The amazing record: Four pros in 111 years (Plus an extract from the club's centenary history - Heather & Heaven)
When Simon took on the role of Professional at Walton Heath in 2009 he was immediately aware of the large shoes he would be filling.
The past Head Professionals, only three, were (James Braid) a 5 times Open Champion who designed 400 courses and made his own golf equipment, a Golf Hall of Fame Member (Harry Busson) who created the finest drivers and fairway woods for Ryder Cup Players and club members alike, and Ken Macpherson who was acknowledged as a fine golf instructor with exceptional skills in retail and customer service to all who entered his pro shop. I truly had an opportunity to learn from the best!
Simon’s love affair with golf started when he was 13 years old - late by today’s standards!
His parents who were both keen golfers encouraged him to take up the game during the long summer holidays and he became a member of their club, Croham Hurst.
At this young age, Croham Hurst Golf Club felt like a huge venue to him and playing the course was an intimidating challenge. Simon had played only a little golf at home with plastic balls in the garden and at a driving range, but was a natural ball player so could hit the ball forward confidently, but not always straight!
That summer he played golf every day from early morning until darkness came and his dad had to drag him off the putting green – he was addicted! Over the next few years he played as often as he could, even cycling the 45 minute journey from home or school to the club most days. Simon soon became one of the better players at Croham Hurst and began to consider the possibility of pursuing a career in golf.
As an amateur golfer he played events all over the UK but mostly in his home county of Surrey which he represented from the age of 16 until he turned professional in 1993. Walton Heath was one of the championship courses he would visit each year for competitions. The first Surrey Amateur Championship he competed in was at Walton Heath and he was delighted to qualify in the top 16 players to go through to the match play stage. Sadly he lost in the first round to the eventual winner but the taste of some success started his love affair with the Heath.
Following considerable success both at Croham Hurst and in other tournaments, Simon decided to turn professional in 1993 and initially worked as an assistant professional to Roger Williams at Addington Palace Golf Club. He joined Walton Heath’s professional staff in June 2000 as Ken Macpherson’s second assistant.
Simon became aware that Walton Heath was golf on a grand stage. The rating of ‘World Top 100 Course’ is one of the reasons why so many golfers from all over the world want to visit.
Walton Heath has a long history of hosting world class events and attracting the world’s best players and this is still the case today. Every year since 2005 the club has hosted the European Sectional Qualifying for the US Open. Simon has found an exceptional opportunity to not only watch the stars of the European tour play Walton Heath but also to spend time getting to know some of these brilliant players personally.
The Senior Open in 2011 gave Simon the opportunity to meet some of his childhood heroes.
“I never thought as a 16 year old junior golfer that one day I would welcome golfing legends such as Tom Watson to my own shop at a club like Walton Heath.”
Ken Macpherson’s service standards were high in the pro shop but it soon became obvious to Simon that it was the little things that meant so much to his customers. This attention to detail set the staff apart from the ordinary, like having a trolley ready in hand for a member you knew always took one or cleaning the clubs of a player who left them overnight. Simple but not obvious details that meant members and visitors held the staff in high esteem.
In 2009 Ken Macpherson retired as Head Professional after 32 years of service and he now has become Walton Heath’s Ambassador for Golf. This is a role in which he promotes Walton Heath and he shares his knowledge with groups who visit the club to enhance their golfing experience.
Simon’s first week as Head Professional at Walton Heath was one he will always remember. Along with the thrill of taking on his dream job he was also due to become a father. He began clearing the Pro Shop on the Sunday morning, the shop fitters arrived on Monday and by Friday afternoon his beautiful twin daughters Annabel & Emily had arrived. The next few weeks went by in a blur as he settled in to a new way of life both at work and at home.
Once the shop fit was complete, he felt he had created an environment in which he could move the Pro Shop forward into a new era but also could maintain the traditional feel and exceptional levels of service that Ken had taught him so well.
