North East entrepreneur Sir Graham Wylie on his passion for golf, his early obsession with crazy golf, and who makes it into his dream fourball
Sir Graham Wylie is one of the North East’s most recognisable entrepreneurs. A founder of software giant Sage, today he owns technology support provider TSG, fitness company Speedflex and Close House, which will host its second British Masters this summer. Knighted in the New Year’s honours list for services to business and charity, Graham has raised millions of pounds for a number of North East charities, including The Children’s Heart Unit Fund, and launched his own foundation in 2016. We shared a round with him at his home club to learn more about his passion for golf…
1 How much golf do you get to play?
Less than you’d think as the owner of two golf courses. I’d love to play more, but there’s a lot to do with three business and two young daughters. I support a few corporate and charity events, and I have an annual golf holiday with friends, but that’s not enough to improve my 23 handicap.
2 How did you get into golf?
My first interaction with golf was at the Arnold Palmer crazy golf on the lower prom in Whitley Bay as a kid. You’d find me there every Easter, May and summer holiday. I must have played it 500 times a year and my best score ever included seven holes-in-one and two twos.
3 Which is your favourite course in the North East?
It has to be Close House. I bought the estate in 2004, developed it and added the Colt Course, and now it’s my home. If I had to pick one course to play, it would be the Colt Course from the yellow tees – it’s too tough for me from the back tees.
4 And further afield?
Adare Manor in Ireland. I played it for the first time last year and it was magnificent.
5 What’s your best score ever?
Playing tour scramble, where you choose the best drive in your group then play your own ball on each hole, I shot 17 under-par on the Colt Course in a corporate day last summer. Having 18 perfect tee shots makes the game a lot easier!
6 Which is your favourite golfing memory?
Hosting the British Masters at Close House in 2017. I have so many brilliant memories, starting with the first morning. I walked up the hill from the house and there was total silence. I was terrified no one had turned up, but walking over the brow of the hill I saw thousands of people. That was very special to see for the first time.
7 What about embarrassing moments?
When we reopened the Filly Course at Close House, I played in the very first group with Lee Westwood. He hit a drive just short of the green on the par four first hole and I hit mine into a pond about 50 yards from the tee. My second shot ever on the course went into that pond as well.
8 Do you have any superstitions?
Not on the golf course, but I do keep to the traditional one about seeing magpies. If I see two magpies, I know I’m going to have a good day. I have two in my office at home and two appear on my coat of arms as well.
9 What are your strengths on the course?
I’m a good putter, which must come from all those days on the Arnold Palmer crazy golf in Whitley Bay.
10 And your weaknesses?
I call it Clint Eastwood golf – I play six good holes, six bad holes and six ugly holes in every round.
11 Which is your favourite club?
My PING five hybrid, I use it for anything from 140-170 yards and hit it from any lie.
12 Who is your best golfing friend?
Close House’s attached professional Lee Westwood. We’ve played quite a lot of golf together since he opened the Colt Course in 2011. Our friendship has grown incredibly strong and he’s a fantastic ambassador for Close House – though I do wish he’d let me play from the forward tees more often.
13 How does golf help your businesses and charity work?
My network of friends has grown so much since we launched Close House. There is nowhere better to build partnerships and friendships than the golf course.
14 Who is your favourite tour player?
I think Lee would be upset if I didn’t pick him. His focus and attention to detail is incredible to watch up close.
15 Which event do you enjoy attending the most?
I’ve been to The Masters at Augusta National and there is no golf experience like it. The attention to detail, the atmosphere and the tradition is unlike any other event in the world.
16 Who do you admire?
Microsoft founder Bill Gates. I met him over 20 years ago and he told me about his vision for accounting software in the future. We are still striving towards that vision today, but his ability to look ahead and endeavour to meet that need is very admirable.
17 Which three people would join you in your dream fourball?
I’ve played a lot of golf with Jeremy Kyle and we’ve never been beaten, so he’d be my partner. I’d love to play against Ant and Dec. We’re good friends, but we’ve never played together. I think that would be a fun round of golf and there would be some healthy competition as well.
18 If you could have one mulligan, when would you have used it?
I would go back to last summer’s near-perfect round and hole one more putt to make birdie on every hole – it could have been the perfect round.