On December 31, as he always did, Charles Gough locked up the professional’s shop at West Herts and then pulled down the shutters. Only it wasn’t just the end of another day – it was the end of an era, writes Tony Rushmer.
Gough, 64, was finishing as the historic club’s head professional, a role he had fulfilled for 34 years and two months. “In my heart, it was absolutely the right time,” says Gough, reflecting on his decision to step down.
His association with West Herts spans 50 years, having started there as a caddie in his early teen. It wasn’t long before he took up golf himself. A natural affinity for the game led Gough to become an assistant professional at West Herts. Early in his career he had a crack at Tour golf at a time when you had to Monday qualify for the tournament proper, which was played later in the week. He enjoyed those days but it was tough to match the standard of the elite players, hence Gough refocused on becoming a club professional.
Initially, there was a stint at The Berkshire…”That was fantastic. I learned an awful about the retail side of things, which helped tee me up for when I got the job at West Herts,” he recalls. Gough also served at Porters Park before returning to West Herts as assistant to Ronnie Mandeville, its long-term and renowned PGA professional.
Mandeville let him know that he wasn’t planning to carry on in the position too much longer and also incentivised Gough by handing over a key part of the business. “In those days we were still doing club-making with the persimmon heads,” he explains. “I was trained by Ronnie, who was a club-maker. So he gave me the workshop and that gave me the licence to earn a bit more money.”
Mandeville was a big influence on Gough as he learned his craft. He was a good player, a knowledgeable club-maker and a fine coach – the key components, according to Gough, when applying for a club professional’s position in those times. “Ronnie was very instrumental in my learning, especially on club-making,” says Gough.
Mandeville also passed on many words of wisdom. On one occasion he told his assistant that he’d never become a millionaire as a club professional but that he’d have a very happy life.
“And I think he was absolutely right,” says Gough, who was eventually handed the keys to the professional’s shop in October 1985. “I’ve been blessed with a really good life. West Herts is a big club to me. It has been fantastic.”
Indeed he has been granted an honorary membership at West Herts. A drinks event on January 3 saw more than 100 members come to raise a glass to him. And on June 19 the club will hold a special day to celebrate the man. “I’m going to be overwhelmed, that I can tell you,” says Gough.
The good news for all at West Herts is that he is not planning on retiring, just slowing down. So Gough is still available for some private coaching and will continue to head up the club’s junior coaching, which has been a magnificent success story during his time. “We have a junior section to be proud of. I certainly am. We have over 100 juniors at the club; a junior committee, junior managers. It’s run so well.”
Fittingly, one of the hundreds of junior members to have been tutored by Gough has taken over the helm as West Herts head PGA professional. David Griffiths, a one-time European Tour member, did his traineeship under Gough and on January 1, 2020 it was his name above the door of the professional’s shop.
“I joined West Herts in 1992 as a 12-year-old kid and Charles and his father helped me settle into the junior section on my first day,” says Griffiths. “He has always been there for any help I needed throughout my golf career. It’s a great honour to be stepping into his role and I’m glad he’s still going to be around as he has 40-plus years of West Herts knowledge to pass on.”