Mark Wilson, the first Director of Communications at the European Tour and former golf correspondent of the Daily Express, has died at the age of 90.
Wilson joined the Tour in 1986 as Director of Communications having arrived from being the lead journalist at several papers and finally the Daily Express. He was the author of numerous books on golf and was the Chairman of the Association of Golf Writers from 1982-84. He then became Consultant to the Executive Director from 1990.
Jack Nicklaus was among those to pay tribute.
“Mark Wilson lived a long, full and rich life, and outside of his family, no one benefitted more from that than Mark’s extended family that is the world of golf. Mark touched and impacted the game in myriad ways, whether it was as a writer, a valuable communications contact for media around the world, a confidant to our game’s most important decision-makers, or simply as a friend. Mark was a kind man, nice to all he met and worked with, and he always handled himself with the manners and respect that have long been associated with golf. He represented our sport very well.
“I was once told that Mark’s first golf writing assignment came at the Ryder Cup in 1957, so over the course of some 60 years, Mark witnessed so many key eras in the evolution of our game, from the ascension of my friends Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, to those who helped take the Ryder Cup and European golf to new heights, such as Tony Jacklin and Seve.
“Mark played golf and understood the game, and it showed in his writing. He was a wonderful story-teller, with a good sense of humor. Mark’s writing could entertain you as much as inform you.
“Whenever the game has lost a golf writer or media personality from a past generation of golf, I tend to remember them as someone you could sit down with for dinner, share stories and laughs, and not worry about it showing up the next day in the newspaper. Mark was that type of journalist—a friend to many, yet always the professional, who managed to balance friendships with fair, balanced journalistic integrity. He will be missed. My wife Barbara and I join many, including those in the world of golf, in sending our heartfelt thoughts and prayers to his family and all those fortunate to call Mark Wilson a friend.”
Gary Player also paid tribute. "I have so many fond memories of Mark. His passion, charisma and selflessness made all those proud who associated with him. We developed a friendship during his time working for The Daily Express and the European Tour, and even before, as our careers - although different - are very much aligned.
"Everything shall pass, and no doubt Mark gave his all to his profession. He loved it. He loved the game and covering the game, and was a keen golfer himself.
"That’s so important in life. Love what you do. Do it with pride and conviction. Mark did just that. 90 years is certainly a long, well lived life. And Mark lived, he didn’t just exist. He was friendly with mostly all of the golfers, but always kept his professionalism. We are all thankful for Mark’s contributions over the years.
"Vivienne and I send our condolences to his family and friends. May he Rest in Peace."
The family invite all to attend Mark’s funeral service at Woking Crematorium (Hermitage Road, St Johns, Woking, Surrey GU21 8TJ) on Wednesday 16th May, 2018, at 1.15 pm and the Reception afterwards at Sunningdale Golf Club (Ridgemount Road, Sunningdale SL5 9RR).
Family flowers only but should you wish to make a donation in memory of Mark then these are to the Golf Foundation or the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) via Lodge Brothers Funeral Directors, 7 Broomhall Buildings, Chobham Road, Sunningdale, Berkshire SL5 0DU or online at www.lodgebrothers.co.uk
Colin Mark Wilson (Born July 13 1927: Died April 27 2018)
Mark Wilson, who has died, aged 90, after a long battle with illness, was a much respected and revered golf writer on London’s Evening Standard and then the Daily Express. He counted Seve Ballesteros, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and European Ryder Cup captains Tony Jacklin and Bernard Gallacher as good friends.
Mark was given the opportunity to become a golf writer when those who wrote about the game and those who played it enjoyed a strong rapport but he never disappointed his readers, or his employers, by allowing his friendships with the legends of the game to dilute his judgement. His writing was always authoritative, forthright and honest.
He enjoyed the enduring friendship and trust of tournament stars throughout his golf writing career and it was a measure of his esteem and even handed judgement that even when he criticised it was always with good reason and accepted as such.
Jacklin, who won The Open Championship in 1969 and the US Open eleven months later, said: “I was saddened to hear of Mark Wilson’s passing. It was during his time with the Evening Standard and the Daily Express that I was on top of my game. I spent many good times with Mark and found him to be a straight shooter – he was always fair and balanced with his comments about me. Astrid joins me in sending our best wishes to his wife and family.”
