Sinclair takes presidential path

​​As Peter Sinclair (Knock GC) assumes the Presidency of the Golfing Union of Ireland, he reflects on his lifelong passion for a game that has given so much.

  • 17 February 2017

Caption: GUI President Peter Sinclair - image courtesy of Golffile

Few journeys in golf tread the same path. A game of infinite possibilities, it has captivated the minds of men for centuries. In Peter Sinclair’s case, golf has been a part of his life for more than 60 years, and his passion for the game is as strong now as it was when he first struck a ball at the tender age of 13.

The son of a golfer, this Belfast boy was unlikely to choose cricket over golf when he was forced to choose between them at school in Campbell College. And as it turned out, golf combined neatly with his other sporting love: rugby.

“The two (golf and rugby) seemed to mix,” Sinclair recalls. “The boys that I met through rugby joined the golf club and those people are still members of both clubs. We go to Ulster games together. It’s become a routine on Friday nights.”

An imposing back-row forward, Sinclair joined Civil Service RFC after school but by then he was a junior golfer on his way to single figures at Knock GC. Following in the footsteps of his father, Sinclair was invited to become a full member at Knock, an intimate parkland setting just beyond the gates of Stormont Estate. The golf club acted like a second home throughout his teenage years.

“I liked golf straight away,” says Sinclair. “My parents sent me down to the golf club twice a week and all my school holidays were spent there. It was like a crèche for teenagers. We’d play 36 holes a day, winter and summer.”

Naturally, his handicap plummeted. Four was his lowest mark and his career highlight came at Royal Dublin in 1968 when winning the Junior Cup with Knock. Even with an All-Ireland medal to his name, Sinclair is modest about his achievements.
Reflecting on his playing days, he admits: “I was never an outstanding golfer. I got to where I did through hard work and practice.”
Those habits came naturally. With a background in accountancy, at 23 he joined the family business. R Sinclair Ltd are wholesalers of beers, wines and spirits. Now 75, Peter continues to play an active role.
“I’ve always worked, I’ve never known anything else,” he explains. “We have had our ups and downs over the years but overall it’s given me a standard of living I can’t complain about.”

His marriage to Joan is now in its 48th year and their family of two boys (Michael and Jonathan) and one girl (Andrea) has expanded to include three grandsons – Ben, Jamie and Luke.

As if life was not hectic enough, Sinclair became the youngest ever captain of Knock in 1978, aged 35. The all-important Greens Committee was his next port of call until the club put him forward for election to the Ulster Branch in 1989. After serving his time on various Branch committees, Sinclair completed eight years as Hon Treasurer before assuming the chairmanship in 2012.

His tenure on the Ulster Branch coincided with the rise of his eldest son, Michael, to the top of the game in Ireland. Michael’s victories at the North of Ireland in 1997 and the East of Ireland in 2004 were thrilling occasions for the family, not least his father.

“Golf has been very good to me,” he reflects. “Knock has been part and parcel of my life since 1955 and I was very proud to be made an Honorary Life Member in 2008.”

Apart from Michael’s domestic triumphs, Peter was also blessed to witness the rise of two, future major champions - Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy.

With a hearty chuckle, he recalls the first impression McIlroy made on him: “I saw him playing in a Boys’ Championship at Dunmurry when his clubs seemed to be taller than him. He was an extremely nice, well-adjusted young man.”

As is tradition, Sinclair will travel to the US Masters in April, where McIlroy will attempt to complete the career grand slam. It’s a magical thought. Almost as fanciful as the notion that a 13-year-old Belfast boy would, 62 years later, wear the green blazer as President of the Golfing Union of Ireland at Augusta National.