One of the aspects of Simon’s role which he particularly enjoys is sourcing new and exciting products for the shop and demonstrating to members and visitors how they can help them improve their performance and enjoyment of the game. The Pro Shop at Walton Heath now has a reputation for stocking top quality merchandise and this is something of which he is particularly proud.
Simon also has a forward thinking attitude to the way in which golf is taught and is keen to embrace new technology. Walton Heath now boasts a fantastic Teaching studio with video swing analysis and the latest Trackman launch monitor.
“This enables me to teach players of all standards by giving them visual feedback on their golf swing coupled with accurate data on their ball flight and club head motion. To me technology like this makes the game simpler rather than more complicated and many Members have stated that they wish it had been available years ago!”
“I am fortunate to see Walton Heath almost every day of my life and I doubt I will ever tire of its visual impact. The challenges of playing golf here are never ending but at the same time truly enjoyable. My staff and I aim to give every member and visitor to the club a warm welcome and ensure that they get the maximum enjoyment from their time here.”
“It has been my great honour to have become Walton Heath’s fourth Professional and I look forward to many more years enjoying my job.“
Of the sports Ken Macpherson played at George Watson's College in Edinburgh golf was the one he found most difficult. Rugby and cricket came easily and at hockey he played for Scottish Schoolboys. But golf? This seemed a highly technical game in which the athleticism and timing natural in moving-ball sports meant nothing. Why, then, did he choose it as a career?
The first of two reasons was emotional. This intricate game fascinated him. As he grew older he became intrigued by all aspects of it: the playing, the equipment, the courses, the literature.
Ken gives Padraig Harrington 'a few pointers'
At eight he had begun playing hour after hour with cut-down clubs on Gullane's children's course, that 12-hole phenomenon in the heart of East Lothian's golfing wonderland where thousands have played their first, kindergarten rounds. His uncle and aunt ran a local restaurant and there the boy Macpherson would spend holidays, repaying his relations' hospitality by washing the dishes and preparing the strawberries and ice cream.
At school he utilised metalwork classes for first attempts at clubmaking, producing a usable putter and enjoying the discovery that he had an aptitude for technical work with his hands. His first club membership was as a junior at Ratho Park on the outskirts of Edinburgh. When Arnold Palmer came over and conquered in the 1960s, the youth found a hero and his obsession with the game was complete.
The second reason was more pragmatic. He had failed to gain any academic success at school, which he passionately disliked, and had no interest in further education. But he was no dullard. He thought out his future, analysed his strengths and weaknesses and reached a logical conclusion: as his only achievements had been on the playing fields his career should be in sport.
That being so, golf surely offered the best prospects? For one thing the game was beginning to boom and for another it afforded more than one strand of opportunity: apart from playing, with its potential rewards of prize-money and public recognition, there was the life of a club professional. Alone among his sports golf offered the prospect of a life-long career.
This was not the future Ken's father had envisaged for the son he had sent to a renowned fee-paying school. Macpherson senior was a natural ball-player himself, in particular a skilful scrum-half, so he realised the attractions of a sporting life, but his own father had been a crofter and he personally had worked his way up in life, winning a bursary to a school of high repute and getting a solid job in insurance - perhaps he feared a reversion to the old order of things. On reflection, though, he saw the logic of his son's thinking.
At 16, when he was playing off seven, Ken became a junior member of the Royal Burgess Golfing Society, whose 1735 roots had threaded a nomadic route through Leith, Bruntsfield and Musselburgh and finally fetched up at Edinburgh's Barnton. There the professional, Arthur Davidson, having noted the devotion of the small boy who spent every spare minute on the practice ground, told him that if his assistant moved on he would offer him his post.
As a stopgap Ken took a job as an apprentice clubmaker with the St. Andrew Golf Company at Dunfermline (Fife). The experience has left an indelible mark on Macpherson's memory and conscience: ‘Working in a factory is something everyone should be subjected to. The environment was totally alien to the world outside and I have unforgettable recollections of some of the less fortunate men who worked there.'
