Dave Thomas is one of the world's most renowned golf course designers.
Dave Thomas is one of the world's most renowned golf course designers. But his expertise in putting exciting new lay-outs together owes much to an illustrious playing career. Alan Hedley meets the great man.
Dave Thomas has left his indelible signature on some of the world's finest golf courses - but he's never forgotten his Newcastle roots.
Thomas, who was born in the North East and learned his golf in Gosforth, is celebrating a remarkable anniversary this year.
Twice runner-up in the Open Championship, a Ryder Cup player and regular international tournament winner before turning his attention to golf course design, has been involved in professional golf for 50 years.
He has spent the last 30 years as one of the best course designers in the business - with more than 100 magnificent courses to his name all around the globe including The Belfry, Slaley Hall, The Roxburghe and San Roque.
This month, he stages his own tournament, the Dave Thomas Classic, in Spain on September 9 and 10 to celebrate his golfing golden anniversary.
And what a great career he has to celebrate and look back on.
The son of a Welsh mining engineer whose work took him to Cramlington in the North East just after the Second World War, Dave was encouraged to take up the game by his father, who played off a handicap of two.
He joined Gosforth Golf Club as a junior member and came under the influence of Walker Cup player Alan Thirlwell, who became his role model, as well as the likes of Jimmy Hayes, David Moffat and Gordon Clark, also a Walker Cup golfer.
By the time Dave was 16, he knew the only job for him was as a professional golfer and now, some 57 years on, he's still involved in the sport he has graced in many roles including that of captain of the PGA in 2002 when the Ryder Cup was last staged at the Belfry.
As an indication of his status in the golfing community, the celebrities ready to join him at the Marbella Club Resort on the Costa del Sol in September include Peter Alliss, Brian Huggett, George Will and other stars of the 1950s along with some big name celebrities from other branches of the sporting world.
It was, of course, at The Belfry in partnership with Peter Alliss at that time, he set off in golf course architecture somewhat spectacularly to design the famous Brabazon course, which he has subsequently upgraded and improved.
But while golf in Newcastle was the inspiration for his life's work, it was his time as a youngster in the North East soccer hotbed that also saw him fall in love with football and he reels off such names as Jackie Milburn, Bobby Mitchell, Joe Harvey of the Newcastle United team who won the FA Cup in successive seasons at the start of the 1950s.
And his Tyneside-born footballing heroes also include Bobby Robson and, naturally, the Charlton brothers. When Dave subsequently settled in the Manchester area he became a golfing mate of Bobby Charlton along with Matt Busby and others from the United camp.
"I always look for the Newcastle result wherever I happen to be," he said. "You never lose your affinity with a football club even though you no longer live in the area."
But it's in golf where his greatest memories lie even if two of them have an "if only" slant to them. In 1958 he tied with the great Australian, Peter Thomson, in the Open at Lytham, losing in the 36-hole play-off after a 69 in the morning round. Eight years later he was second in the Open again, this time to Jack Nicklaus at Muirfield.
A big man is every sense of the word with a charisma to match, he finally admits at 73, to be easing back on his input to the Dave Thomas Design business leaving his son Paul, also a former playing PGA professional, at the helm as chairman and managing director.
"I am cutting down on the travelling and leaving most of it to Paul," he said. "But I still want to visit our courses occasionally because I enjoy it very much.
"We've designed some 120 golf courses and have gained a reputation for reliability and originality."
Those courses are in Japan, China, Taiwan, Russia, Mauritius, Africa, North, South America and the Canary Islands and, of course, in Europe with several in Southern Spain where he has a second home.
Dave Thomas Design has been part of the Costa del Sol golfing boom with the creation of courses such as San Roque, Almenara, Marbella Club Resort, El Prat (Old) and several others.
Now the company is part of a similar situation taking shape further along the coast in the La Manga region where the second of two at the sprawling Hacienda del Alamo development
is now under construction.
Those courses recently completed by his company include the Spanish Federation National in Madrid, which was opened by King Juan Carlos.
Dave always regards his bunkering system, with the grass sculptured to curve over and down to and meet the sand as his outstanding feature but there is far more to it than that.
Almost always there is a fair width of fairway to aim at, with teeing ground alternatives to cater for either championship or membership/visitor golf. There is an artistic knack of making each hole well-defined, self-contained almost and, where possible, encased in a valley, with a scenic backdrop, rather than exposed on a hillside.
"I could not have become what I am today without having played," he stresses. "But I get more satisfaction from designing than I did from playing. Winning is just momentary but having Dave Thomas golf courses all over the world which, in the future, my grandchildren and great grandchildren can go and visit and see what grandad did. That is quite a nice thought."
And, remember, it all began on Tyneside.