On captain’s orders

Albert MacKenzie (second from left in image), head professional at Saunton Golf Club, has the honour of captaining the GB and Ireland team for September’s PGA Cup. He talks to Andy Brown about life at Saunton, winning for the first time in America and how preparations have gone for this year’s event.

Could you describe your golfing background, where have you worked before?

I began my apprenticeship in Scotland in 1981 at a Country Club called Gleddoch House, which is about 20 miles west of Glasgow. Once I qualified I moved to Sunningdale in 1985 and I was there for almost four years. In 1988 I moved to become Head Professional at Calcot Park in Reading and then began my tenure at Saunton on the first of January 1998, so have been here for not far off twenty years. I’ve been very fortunate over the years, both with the clubs I have worked at and the people that I have had the privilege to work with and look after.

How would you describe Saunton?

It is a hidden gem, one of the best 36-hole venues in the UK – I was brought up in Scotland playing Links golf and it is lovely to be able to come back to the seaside as part of my profession. We have two wonderful courses and a wonderful membership also. Over and above our core membership we see fresh faces every day, our Country Members and visitors adding much to our daily enjoyment, so we have three different groups of people visiting us every day. When you are on the golf course it really is mother-nature at its finest, we are on one of the best pockets of coastline in the UK.

How have preparations gone for the PGA Cup?

Preparations have gone very well and are now pretty much complete. We have a weekend coming up with all the players at Foxhills (where the event will take place) so everything is good with myself and my two vice captains, Martyn Thompson and Cameron Clark. We could not have wished to have ended up with a team any stronger or more formidable than what we have. We will be very competitive come September.

You were vice-captain two years ago when the team won in California – that must have been an amazing feeling?

I was vice captain in CordeValle which turned out to be our inaugural victory on American soil, so we created a little bit of history over there. Jon Bevan, the captain, did a great job and was inspirational to the end. The match was won on the last putt, on the last green in the last singles match so it really did go to the wire. Niall Kearney from Ireland, who was playing at number ten, made an up and down at the 18th that, if it was in the Ryder Cup, they would be showing it until the end of time; it was a remarkable piece of skill to consolidate on the great earlier work done by our other team members, the trophy was coming home. It was great to get an insight into the event and see exactly what is required to be successful. If I had not been out in California as vice-captain certain things would have invariably slipped through the net. Being directly involved you fully appreciate just how much goes into being successful, how thorough your preparation needs to be and the standard of the golf you can expect from the American team.

What does it mean to you to Captain the team?

It is an old cliché, but I was over the moon when I received the call. The event has been close to my heart for many years and to be given the opportunity to lead out the team is a great honour and privilege that I hope that I can do justice to. We are well prepared, have set the bar high and I am sure the players will feed off that, inspiring them and preparing them for what to expect come September. Having never won in America until the last event we have also never retained the trophy, so we are looking to make our own little piece of history this year if we can retain it. I know that the Americans are bringing some real strength over with them but we have ten great champions and ten great competitors who will be ready for them. I’m going to give it all that I’ve got and the history books will tell the rest.