An interview with Sir Graham Wylie, Close House Golf Club
Sir Graham Wylie, owner of Close House Golf Club, is well placed to reflect on why Newcastle and its surrounding areas have become the first port of call for so many major events organisers – having played an instrumental role in bringing the British Masters and the World Transplant Games to the region.
When Paul Dunne pipped global superstar Rory McIlroy at the British Masters golf tournament in 2017, it was a triumph that went far beyond personal attainment. As the Irishman basked in the glory of a first-ever European Tour win, his achievement registered too as a victory for North East England.
Held at Close House Golf Club, the competition – branded an unqualified success by organisers, broadcasters and players – reminded the world of the region’s, and specifically NewcastleGateshead’s, credentials as a home to high-calibre sporting occasions.
The overwhelming response to the 2017 event – which was hosted by former global number one and current Close House attached professional player Lee Westwood – made the club a popular choice to host the British Masters again in late July 2020.
And, just like Paul Dunne’s victory, the renewal symbolises something far greater.
Where the 2017 tournament provided a boost to a landscape already known worldwide for iconic events such as the Great North Run, its return signifies a region making greater strides at the forefront of the intercontinental sporting calendar.
This status will be further augmented in autumn 2021 when Newcastle plays a pivotal role in a groundbreaking edition of rugby league’s World Cup.
Already a regular host of the game’s domestic Super League Magic Weekend fixtures, the city will provide the backdrop for the global competition’s opening ceremony and the curtain-raising clash between England and Samoa at Newcastle United’s St James’ Park stadium.
In doing so, it will support a trailblazing concept in the sport, with the 2021 tournament bringing men’s, women’s and wheelchair games together on the same bill for the first time.
That Newcastle was chosen as the spark to ignite the contest speaks volumes for its imprint on the multinational stage, which was bolstered in 2019 when the World Transplant Games took place in the region.
In the same year, St James’ Park hosted European club rugby union finals – having previously welcomed World Cup games in 2015 and London Olympic soccer matches in 2012 – and Durham Cricket’s Emirates Riverside ground in Chester-le-Street hosted cricket World Cup fixtures.
For Sir Graham Wylie – owner of Heddon-on-the-Wall-based Close House, the reasons for such successes are plentiful.
“We are very accommodating, we make visitors very welcome and we always create a good atmosphere, which means people have a good time and want to return,” said Sir Graham, who co-founded Sage Group (the FTSE 100 tech company) in 1981, and was knighted in 2019.
“We make it easy for organisers to come here too; we understand the value of events for the region and will do everything we can to help make them a success.
“NewcastleGateshead is a fantastic place. Events like the rugby competitions bring a large influx of people who enjoy the nightlife here, as well as the many things to see and do.”
Sir Graham’s praise for the region’s obliging nature is echoed by Lee Westwood, who in early 2020 won his 25th European Tour title in Abu Dhabi.
Describing the British Masters’ Close House return as exciting, Lee – also host for the 2020 tournament – said he hopes it can be an inspiration for the next generation.
“If people want to go back somewhere, it must have been good the first time around,” he said.
“We’ve got a good date in the summer, and when sport is on TV, people really get into it – just look at how many play tennis when it is Wimbledon fortnight.”
As well as putting North East England firmly on the international sporting map, NewcastleGateshead’s ability to host high-profile competitions also highlights its prowess in other sectors, with a notable example being the World Transplant Games.
While celebrating athletes’ achievements, the event demonstrated NewcastleGateshead’s position as a medical pioneer, specifically Newcastle Freeman Hospital’s international standing as an organ transplant centre of excellence.
“The event got the message across that you can have a second chance in life,” added Sir Graham, who was chair of the local organising committee for World Transplant Games 2019.
“The Games really helped highlight how we have one of the main hospital trusts for transplants and were fantastic in reflecting the medical expertise we have in this region.”
The content and photography in this editorial section were produced by North East Times.