St George's Hill Golf Club professional retires after 40 years - Tales from the 19th
PUBLISHED: 15:59 21 January 2014 | UPDATED: 15:59 21 January 2014
In his latest column, John Whitbread of the Surrey Golf Partnership meets one of our county's golfing greats, Tony Rattue, as he looks forward to his retirement after 40 years at St George's Hill Golf Club
“It’s been a pleasure and a privilege and I have loved every minute of it...” How many of us would like to look back on a working life with as much fond satisfaction as Tony Rattue, who retired in November after 40 years as club professional at the prestigious St George’s Hill Golf Club in Weybridge.
“It’s a no-brainer really,” says Rattue. “Doing a job that is much like a hobby, playing sport outdoors and meeting and helping people who share the same interests; pure bliss.”
Rattue was introduced to golf by his mum, Jessie, a stewardess at Brough Golf Club, in his native Yorkshire. At 16, he went on to become an assistant pro there to Brian Waites, who in turn went on to play in the Ryder Cup.
After earning just £2.10 shillings a week at Brough, Rattue upped his earnings dramatically during a three-year spell in Sweden. He then made what he later described as “the best decision of my life” by turning down an extended contract in order to return to England, where he became assistant pro to the renowned teacher and club maker at St George’s, Lambert Topping.
A year later, Topping left to become personal professional for King Hassan of Morocco, and with the help of a reference from Hugh Morton, secretary at Brough, Rattue landed the top job.
In his first 10 years, he also kept his Players’ Card and entered four or five tournaments a year, with the highlight being the Benson & Hedges at Fulford, where he led the field after 27 holes.
In those days, however, it was a much steadier life in the pro shop than on the tournament circuit when even winning was only worth around £1,500 and most players scratched around to earn £50 for making the cut.
“When my best friend Neil Coles won the PGA at Sandwich in 1976, he pocketed £10,000, which we all thought was an absolute fortune,” says Rattue.
“It began to change when Europe was included in the Ryder Cup and the Tour began to expand. But the major step change arrived with the advent of Sky and the big American TV networks, with prize money beyond most people’s wildest dreams.”
Indeed, the last four events of the 2012 Race to Dubai had a combined prize fund of $30 million.
Over the past 40 years, Rattue has also witnessed extraordinary improvements in equipment – from the days when clubs were hand-made by the professionals to the high technology of the modern manufacturing giants who have developed state-of-the-art clubs and totally re-designed the golf ball to go longer and longer distances.
“It has certainly made the game a lot easier, especially for smaller and lighter people,” he says.
It has been the same story in course design and maintenance with modern green-keeping equipment and full-course watering systems.
Among the other changes Rattue has witnessed has been the relationship between the club pro and the members.
“In the early days, you always had to be deferential and address them as ‘sir’ or ‘madam’. And you needed an invitation into the clubhouse.
“Thankfully, it became far more comfortable and familiar,” adds Rattue, who in October was made a life member of St George’s Hill.
Rattue, who was also “very proud” to be made captain of the Surrey PGA in 1979, can number several Royals, including Prince Andrew, Duke of York, among his playing partners, plus a host of celebrities including Alice Cooper, Sean Connery, Bruce Forsyth and Jimmy Tarbuck. His most cherished friendship, however, has been with Walton’s veteran ace Neil Coles.
A fine legacy
Now the wheel has turned full circle with the young assistant taking over the top job – in this case 30-year-old James Bishop, who now runs the show along with highly rated teaching professional Adam Morganti.
So let Bishop have the last word on Rattue’s legacy: “When I was told I was taking over from Tony, it felt like I had holed the winning putt at the Ryder Cup!” he says. “These are very big shoes to fill and a very big character to follow.”
The Surrey Golf Partnership comprises 111 clubs, which are also affiliated to the Surrey Golf Union and the Surrey Ladies Golf Union. For more information, visit surreygolfpartnership.com