Jack Nicklaus congratulates Wollongong club pro on 50-year PGA membership
February 22nd, 2017
Illawarra golf professional Robert McKay was humbled in early December last year when family, friends and golf industry colleagues gathered to celebrate a remarkable achievement of 50 years as a member of the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) of Australia.
Over 120 guests packed The Grange Golf Club to surprise McKay with a dinner to celebrate a career in which the affable McKay has spent entirely in the Illawarra region.
However, the surprises in store for McKay haven't stopped there.
The greatest golfer who ever lived – Jack Nicklaus – also got in on the act recently, filming a congratulatory video message for McKay from his North Palm Beach, Florida home.
"I couldn't believe what I was seeing when I played the video, I was choking up that Jack Nicklaus would take the time out of his extraordinarily busy life to do this." McKay said.
"There he was, sitting in his kitchen talking to me. It's one of the highlights of my entire career."
Paul Prendergast of Golfplus Media takes up the story of the chain of events that led to McKay's latest surprise.
“Rob’s brother Ken contacted Mark Wilson and I from Golfplus Media to ask I would be interested in writing a story on the 50-year milestone. As current and former Illawarra golfers ourselves, it was a pleasure to be involved and I’m pleased to say the story is being run in the March edition of Golf Australia Magazine.”
“Rob mentioned to me that he had competed against many of the best in his career in Australian professional events and had teed off in groups near the great Jack Nicklaus on several occasions."
“I’ve previously had some dealings with Nicklaus’ company and on a whim, reached out to ask if Jack might consider penning a few words of congratulations for Rob. When instead a personalized video message from the great man popped into my Inbox, I knew this would be something really special for Rob."
McKay remembers some of those early encounters with Nicklaus in Australia as if they were yesterday.
"I actually played in the group ahead of Nicklaus at Manly Golf Club in the early 70s, when Nicklaus shot a famous 10-under par round of 62. I shot 72 and was pretty pleased with myself because we played in front of huge galleries waiting to see Jack all day long."
"That didn't last for long though when I learned I was 10 behind after the first round!"
McKay has been a constant and ever-smiling presence on the Illawarra sporting landscape ever since he began his apprenticeship under his Uncle Hector McKay at Wollongong Golf Club in the early 1960s.
He has taught and inspired thousands of men, women, girls and boys in a career dedicated to club professional life, despite being a very good player in his own right – winning 19 professional events around Australia.
McKay continues to pursue his passion for the game and is still working and teaching at The Grange Golf Club, south of Wollongong.
“In my research for this article, the most common theme that shone through from his colleagues and peers was that you wouldn’t meet a nicer bloke than Rob McKay.” Prendergast continued.
“He’s been a credit to his profession and the Illawarra region in general and to receive acknowledgement for his contribution to the game from the greatest player in history is a fitting tribute to a remarkable and enduring career.”