Futhermore, Wilson was a brilliant raconteur and the distinguished American writer Oscar Fraley said of him: “That guy can hold you spellbound with a mediocre story.”
Sometimes even Mark was lost for words. He was commissioned to write an instruction book with a chapter each on how the best players executed certain shots. One player confounded Mark on the technique of bunker play – “I just open the club face and give it a dig.” Not quite the treatise he had in mind.
Gallacher recalled: “Mark and I wrote a book together and he was the driving force. It was called ‘Teach Yourself Golf’ – part of the Teach Yourself series – and it was printed for many years. Mark was terrific to work with; always cheery and he made my job easy. I knew him my whole golfing life when he worked at the London Standard then the Daily Express. He was a trusted journalist. He was persuaded to join the European Tour and he was an important confidant to Ken Schofield.”
Mark Wilson, centre in sunglasses, with other members of the British Press corps Norman Mair (l), Ronnie Wills (centre third from right) Michael McDonnell (r) and Jack Statter interview Arnold Palmer after his win at the Penfold PGA Championship held at Royal St Georges Golf Club on May 25, 1975 in Sandwich, England. (Photo by Peter Dazeley/Getty Images)
Mark was born in Gosport. His father, Henry, was in the Royal Navy and his mother, Beatrice, was a nurse. His father died when he was only six and, when he was 11, and due to start Grammar School, war broke out and he was evacuated to stay with the Post Master in Salisbury. Mark’s mother had remarried and he was separated from her, his younger brother Malcolm, his step-father Alex and step-brother Michael.
Sent to Salisbury with 1/6d in his pocket “for emergencies”, Mark spent the money on a model plane which he flew in the grounds of Salisbury Cathedral -considered a serious offence. The Post Master had to negotiate his freedom from the local police.
He ran away twice to Gosport in his first two months as an evacuee, triggering his mother to move the whole family to Salisbury where Mark attended Bishops Wadsworth School. It was there, aged 15, he met a local girl, Joan Edwards. They became ballroom partners and nine years later they married.
Mark first worked in a munitions factory before starting a two-year apprenticeship as a trainee reporter with the Salisbury Times. That, however, came to an end after just one year when he was commissioned into the Army, serving both in Cyprus and Northern Ireland.
He had a robust, if sometimes wild sense of humour, and while serving in Cyprus he would later admit he “crossed the line.” He and his colleagues were reminded that, with terrorists around, they must be extra cautious in case a grenade was thrown into the open transport they used to travel round the island. The occupants should at all times remain calm and leave the lorry in an orderly fashion. Mark tested this by throwing a dummy grenade into a packed lorry and in the chaos that followed some of his colleagues were injured. They were waiting for him when he returned to base later that night.
On another occasion Mark and a couple of other soldiers were in France and in charge of a German prisoner of war. They learned it was the German’s birthday so they dressed him in an English uniform and took him into town for the evening to the cinema. Then they promptly returned him to jail!
Three years after being commissioned he returned to complete his apprenticeship in Salisbury before joining the Manchester Evening News and then the Birmingham Gazette.
London beckoned and he moved to the Evening Standard where he quickly became one of proprietor Lord Beaverbrook’s brightest young reporters. Mark was looking for action but one assignment rather bored him. At the time of the war between France and Algeria, Beaverbrook was certain the Algerians would attack France coming ashore at Marseilles. He sent Mark to the south of France for several weeks to keep a look out. Mark sat on the beach and diligently reported daily that he had nothing to report!
Later he became night news editor at the Standard before becoming the newspaper’s war correspondent. It was during the Suez crisis that he had his biggest scoop. He learned that British troops were going in to protect the Suez Canal the following day, but could not file his story because of a telephone black-out in the area.
The ever innovative Wilson noticed, however, that there was a British Naval ship lying just off Alexandria. He hired a rowing boat, made it to the ship and was able to make his call from there. Later editions of the Standard carried his exclusive which most certainly surprised the military chiefs.
Wilson’s lifetime love of the game was ignited when, against his will, he was sent to help with coverage of the Ryder Cup at Lindrick in 1957. Soon he landed his dream job as Golf Correspondent of the Standard where he stayed until 1973 when he was appointed Golf Correspondent of its sister paper, the Daily Express.
