Chris Hanlon (1931-2024)

Chris Hanlon (1931-2024)

31/01/2024

Chris Hanlon, an Irishman who played a key role in the formation of the PGA’s East Region and served Kings Lynn Golf Club for close on half a century, has passed away at the age of 92.

Born in County Kilkenny, Ireland, Chris began his golfing career at Kilkenny Golf Club on leaving school at the age of 15. Travelling to and from work involved a round trip by bike of 10 miles for which Chris was paid as many shillings (50p) a week. However, the job enabled him to reduce his handicap to one and on turning 18 he joined Ben Sayers at North Berwick Golf Club in Scotland where he trained to become a PGA Professional.

One of his contemporaries in the Sayers workshop was Alex Hay who went on to become an accomplished professional, author, coach, and renowned TV commentator alongside Peter Alliss.

Hay was also a talented artist and the pro shop windows were often whitewashed to ensure he was able to get on with his work and not be distracted by events out on the course. On one occasion he etched the shape of a giant spider into the whitewash and when Chris returned from coaching showed him the creature and said how much he feared them. At which point, and to allay his friend’s discomfort, Chris grabbed his niblick and, attempting to kill the intruder, smashed the window, thus earning the lifelong nickname of ‘Spiderman’.

Chris spent two years at North Berwick and on been elected to PGA Membership headed south to become the head pro at Kings Lynn Golf Club at its original Leziate location in Norfolk. In addition to coaching and managing the pro shop, Chris was involved in almost all aspects of running the club - fire lighting, cleaning, organising competitions, working on the course, keeping an eye on the honesty box, and locking up – all for a retainer of £3 a week.

When time allowed, Chris also flew the club’s flag as a player. Sponsored in turn by Slazenger and Dunlop, he won the Norfolk Alliance and Cambridge Alliance, and competed on the national stage in events that included the News of the World Matchplay Championship, as well as the Dunlop and Spalding tournaments. Closer to his adopted home, Chris held the course records at Thetford, Newmarket, Eaton, and King's Lynn at various times.

His prowess as a player was blighted by a serious car accident in 1969 but his ability as a coach remained unimpaired. Kings Lynn members benefitted from his teaching as did American serviceman based at nearby RAF Sculthorpe. Chris coached there once or twice a week and helped in the development of the nine-hole course at the base.

Fledging PGA Professionals also benefitted from Chris’s mentoring and ability to teach, not least Simon Rayner, who was head pro for 21 years at Royal West Norfolk Golf Club (Brancaster) and is now deputy secretary.

“I first met Chris in 1988 when I joined King’s Lynn Golf Club and started to train towards becoming a PGA Professional myself,” Rayner recalled.

“Under his very watchful eye, I learned an awful lot from him during those nine years before he retired. He has always had a very special place within my heart, and he will be greatly missed.”

Chris also played his part in growing the game in East Anglia. He was a founding member of the PGA in Norfolk in 1970 and had a significant influence in the development of the PGA East Region following its foundation in 1987.

David Wright, the Region’s first secretary, recalled: “I joined the East Region in its formative stage in November 1986 and my first meeting was at Kings Lynn Golf Club where I met Chris alongside the club chairman Eric Dodds, and secretary, Geoff Higgins.

“The trio were key figures in the Region’s growth, not least by offering sponsorship opportunities through their contacts with British Industrial Sands (BIS).

“The company had bought Leziate due to it having huge sand reserves which could be quarried and facilitated the club’s move to Castle Rising, its current home.”

The club became a regular venue for PGA East Region pro-ams, hosted the BIS-sponsored Regional Championship in 1989 and the Wilson Sporting Goods PGA Professional Championship two years later.

“A second visit to Kings Lynn for the Association’s flagship tournament would occur in 1999,” added Wright, the PGA’s current heritage and member support executive.

“And throughout all these formative years would be the calm guidance of Kings Lynn in Chris Hanlon. He made sure his fellow PGA Professionals would be looked after and there is no doubt his influence gave the Region an immense kick start to our operations.”

Chris, who was granted Honorary PGA Membership, had retired in 1997 but continued to remain in contact with Kings Lynn and was a regular supporter of social events where his rendition of the Londonderry Air (Danny Boy) always fuelled rapturous applause.

Chris Hanlon’s funeral will be held at 13.45 on Friday February 9, 2024, at the Roman Catholic Church of the Holy Family, Field Lane, Gaywood, King’s Lynn, PE30 4AY. It will be followed by a cremation service at Mintlyn Crematorium, Bawsey, Lynn Road, King's Lynn PE32 1HB, for family and very close friends only, and a wake at King’s Lynn Golf Club, to which all will be very welcome.

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