In 1962, when he was 19, he duly joined Davidson at Barnton. ‘The next three-and-a-half years were heavenly. In the workshop I did club repairs. I caddied for Roberto de Vicenzo and Kel Nagle and played with Bob Charles and Dai Rees - three Open champions and a Ryder Cup captain. I went on a one-week PGA course and scored 97-per-cent in the clubmaking exam. Suddenly life had taken on a new meaning.
‘Arthur Davidson, immaculate in tweed jacket and plus-fours, was a gentleman. He was treated like royalty by the members and provided them with unsurpassable service. It left a deep impression on me.'
Like most assistants, Ken's early ambition was to be a successful tournament professional, a champion even, but his hopes were never fulfilled.
A defining moment came when, in his early twenties, he played in the East-of-Scotland PGA Championship at Kilspindie, 17 miles east of Edinburgh. On the 5,432-yard old course there, with its SSS of 66, he went out in 29 strokes. He then came home in 41.
It helped to convince me that I was wasting my time. Yes, I was a useful player, but not good enough. I had already played with men more talented than I who had failed on the Tour. I was lucky. I recognised the hard fact as a youngster; others have discovered it after ten years of attempt and failure. I have seen a once highly promising pro in tears as he confided his agonies to Harry Busson.
Looking back, I would have loved to have had the time and opportunity to play more and seen how good I could have become, but the consolation was that I could remain part of golf. After all, there was still clubmaking and, particularly, teaching.
Davidson, with a high opinion of him, advised him that his next step should be a job away from home, so he came south. In October 1965, after a disastrous two months at Shirley Park, he was offered a post at Moor Park (Herts.) under former Walton Heath assistant Ross Whitehead. The job was head assistant, and with Whitehead away playing tournaments he was soon in demand as a teacher.
The hours were dawn until dusk, but the income compensated. For the first time I had a building society account, quite a status symbol!
Ken had a chance to go to South Africa to work with Sid Brews, winner of eight open championships there and Bobby Locke's partner in the pre-war challenge match against Cotton and Whitcombe at Walton Heath. The thought of leaving his roots dissuaded him and he remained at Moor Park for more than five years.
I have written of Liverpool journalist Leslie Edwards as Busson's publicity guru. In Macpherson's case much the same may be said of Tom Scott, a doyen among post-war writers and editor of Golf Illustrated. Scott, who lived in Buckinghamshire, used the Metropolitan Line to get to his office. So, piling in at stations down the line, did sundry members of Moor Park.
Smoothly from Harrow, passing Preston Road,
They saw the last green fields and misty sky.
The members talked golf and not least about their head assistant's teaching. Scott pricked up his ears behind his newspaper and insinuated himself into the conversations.
In January 1971 Macpherson was appointed full professional at Kingswood. Simultaneously, Scott invited him to write an instructional series and also put him on his magazine's front cover. Golf World followed up with an article about him and, most beneficial of all in Ken's view, so did The Director, with complimentary mentions from Scott.
Early in his six years at Kingswood Ken lodged at the Tadworth Country Club - not quite as luxurious as it sounded but with friendly, hospitable owners. One day a girl named Susan Pearson, due to start work at a nearby company, came to the door also looking for accommodation. She and Ken married in 1974.
His move to Walton Heath? ‘I'm a firm believer in fate and the luck of being in the right place at the right time - and fate had decreed that I should come to Walton.'
Fate, though, had arrived in the shape of Harry Busson. Regularly during his time at Kingswood, when Ken visited the Professional Golfers' Cooperative Association's cash-and-carry warehouse at Putney, he would take with him also Busson's own shopping lists of shafts, grips, screws, glue, varnish, pitched thread... all the impedimenta of clubmaking. When he delivered them to Harry's workshop the two men would have a cup of tea and a chat, thus furthering their friendship.
