John Reay (1951 – 2022)

John Reay (1951 – 2022)

25/08/2022

Fulsome tributes have been paid to John Reay, an innovative and pioneering retailer, golf course owner and generator of more than £3million for good causes, who has passed away at 70 following a short illness.

John was elected to PGA Membership in 1971, six years after he left school at 14 to become an assistant to Mike Skerritt at Atherstone Golf Club, Warwickshire. He followed that with a spell at neighbouring Nuneaton Golf Club before, at the age of 21, opening the John Reay Golf Centre in Sandpits Lane, Coventry, in 1972.

In doing so, John was among the first to change the way golf equipment was sold.

“He advertised in golf magazines and local papers, which was a totally new concept at the time,” explained Nicky Lumb, a PGA Master Professional, former Captain of the Association, and close friend.

That, however, was just the opening gambit in running a business that has proved hugely successful over the subsequent 50 years and became a template for others to follow. But, in common with many that have prospered, it had humble beginnings.

“Initially he sold clubs from what was nothing more than a cubby hole,” recalled Rob Challis, a PGA pro who has been at the Centre for 34 years and describes himself as John’s right-hand man.

“The shop now occupies 3,500 square feet, there’s a driving range, Hogans Bar & Bistro, plus a team of PGA Professionals on hand to give lessons, sell, fit and repair clubs. John was the first in doing all that.”

Not content with having just one shop, John expanded his empire.

“He was one of the first to have multiple shops,” Lumb added. “He was before American Golf and had 11 at one stage. The first shop he had was the best in the country at the time - he was the leader and in business had no fear.

“He was also a PGA tutor and a founder member of Europro Golf Centres, a buying group which had 20 franchised shops at its peak.”

Alan Walker, a PGA Master Professional and another former Captain, was a member of the group and recalls the high esteem in which John was held.

“I can remember many a time when I went to a buying group meeting and would be only too pleased to listen to the few words he spoke,” he said. “There weren’t many but what he said was pure common sense.

“He was small in stature but powerful in his approach to the golfing world. He had a strong business acumen and was highly respected.”

Closer to home, Challis attributes John’s success to the way he treated his customers and staff.

“John’s priority was to look after the customers and make sure they were happy,” he said. “That’s all he wanted to do.

“He also looked after and cared for his staff. He was our mentor and the number of people who worked for him who have gone on to have successful careers in the trade is testament to that. We had our dads, but we always called him our ‘workdad’."

Likewise, the workforce at nearby Stoneleigh Deer Park Golf Club, which John and his wife Cherry added to their portfolio of business interests in 1996.

“It was always John’s dream to own a golf course,” said Challis, “although many thought he was making a huge mistake when he bought it.”

Typically, John proved them wrong: the facility in the Warwickshire countryside has not only thrived but become synonymous with fundraising and staging charity golf days.

Each year saw John support the nominated charity of the club’s captain and organisations helped included Helen Ley, Warwick Museum, TNT/Wooden Spoon, Coventry Building Society, SSAFA, NSPCC, Coventry Rugby Club Foundation, Leamington Spa Rotary, CCFPA, EEIBA and Coventry Homes.

Fight for Sight has also benefitted from more than £300,000 raised by John’s efforts but the closest charity to his heart was Great Ormond Street Hospital, London.

His support was inspired by the treatment that, spanning 15 years, the couple’s son, Johnny, received.

Johnny, who is general manager at Stoneleigh Deer Park and played in and hosted the EDGA (European Disabled Golf Association) Johnny Reay Classic in May, was born with Apert’s Syndrome, a genetic defect leading to anomalies in the hands, feet and cranium.

“He’s had countless operations which will stand him in good stead for the future,” his father recalled in 2015.

“We’ve seen at first hand the fantastic work that Great Ormond Street Hospital does and the support and care of the doctors and nurses is something we’ll never forget.”

John was speaking after receiving the Toby Sunderland Award on the eve of The Open Championship at St Andrews in 2015.

The award is presented annually to a PGA Professional for an outstanding charitable effort and John received it from Lumb, the Association’s Captain at the time.

“Presenting one of my closest friends with the award was one of the highlights of my time as Captain,” he recalled.

Predictably John handed over the £1,200 prize to Great Ormond Street and PGA chief executive Robert Maxfield added: “Despite his success in business, John never lost sight of the need to help the less fortunate, hence the remarkable amount he helped raise for good causes.

“He was clearly ahead of his time as a golfing retailer and his success in that field coupled with owning and running a thriving golf club made for a fulfilling and very full career.

“His passing is a huge loss to the Association, his businesses, those he helped and, above all, his family.”

John is survived by Cherry, his wife, son Johnny, daughter Pippa, and Berry, his beloved granddaughter. The PGA extends heartfelt condolences to them, his other family members, employees, and many friends.

PICTURE CAPTION - John Reay (centre) pictured receiving the Toby Sunderland Award in 2015 from Warren Sunderland (left) and PGA Captain Nicky Lumb (right).

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