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The end of an era – a few of them

All good things come to an end. That saying was brought home to me most dramatically at the BMW PGA Championship played on the West Course at Wentworth towards the end of May. The reason? The sad demise of golf on the BBC.

I did my first broadcast at the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale in 1961, 52 years ago. The most tournaments we ever did in a year was 16. As well as the Open, that included the burgeoning European circuit plus the US and the Women’s Open, the Amateur Championship on both sides of the Atlantic and various other international events. It was a wonderful time to be associated with television. Sky does a wonderful job but I do feel sad there is now so little golf on the BBC.

I have lots of memories but, strangely, my recollections may differ dramatically from yours. For example, one of the most remarkable feats, in my opinion, was Nathanial Crosby (yes, the son of Bing) winning the US Amateur Championship in San Francisco in 1981. He was behind with only a handful of holes to go but he kept on plugging away, eventually winning at the last. I also fondly recall watching Maurice Bembridge go round Augusta in 64 in 1974, Catherine Lacoste winning the American Women’s Open as an amateur (and French to boot!) in 1967, Tony Jacklin’s Open Championship triumph at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 1969, the 1977 Open at Turnberry (that extraordinary battle between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus), and what a sensation was ‘our’ victory in the Ryder Cup at Muirfield Village in 1987 – the first time ‘we’ had been victorious on ‘their’ ground. And I remember the pleasure of working with the late, lamented Dave Marr and Alex Hay.

These thoughts and many more flooded through my mind as I watched the closing stages of this year’s PGA – close on five hours of television and marvelling how, behind the scenes, the boys and girls of the BBC managed to edit it down to make an enjoyable and fulsome programme covering the climax of the event in such fine style, culminating in a fascinating playoff between three very different players: Marc Warren, Simon Kahn and Matteo Manassero. It was the latter who eventually won and at 20 years of age he became the youngest player to hold the fabled trophy. But we came away with another name buzzing in our ears – Eddie Pepperell.

Manassero has already established himself on the rung of success, whereas Pepperell has a lot to do. But he’s made a very good start. I wish them both all the very best of luck.

May was a month of closure. The most famous instance was Sir Alex Ferguson who, after 26 years at the helm of Manchester United, decided to retire – inevitably in a blaze of publicity. One of the main links in his reign, Paul Scholes, did the same but preferred to disappear with few fanfares.

Golf-wise, what of Neil Coles, one of Britain’s great players who’d been chairman of the European Tour since the mid- 1970s? I confess that on many occasions I’ve said, both openly and behind closed doors, that surely Coles has been there too long. Things need a change. But, on reflection, the Tour has survived, although quite how on occasions I’ve no idea.

The commercial ice is very thin but first Ken Schofield and now George O’Grady have skated over it majestically, not always being everyone’s cup of tea – for there’s an awful lot of travelling involved – but the ship has miraculously been kept afloat.

So why fix it if it ain’t broke? I wonder if Coles decided that he’d had enough? Did he walk, or was he pushed? If he was pushed, I hope them that pushed make the right choice in finding a successor. New brooms sometimes sweep dramatically too clean. We will watch with great interest.

One final point. The first two days of the PGA Championship were marred by some exaggerated stories of racism. A number of the press said that ‘we’ (whoever ‘we’ are in this instance) needed to change the persona of golf. Women should be allowed into every club and, no matter your position in the game, be mindful that certain language is quite unacceptable.

I had a quiet laugh at that. Surely it’s the press who have, for many years now, given the game its persona by continually pulling and tweaking, trying to make laughing stocks out of honourable people who, just because they prefer to shave and wear a tie, become Colonel Blimps, living in the past, still glorying in the days of an Empire long since gone. But you only had to look at the faces of the huge crowds on Sunday to see there weren’t many, if any, people there who gave that impression.

The press have a lot to answer for. They won’t agree but I think it would be fun if some tournaments, even perhaps the Open Championship itself, withdrew some facilities in the press room. No more hot food, no more drinks. Just coffee or tea. No courtesy monitors – if you want to write about the golf, get out and follow play. Only 20 telephones, no wi-fi, no posh loos.

Oh what fun! Be careful, though, Who knows, one day it may come to pass.

July 2013

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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