In 1977 Busson confided that he would soon be retiring and expressed trenchant views about the type of man who should succeed him. He was against any move the club might take to appoint a big-name tournament pro: he didn't think much of some of that breed anyway but was convinced that if one of them got the job he would disappear for long spells and ‘leave a boy in charge!' ‘When the post is advertised, why don't you put in for it?' he suggested.
Ken duly applied and, despite strong competition, got the job. ‘He was the unanimous choice,' announced captain Sir Patrick Macrory, ‘I am quite sure we have made the right decision.' Unanimous they may have been - but the man who bent the ear of captain and committee was surely Harry Busson.
Macpherson began his duties on August 1, 1977, burdened by the responsibility of succeeding Braid, once the world's greatest golfer, and Busson, perhaps the world's leading wooden-club maker. He was comforted by friends at court. Not only was there Busson, there was Ewen Murray, who had graduated from the role of assistant to that of playing professional. The two had been friends since childhood.
As for Busson, when the club let him stay on as a clubmaker cynics warned Ken that it was bad news (‘What? Your predecessor looking over your shoulder all the time? I wouldn't have agreed to that!'). It may well have been to Busson's advantage to have his protégé in place beside him, but what the cynics failed to understand was the camaraderie that had sprung up between the 34-year-old professional and the 70-year-old clubmaker.
The new pro had a hectic and stressful start, both at the club and away from it. Within a year the new shop had been opened by Harry Braid on the site of the old one (‘Surely the finest in Britain,' suggested Scott). Also in 1978 the Macphersons' first daughter, Caroline, was born, and a week later came the first European Open. In 1980 the European event again came to Walton; in 1981 daughter number two, Louise, was born; three months later it was the Ryder Cup match and along the way the Macphersons had moved house.
It his been said that Walton Heath and Macpherson jointly were the first to mount an ambitious selling campaign at a Ryder Cup, producing products bearing a special Cup logo. The weather was wet, umbrellas sold out and piles of short-sleeved shirts remained.
His teaching schedules filled up and eventually over-burdened him. Scott recalled peeping at his bookings one day in mid-September and noting that his first vacancy was in late-November. He would return from lessons to find half-a-dozen people waiting to see him, a mass of calls to answer and stock, service and paper work to be dealt with. It had to stop or at least be scaled down. This was rendered a practicality, he says, by hiring the best staff available.
Ken's teaching philosophy is based on fundamental commonsense and logic. His prerequisites, obviously, are the grip and stance, but beyond those fundamentals he derides the mass of technical jargon fed to learners. ‘These days pupils expect, indeed want to be bombarded with technical information and feel cheated if they don't get it! Similarly, many young teachers tend to want to impress with that sort of stuff.' Ken would never hire a teaching assistant who was over-technical in approach; head assistant Simon Peaford feels much the same about things as his boss.
Behind the easy smile and cheerful chat, Macpherson holds strong views on certain subjects apart from golf. When the idea of his selling cigarettes in the shop was mooted by the committee, as an ardent anti-smoking man he could not, in all conscience, agree. Rather like his mentor, Busson, he is angered by bad manners generally. He derides selfishness, thoughtlessness, lack of courtesy and consideration for others - which in golf ranges from professionals spitting on the course to amateurs entering competitions and not turning up.
The overriding impression one has of him is that of an absurdly young 60-year-old and a man of infectious enthusiasm. In common with developments at other prestigious clubs, his job has changed. Clubmaking has gone, he teaches little; his hands are full serving the members, running the business, masterminding the shop, competing with cut-price stores, contributing his expertise to reviews of course improvements and, not least, playing the part of public relations supremo.
He remembers the responsibility he felt when he got the job. He couldn't play like Braid, nor make clubs like Busson:
All I could hope to do was provide the best possible service to the members and visitors and ensure that everyone playing golf at Walton Heath gained the maximum pleasure from doing so.
That is what he was trying to do, and the record of service by Walton Heath's professionals grows more astonishing by the day: now only the fourth in Simon Peaford in a hundred and eleven years.