The Interview: Colin Sinclair (Royal St George's)

The Interview: Colin Sinclair (Royal St George's)


“I’ve worked at three Opens, a Women’s Open and two Senior Opens, but nothing beats seeing colleagues going on to bigger and better things”

Boasting a CV of considerable distinction, Colin Sinclair’s career has taken him to some of the most renowned and revered golf clubs in the UK

Cutting his teeth as an assistant PGA Pro at Blairgowrie over 30 years ago, Colin Sinclair would go on to enjoy positions at Walton Heath, Carnoustie and Nairn before moving into the secretary’s post at Royal St George’s at the end of 2022. With an unwavering passion for the game he loves, the 51-year-old Scot is now embracing his latest opportunity in what he calls his “dream job.”

Can you tell us about those formative years as a PGA Professional?

I always wanted to be involved in the golf industry, but felt I needed to get a qualification behind me first, and I studied law at Dundee University. I knew I wasn’t good enough to play for a living. I’d be a poor man if I had to do that! But I just loved golf. I was very lucky to work under Gordon Kinnoch at Blairgowrie. I learned so much from him. He was an incredible man and well ahead of his time. He was a mentor both on and off the course. I had six great years there, then got the opportunity to go to Walton Heath as a senior assistant. Again, I was very fortunate to work with a wonderful gentleman in Ken Macpherson. His approach to customer service was phenomenal and the hospitality that he would extend to the members would blow you away. Gordon and Ken both played a huge part in my development. They gave me a great grounding.

Your next port of call was Carnoustie, which you joined the year The Open returned there in 1999?

It hadn’t had an Open since 1975. I wouldn’t say it had spent nearly 25 years in the wilderness, but it was significant moment. There was an incredible greenkeeper in John Philp, and he set the building blocks in place which transformed it into the most unbelievable place. No matter where I played in the world, I always found the quality of the course at Carnoustie the best. I had three Opens during my time there. 1999 was great, obviously, with Paul Lawrie winning, but I enjoyed 2007 on the basis that we seemed to have spent the previous eight years defending Carnoustie. Everyone was calling it “Carnasty” after that 1999 Open. It wasn’t nasty, it was tough. Carnoustie is one of the toughest yet fairest courses you’ll get and 2007 cemented that reputation.

That Open finally put the “Carnasty” tagline to bed. I learned pretty much everything in management during my time at Carnoustie. When I started it was pretty much looking after the pro shop, then it became golf operations, and I went from looking after five or six people to 32 to 33. All of a sudden it was a different role and that’s when I realised I could manage a whole facility. Ultimately, I wanted to manage one of the best clubs in the world, but I still felt I needed another apprenticeship leading a club.

That’s when Nairn came calling in 2019?

I was born in Inverness, my father was a Nairn member, my wife and I were country members there when I was at Carnoustie, so there was already a strong affiliation. And, boy, did I learn a lot there. I was exposed to every element of management and, of course, Covid was thrown into the mix.

There was a lot of panic in the industry, and that was down to the unknowns of the situation. But we remained calm and stuck to our plans.

Great clubs like Nairn were not going anywhere. Even in tough times they would come through.

How did the Royal St George’s opportunity come about?

I wasn’t looking for a new job. I got an email on LinkedIn from a recruitment company asking if I’d be interested in the role. It came out of the blue. When I got the initial email, the first person I showed it to was my wife. She said, “you should go for it”. If she had said “no”, I wouldn’t have done it. It was a big move. We had just moved our daughter from Dundee to Nairn, and we were only there for three-and-a-half years. I didn’t want to interrupt her education, but, as a family, we felt this was a great opportunity. And it’s the opportunity I always wanted. I was keen to grab it with both hands.

What would you say are your main attributes?

Attention to detail will be a strength. It’s absolutely key. That was instilled into me by Gordon and Ken. I do like to listen too, but I’m strong, and if I don’t agree with someone, I’ll say it to their face. But I try to create a culture of autonomy. We work with talented senior managers, so you have to give them ownership and let them thrive.

And where do you get your inspiration from?

I’ll be honest, I’ll plagiarise. I get lots of ideas by travelling to other clubs around the world and I have no bones about saying that none of my ideas are my own! I see what the best places are doing and try to incorporate that where I am. I’ve been very lucky that I’ve only worked at great venues that have pedigree, heritage and financial backing. Some people will say, “well, you haven’t lived”, and I’d agree with them. I’ve been incredibly fortunate. It’s a lot easier to make your mark when there is investment.

What has given you the most satisfaction in your career?

The development of my colleagues always makes me proud. At Carnoustie my senior assistant was Keir McNicoll, and he’s now head pro, while Rebecca Tully became merchandise manager.

To see that succession planning working was very pleasing. People like Michael Maxwell, who is at Sunningdale, Tom Minshull, at The Grove, and Simon Race, at Walton Heath, all worked with me at Carnoustie, while Sean Burgess is outstanding as Nairn’s golf operations manager.

I’ve worked at three Opens, a Women’s Open and two Senior Opens, but nothing beats seeing colleagues going on to bigger and better things.

You’re now settled in at St George’s and working on a long-term vision?

If you speak to my wife she’ll say, “we’re not moving again”. I’d like to think this is it. It probably is the dream job. I don’t think I can go anywhere better. We live on the grounds, so my commute from the house to work is about 30 steps. I feel I have the skills to build on the success of the club. It’s been very successful for years. It has such a welcoming, passionate membership too. They care for their staff and that has impressed me a hell of a lot. We want to be one of the best in the world, and that is what we are working towards. Did I ever envisage when I was an assistant at Blairgowrie that my office would be overlooking the first fairway at Royal St George’s? No chance. I’m very blessed.

My philosophy

What are your management principles?

Listening and caring. If you’re trying to get the best out of your team, you need to allow them to do what they are trained to do and provide them with the tools and the support to do that. Listening, caring and supporting. That’s important as a leader.

What technology do you use?

We always have our phones on, so I use a piece of software called Notion, which blends all my work apps into one and allows me to document all my tasks and what I need to do day-to-day. It has everything in it. If I’m sitting in the house and I have an idea, I drop it into Notion, and it keeps me informed, and it tells me whether I’ve started the task, progressing it or if it’s done. My team can click into it too.

Who have been your mentors and influences?

Gordon Kinnoch, Ken Macpherson and Paul Pinson, who became my mentor when I joined a network called Vistage, which coaches you to become a stronger leader. These have been three incredible people. Ken and Gordon underlined the work ethic you need for this job and seeing what they put in really resonated with me. From a leadership perspective, I owe everything to Paul.

What is the secret to your productivity?

A love of the game. If I’m not loving what I’m doing, then I’d not do it well. Yes, people will say, “well, you can say that because you’ve been at these great clubs”. But I’ll not apologise for that. That’s just been my career path and I’m very fortunate. It makes life easier. People can fall out of love with the game working in this industry, but I’ve never felt that way.


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