Golf: New policy but Jones values old principles

Lauren St John talks to the PGA chief about those Ryder Cup claims
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The Independent Online
THE PLUSH new headquarters of the Professional Golfers' Assoc- iation do not look much like a lions' den but that is how they feel. The PGA, with Sandy Jones at the helm, have spent years showing their claws to reporters with difficult questions, but the case of Judy Owens, the woman who dared to wear trousers, and the Independent on Sunday's investigation into the distribution of Ryder Cup profits have prompted a policy of openness.

Under this new policy, nothing is off limits, not Ryder Cup profits, not corporate bunfeasts and not even the Owens tribunal in which the former PGA training officer has alleged, among other things, that she was sent home for wearing a trouser suit to work.

This newspaper's investigation focused on three main areas, the change in the Ryder Cup deed, why so little of the shared pounds 13m turnover from the 1997 match appeared to go into grass-roots golf and why a staggering pounds 11m went on administration and funding the free flights and hotels of dozens of officials and corporate executives. But for each point Jones, the chief executive, springs to the defence of his organisation.

The administration costs are high because of matters such as the media centre, which alone cost over pounds 600,000. As for the executives, "we live in a commercial world". The PGA's share of the profits, some pounds 1.9m in 1997, was spread across all the activities of the association, to areas such as the trainee programme at The Belfry, "initiatives to try to expand the game at all levels and inner city programmes". Since the only inner- city programme most people are aware of is at Sandwell, near Birmingham, I wonder what other inner-city programmes he means. "That's the only one we've got at the moment," Jones concedes. The PGA's annual pounds 10,000 donation to the Golf Foundation, which supports junior golf, pales beside the PGA of America's pounds 10m donation to inner-city golf this year, but Jones says the PGA provide the junior coaching unit at The Open and have a Game Improvement Roadshow.

Asked if it concerns him that, without the Ryder Cup, the PGA would be bankrupt or doing very badly, he declares: "It doesn't concern me in the sense that all of us have got businesses to run and you look at your sources of revenue and your income streams that you've got available to you."

One of those income streams is, of course, the controversial venue of the 2001 Ryder Cup, which doesn't pay directly for the match but provides the PGA with a free 99-year lease and, lately, with magnificent new offices and training facilities.

Jones is adamant that the match needed to be at The Belfry for the PGA's centenary. "I knew with the 2001 Ryder Cup coming here everybody would say, well, that's four Ryder Cups and is it the only venue you can pick? And yet to me, to play the Ryder Cup on the venue that has been your home for the last 25 years is an important thing."

The PGA have been criticised over supposed plans to charge pounds 300 a head to spectators in 2001, but Jones denies profit is their main aim. "We could either go one way and say let's take every last penny we can squeeze out of this Ryder Cup and we would stand accused of commercial exploitation to the nth degree. Or we could say, no, no, the Ryder Cup should be played almost like the National Health and everybody should come through the gate for nothing because everybody should have the right to watch it. We're actually trying to find a middle and sensible ground."

Like many of the media's perceived villains, Jones is, in the flesh, beguiling and even charming, and has a politician's way with words. A childhood spent in the Scottish steel town of Gartcosh, near Glasgow, gave him a passion for golf, which continued when he qualified as a structural engineer and became Scottish secretary and then chief executive of the PGA. It also convinced him of the importance of tradition.

Next up for discussion is how the deed entrusting the Ryder Cup to the PGA by Samuel Ryder came to be amended in unclear circumstances in 1991 to allow the European Tour to share 50 per cent of the profits.

"The Ryder Cup is still the property of the PGA," says Jones, hiding behind semantics. "The actual Ryder Cup."

When it is pointed out to him that Ryder was obviously referring to the match rather than the trophy, he says he does not want to get into a legal debate. "The bottom line is, if the joint venture hadn't been created, there would have been a moment in time when there wouldn't have been a Ryder Cup match. The deed really meant that the PGA had to ensure forever, in perpetuity, that there was a Ryder Cup played properly, and I think the PGA made the right decision by saying we'll form a joint venture with those who now represent the players."

It is the nature of the PGA that there will always be questions surrounding it. There will always be members who feel that they're getting little for their pounds 260 subscription, trainees who feel that spending wages as low as pounds 20 a month on compulsory stays at The Belfry during training weeks is iniquitous, and journalists who feel that Jones's traditionalist views work for him in some areas of golf and against him in others.

"The women in trousers thing, you see, has been held up as some sort of crusade point," Jones says a little impatiently of the Owens case. "I can understand that. But in actual fact, it's not the major issue. The major issue is that, as the PGA, working within golf, we keep trying to work, develop and progress the sport, and in doing that, we have no difficulty in recognising that we're trying to do that for everyone, irrespective of age, colour, creed, religion or sex.

"We've no problem with that. As an association, we have a fifty-fifty employment base... So the issue of trousers in the office was a non-issue. Everybody was happy with the situation as it sits in the world."

Jones continues: "What I always say to people is don't judge us on golf, judge us as the PGA. Because we know that golf came from a male base... And it's only in recent times that women have become more interested in sport, to be honest, and have had more opportunity. If I go back to school days... the girls weren't interested in sport outside hockey and netball."

To him, the PGA are the embodiment of harmonious equality. As for the trousers, well: "We can only move forward as society changes. We are actually trying to change the development of women within the game. I talk to the ladies from the Ladies Golf Union. They would actually consider that the PGA are one of the more forward thinking groups within golf. Now whether that doesn't push the game that far forward, I don't know."

Traditionalist is what Jones is and he's happy to admit that he's not going to change the trouser rule or any other rule until the tribunal or the EU tell him to. "We're traditional in the sense that we're not going to throw everything out and say, `We live in a modern world'," Jones says. "Forget respect, forget all the things that golf stands for and let's just do it the new way. We're not going to do that. We're going to be mindful of where we came from.

"We are custodians of the traditions, if you like, but we must also remember that we live in a changing world. We're days away from the millennium. If we were where we were in 1901, we wouldn't exist."