in the Royal Highland Fusiliers and formerly chief executive of a Perth-based company that ran 17 livestock auction sites in Scotland.McGregor is the real power broker in St Andrews. McGregor, who became chief executive of the St Andrews Links Trust on January 1, 1998, retires at the end of December 2010. The search to find his replacement began in April.

Under Alan McGregor's stewardship of the Links Trust, golf at St Andrews has flourished
Under Alan McGregor's stewardship of the Links Trust, golf at St Andrews
has flourished

Here is a telephone conversation that took place not long ago between Dawson and McGregor.

Dawson: “Alan, hello. Peter here. Look can we settle the matter of the dates for the Open in 2015? We want to stage it from July 9-12.”

McGregor: “Terribly sorry Peter, old chap, but we’re a bit busy that week. We’ve got the Women’s British Open here. We could probably squeeze you in during the lastweek in July. How does that sound?

At this point I should say that this is a fictitious conversation. It has never taken place and almost certainly never will. Yet it serves to emphasise who is the more important of these two men. McGregor is the man who says what goes at St Andrews, and that includes staging the Open on the Old Course and what happens on the other courses as well. Put it to McGregor that theoretically he could deny the R&A the week they wanted for anOpen and he pauses. “That is true,” he says finally. “It is a very unlikely scenario but theoretically I do have that power.”

In his 12-year-reign, McGregor has left a clear fingerprint on St Andrews. He has brought a degree of harmony to the relationship between the R&A and the Links Trust. “It helps that Peter [Dawson] and I were both new boys together. Our relationship is good,” McGregor says. Dawson adds: “Alan and I have always got on extremely well. Our relationship has been extremely harmonious.”

Asked to name the achievements of which he is most proud, McGregor lists a few. “The authority from the trustees to look for land on which to build a seventh course. Putting the practice area into the Golf Academy. Some think it is now the best in Europe but as I haven’t seen every one in Europe I can’t say. Franchising out the teaching and club-fitting. And also there’s been the changing of the culture of the organisation. While we unerringly shot ourselves in the foot fromtime to time, on the whole we did not.”

The more successful McGregor and the Links Trust have been, the harder it has been to satisfy all parties. “I am not saying that this hasn’t been satisfying but it has been difficult trying to balance the competing interests in the links – the R&A, the residents of St Andrews, the hotels and guest houses in the town, the individuals in the town and people outside St Andrews. A senior Trustee said tome once: ‘Alan, the secret is keeping everybody a little bit happy.’ I thought that was very sound advice.”

In some golf circles McGregor is remembered as the man who authorised the playing of two women’s events at the Old Course, a venue that is seen as predominantly male. This is where McGregor has been clever. The Links Trust is not the R&A, the commercial arm of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, a body that owns the clubhouse behind the 18th green and has no femalemembers. McGregor was free to do what he wanted and he thought it was good for golf and good for St Andrews to stage these two leading women’s events.

“I think the Curtis Cup might have come here anyway in 2008,” he said modestly, “but I am proud of my efforts to get the Women’s British Open. I and others worked hard on that.”

The commercial success of the Links Trust may be McGregor’s most significant achievement of all. He has turned it from a slightly rundown organisation with a turnover of £5 million to a powerhouse with a turnover of £15 million and 300 permanent and seasonal staff to work on the seven courses, four shops and three clubhouses and practice and teaching centre.

“Everyone says the courses are now in so much better condition and that visiting St Andrews is a so much better experience than it used to be,” says Peter Dawson. “The commercial results of the Links Trust have been so good they have enabled him to do so much more. He has had a very good run.”

June 2010

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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