Interview: Harpenden golfer and commentator Ken Brown
18:04 07 July 2010
SINCE putting down his clubs 15 years ago Ken Brown has remained a regular face in golf. With four European tour wins and five appearances at the Ryder Cup amongst his top accolades, the father-of-two moved seamlessly into commentating and presenting for the sport.
Growing up just yards away from Harpenden Common Golf Club, Ken spent his teenage years playing golf whenever he could and left school at 17 to become the clubs green keeper. But his success story began while working as an assistant pro golfer at Verulam Golf Club in St Albans, putting in long and hard hours for just 10 a week.
I certainly enjoyed golf but I had no idea Id be any good at it when I started, Ken admits. Even when I was winning competitions I could only compare myself to local players.
Then all of a sudden someone noticed me and wanted to give me a chance. Next I knew I was trying out for the Ryder Cup team.
I never really thought I had a shot, it all happened so much quicker than I could have dreamed of. I couldnt believe it when I got in, I was 20 years old and now in the best 12 players in Great Britain and Ireland and playing in the 1976 Ryder Cup.
To think I had been a green keeper just months before, it was all a big surprise. I was suddenly playing against the top players in the world. These were people I followed and idolised as golfers, like Jack Nicholson and Tom Watson. It was amazing.
The young golfing star became a popular figure, picking up something of a cheeky reputation on tour and at just 21 finished fourth on the European Tour Order of Merit. Throughout his golfing career Ken played all over the world, travelling from one competition to the next in scores of countries including in Africa, Asia and Australia. In 24 months Ken crossed the Atlantic Ocean 44 times to meet his games, picking up plenty of accolades along the way.
I was going here, there and everywhere. It was a very fast, exciting and interesting time, including a few successes and a lot of disappointments. You could fly all the way to Australia just to play two rounds and be knocked out, but I was doing what I loved.
That was part of the game. If you dont want to take the knocks then you dont play golf. There are no excuses because its between you and the course.
Eventually the effects of the golfing lifestyle, which he laughs off as not being the glamorous first class living it is today, began to take its effects. Coupled with a difficult injury, Ken decided it was time to leave the competing behind him. With a wife and two young children, he was happy to be spending more time at home with his family, who were still based in Harpenden. Despite having visited a wealth of the worlds best cities during his career, Ken and his wife Dawn, whom he met through a friend at Harpenden Common Golf Club, were never tempted to move away.
I was born in the Red House and I still use the same dentist and doctors I did when I was a kid not many people can say that. Going away to compete and coming back to Harpenden made me realise how lucky I am to live in such a lovely town. I made sure I never took for granted living in such a unique place.
On retirement in his mid-30s Ken designed an 18-hole course for Aldwickbury Golf Club in Harpenden and nine holes for Harpenden Common Golf Club. For a while he thought he had found a new direction until the birth of Sky Sports, when Ken was invited to help the TV channel develop its golf coverage, and a new career began.
I had a lot to learn with TV. I remember in 1998 I was in Dubai for the Masters and I had to interview Tiger Woods when he won. It was 100 degrees, the equipment was unpredictable, I had someone talking in my ear and it was Tiger Woods!
In my head Im thinking oh my God, 70 million people are watching this. It went fine but I was in a position where I could have made a fool of myself. I thought if I can manage that I can manage anything.
Now Ken is busy working at around 20 different competitions a year for the BBC, passing over his vast knowledge on Ken on the Course and giving his expert opinion during commentary of the important competitions.
Its nice to hear when people tell me they enjoy the show or they found something funny because thats what Im endeavouring to do. Im trying to inform or enlighten the viewers, or make something a bit of fun. Golf needs a bit of lightening up at times.
Was it hard to become the reporter instead of the reported?
For about six to 12 months after I stopped competing, I found it hard. When youre playing pro-golf youre constantly trying to progress. I quit that struggle and I often wondered what they thought about me because of that. It took me a while to get used to no longer being a competitor.
When not commentating Ken has just come back from the US Masters which saw the highly anticipated return of Tiger Woods he still enjoys a leisurely game of golf in Harpenden with his sons Billy, 22, and Tom, 20, and is hoping to take up teaching in the near future.
Its something I should really do in the next few years. Ive been involved in golf for 40 years, Ive been around the world with golf, so Id like to pass on what Ive learned to other aspiring pro-golfers.