SITTING talking with Graham Wylie in the new No.19 clubhouse at Close House, a stylish glass creation stunningly simplistic in its elegance and with a 270-degree panoramic view of the Tyne Valley and of the equally new Colt Course, does not immediately bring to mind a crazy golf course in Whitley Bay.
This most unlikely of connections is made when you ask Close House owner Wylie the question on many golfers’ lips: What is a software tycoon with a passion for horse racing doing investing £20m and counting into a sport he plays only around half a dozen times a year?
“It’s very very simple,” he said. “I lived in Whitley Bay for the first 35 years of my life, and when I was 11, 12, and 13, my home was near the promenade.
“Just down from the Rex Hotel there was an Arnold Palmer nine-hole crazy golf course and during the summer holidays and the weekends, I would visit it every day, five or six hours a day.
“If you rang a bell on the last hole, you got a free round, and I kept ringing the bell. It was up a slope and it had five holes in it at different heights. If you got past the first four holes and putted the ball into the top hole you rang the bell.
“They had Saturday morning competitions for kids and you could win 25 rounds of golf or 50 rounds of golf and I used to win those. I held the record of going round the nine holes in 11 shots, seven holes in one and two par twos. I used to love playing that.
“At the age of 14 or 15, I was a junior member of Whitley Bay Golf Club. I used to enjoy playing there, but I was tiny, not big enough. I had the odd par and the odd birdie and at a young age I loved golf.
“When Sage started and it grew and my family started and I got married I did not have the time to go and play golf a lot. But I always enjoy it when I do and I have always loved the sport, I have just never got to play it as much as I would like to purely from family and business commitments.”
No.19 is the name attached in proud high letters to the clubhouse. No 29, Oxford Street was Wylie’s home near the crazy golf, where his parents, William and Margaret, ran a seaside boarding house. No silver spoon here for the boy who was to become a founder of Sage and is now the chairman of TSG, with a personal fortune estimated at £250m.
William used to work down the coal mine at Backworth Colliery and Margaret was a former seamstress. Young Graham helped to serve breakfast and the teas.
His mother wanted him to have a good education, which he achieved at Whitley Bay Grammar School and Newcastle University, where he gained a degree in statistics, all of which he put to good use when he found himself on the ground floor of the PC revolution.