The British Masters official starter and Close House director tells us about his love of Augusta National, his golfing highlights and mishaps, and what it was like sharing the first tee with the game’s biggest stars
When news of the British Masters coming to Close House was confirmed, Alan Graham had already been working for more than a year behind the scenes as part of the team making sure the venue was ready for Europe’s best players. When the week finally arrived in September, the man who was first on the Close House site alongside owner Graham Wylie in 2004, was front and centre welcoming those players to the first tee. This month we sat down with him to talk about the event and his golfing highlights…
What was the British Masters like for you?
It was the proudest moment of my career. I had the chance to speak to some of the best golfers in the world – from having breakfast with Sergio Garcia and Danny Willett to talking to Rory McIlroy about how much he loved being in Newcastle. To see Close House on Sky Sports and in the papers was fantastic for us and for the North East of England. To have come from a golf course with an honesty box and sports pitches on its fairways to being on the global golfing map is remarkable.
With a packed schedule how do you fit golf in
I try and play every Sunday morning and I’m lucky enough to receive invites to play at some of the best courses in the country, which is always a great privilege. I sometimes don’t make full use of them playing off a handicap of 18 but the experiences are incredible.
How did you get into golf?
I joined Prudhoe Golf Club as a boy and played a handful of times without taking it seriously. I picked the clubs back up in the early 90s playing with Graham and since then I’ve been completely hooked.
Which is your other favourite course in the North East?
Bamburgh is always good fun, Tyneside is a classic Harry Colt design which I’ve always enjoyed playing, and I’m a big fan of the Hunting Course at Slaley Hall.
And further afield?
I love having the opportunity to play golf at Kingsbarns, and on the Kings and the Queens at Gleneagles – all three are historic and phenomenal layouts. I’ve also been able to play at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas – an oasis in the middle of the desert which is one of the most impressive golfing landscapes I’ve ever seen.
What’s your best ever round?
I’ve had 45 points on the Filly Course at Close House, which was a total fluke and hasn’t been repeated!
Which is your favourite golfing memory?
Going to Augusta for the Masters in 2016. There’s no other course like it in the world and the whole tournament experience is unlike any other.
What about embarrassing moments?
There’s a couple every week! The one that stands out right now was from the Lookers golf day earlier this year when I was caught on camera thinning my ball into the wall in front of the 18th green. Watching that on the big screen afterwards with 350 people was pretty embarrassing. I’ve also let go of a club on the first tee at St Andrews, though in my defence it was raining very hard.
Do you have any superstitions?
Nothing particularly – though I must have the letter A marked in red on my golf ball. You’ll find them all over the golf course!
What are your strengths on the course?
I’m always competitive. I’d play you for a fiver or a coffee and that keeps me focused on hitting my best shot all the time – though I know I’m going to hit plenty of bad ones along the way.
And your weaknesses?
Everything else. My driving can cost me; I hit a big left-handers slice.
Which is your favourite club?
I trust my putter to save me a few shots.
Who is your best golfing friend?
I love playing with Graham Wylie. We’ve been friends a long time and our golf is very similar which always makes for an interesting round.
Do you play any other sports. Do they help your golf?
I played cricket for Prudhoe and Stocksfield, and I’ve played a lot of football and squash. All three have been terrible for my golf.
Who is your favourite tour player?
Rory McIlroy was great to talk to on the tee so I’ll pick him. As a left-hander I’ll have to add in Phil Mickelson as well – he plays the game with the right spirit.
Which event do you enjoy watching/attending the most?
Apart from the Masters at Augusta and the British Masters at Close House, the BMW Championship at Wentworth is fantastic. It’s a great course which has been improved with the latest changes and when you add in the history of the event and the venue it makes for a great experience.
Which sportsperson do you admire?
I’ve always loved following North East sport, no matter who is playing or what they’re playing. I’ve got a great respect for Doddie Weir and the work he’s done in the North East over the years. I wish him and his family well for the future.
Which three people would join you in your dream fourball?
I’ll have to pick Graham Wylie and we’ll play against Lee Westwood and Alan Shearer – both of whom admire a great deal as great sportsmen in their fields.
If I could offer you a trip to Australia to watch the Ashes or a scratch handicap, which would you take?
I love both sports but I’d have take scratch – though I’d happily take a handicap of 14 at the minute.