During his time at the Standard at the 1963 World Cup of Golf in St Nom de la Breteche, near Paris, the late Christy O’Connor arrived on the first tee slightly the worse for wear from the night before. He asked Mark to take a cup of black coffee to a place in the woods some 265 yards down the fairway. Mark duly obliged and minutes later Christy’s ball landed nearby. The spectators did not realise they had witnessed one of the greatest precision shots in the history of the game. O’Connor arrived, uttered not one word to Mark, drowned his caffeine and finished three under par.
That same year Mark was having breakfast with New Zealander Bob Charles (later Sir Bob) during The Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes when Charles asked “Would you unscrew this sauce bottle for me. I don’t want to strain my fingers in case it affects my putting.” Mark was duly proud of the part he played in Charles winning The Open that year; and, indeed, the contribution he played to Charles, and many others, over the years remains today as part of the game's history.
Wilson was a superb story-teller who could captivate all those who were lucky enough to be in his company and a good few who were within earshot. His stories were always told with great pathos and emotion. Yet despite his journalistic abilities he often had difficulty when sitting at the typewriter on how best to start the story, frequently putting in sheet after sheet of paper with only the words Mark Wilson written on them before crunching them into the wastepaper bin. Yet as the editorial deadline neared he would pick up the phone and was a master ad-libber.
He was always ready to laugh at himself. When he and his wife Joan decided to join Sunningdale Ladies Golf Club he was amused to learn that they both survived the membership interview because one member of the committee felt that Mark would be a good man at the bar. He had in fact been a teetotaler for many years.
Mark was an accomplished golfer himself. A member at Sunningdale, The Berkshire, Royal Mid-Surrey and Pyecombe, near Brighton, he considered it his good fortune, when travelling the world, to play many of the finest courses including Augusta National, Pebble Beach and Penina to where he returned year after year with his wife Joan and enjoyed the company of three times Open Champion and Penina-designer Sir Henry Cotton and his wife Toots.
He captured many titles of his own – he was proud to receive one trophy from Arnold Palmer – and he won the Association of Golf Writers Championship in 1964, 1966 and 1985 and was chairman of the Association from 1982 – 1984.
Mark Wilson, third from the right, with other former colleagues and officers from The European Tour (R-L) Angel Gallardo, Ken Schofield, Mitchell Platts, George O'Grady, Neil Coles and Scott Kelly
Golf was Mark’s passion so when the time came for him to step down as Golf Correspondent of the Daily Express he was delighted to accept an offer in 1986 to become Head of Communications for the European Tour working from their Wentworth Headquarters in Surrey with first Chief Executive Ken Schofield and then George O’Grady.
Schofield said: “When Mark accepted the Tour’s offer to join the fast expanding senior management team at Wentworth HQ he had, of course, already established his reputation as one of the country’s and the game of golf’s finest writers. If one thought that perhaps he would then slow down and be content, as would those of us delighted to welcome his wise counsel, then everyone was mistaken!
“From the first moment of his arrival, Mark threw himself into action, devising and developing the Tour’s first full-time, highly professional media department and generally bringing fresh impetus to our entire operation with his unique enthusiasm and unrivalled experience.
“In short, Mark Wilson was a phenomenon. We were all privileged to call him our colleague, friend and confidant. Today’s European Tour – and the entire game – owes him our gratitude. To Joan, Jacqueline and Lisa, and all the family our love and fond memories.”
O’Grady said: “Mark Wilson became the first Head of Communications for The European Tour following his successful career as a distinguished journalist, author, raconteur and editor of numerous golf publications. His unique ability, his professionalism, his personality, the relationships he formed throughout the world and the respect in which he was held contributed enormously to the growth and success of The European Tour.”
During his last years in Brighton in a care home, where he was much loved, Mark remain entwined with the game and, indeed, in 2017 he won the Association of Golf Writers ‘Pick Your Pro’ competition which involved nominating the winners of global tournaments week by week.
Mark will always be remembered for the enjoyment he provided his colleagues and his loyalty to them and the publications for whom he worked. When his successor at the London Evening Standard arrived in Fleet Street from Scotland he typically offered him his contacts book of telephone numbers saying: “Everybody you want to speak to is in there”.
It was a magnanimous gesture from a man who loved Fleet Street and golf. Always the journalist to the end, and when very ill, he still asked “Who won the Masters?”
Mark is survived by Joan and his daughters Jacqueline and Lisa.