Retiring PGA boss Jones will still be at 19th hole . .
. . albeit figuratively speaking as he takes up a new role as executive president
E don’t do walking away, was a defiant rallying cry often spouted by those of a Rangers persuasion when the club went into the kind of meltdown you’d tend to get in a blast furnace. Sometimes, though, you just have to take your leave.
“I’ll have a battle with myself to let go but I’ll just say ‘walk away Sandy’,” said Sandy Jones, the chief executive of the PGA, who will retire this week after nearly 40 years with the association. As a something of a died in the wool Rangers man, it was perhaps not surprising that Jones sought the advice of another long-serving stalwart in Walter Smith, the former manager at Ibrox who stepped down in 2011 after amassing 10 Scottish titles. “I was speaking to Walter recently and he was telling me that during the first year, I’ll probably be all over the place thinking, ‘I should never have packed this in’,” added Jones, who spent 25 years as the heid honcho of the PGA after 12 years as the Scottish PGA’s regional secretary. “Walter said, ‘the difference between you and me is that I won the championship on the Saturday and by the Monday I was a nobody at Ibrox but golf might be different as you’re keeping this other role’.”
Ah, so he’s not quite walking away then? This new role is as executive president which means Jones will still be involved with the PGA in some capacity. “80 to 100 days,” noted the Glaswegian, who is a member of the Royal & Ancient, Loch Lomond and Gleneagles among others but remains a Mount Ellen man at heart.
Jones, 70, began his life in golfing administration back in 1980 when he took up the reins at the Scottish PGA. “I remember getting asked on my first day by the press, ‘how would I like to be judged?’ and I said, ‘Christ, I’ve just started’. Here in 2017, Jones remains quietly content with the work he has done across a variety of platforms.
“I am very proud of our PGA education programme,” he said. “Especially because it took a three-year battle with the members to accept the programme we now have. There was even a strike threat. Now we have 7,800 members, 1,600 of whom work around the world in around 80 countries. It is satisfying that the PGA is one of the biggest influences in golf on the development side.”
As far as developing players in Scotland is concerned, and aiding the rocky transition from the unpaid game to the pro ranks, Jones believes the amateur body of Scottish Golf and the PGA are slowly but surely coming together. It’s always been a prickly subject, of course. “Under previous management (at the Scottish Golf Union), there was a reluctance to engage with the pros,” claimed Jones, who will always champion the conquests of Paul Lawrie who came through the PGA training programme and went on to become an Open champion. “It was almost you do as we tell you; a kind of master and servant relationship. England are way ahead of the Scots. They have engaged much more sincerely with the professional game. The game here has to come together. Not the PGA running it or Scottish Golf running it, but both sides.”
In the wider sense, Europe’s fortunes in the Ryder Cup have certainly changed since continental players were drafted in and a new commercial structure involving the PGA, the traditional custodians of the cup, and the European Tour was hammered out. It’s big business now. “But it’s not all about the commerciality,” warned Jones. “I’m almost the voice of Samuel Ryder (the original benefactor of the Ryder Cup) in this. He was a very successful businessman but when he started the match it wasn’t about the commercial aspects, it was about getting the best players in the world. We need the commerce to make the Ryder Cup work, as well as the Tour and the PGA, but you have to be careful it’s not seen as a money making machine. Don’t soil what is a proper match.”
Next year’s Ryder Cup is in Paris but there have already been jittery claims made that Gleneagles is on standby to host the event again with the US contingent wary of the terrorist threat in France. “The Americans are committed to Paris, totally,” countered Jones. “There is no hint they won’t go.”
The Ryder Cup has given Jones many of his fondest memories, from a first European win on American soil in 1987 to a homecoming at Gleneagles in 2014. The characters involved remain cherished too. “I was refereeing a Seve (Ballesteros) match at a Ryder Cup,” Jones recalled. “After shaking hands on the first tee, Seve said ‘are you the best referee in the world?’. I just ignored it but he kept on asking. Eventually I said, ‘well, Seve, I think you are the best player in the world so they wouldn’t put the worst referee in the world out with you’. He shook my hand and said ‘you’ll do for me’.
“He was great.”
TOP MAN: Sandy Jones has been with the PGA for almost 40 years. Picture: Getty Images