Obituary: Alex Hay, professional golfer, coach and commentator

Alex Hay, professional golfer, coach and commentator. Born: 10 May, 1933, in Edinburgh. Died: 11 July, 2011, in Woburn, aged 78.

With the death of Alex Hay, half of one of the best-known teams in sports commentary has passed away. Along with his great friend Peter Alliss, for 26 years from 1978 to 2004 Hay formed a duet whose voices became synonymous with the BBC's coverage of golf, especially for the Open Championship and the other majors.

Their gentle jibes at each other's expense were a comical feature of the coverage, often serving to lighten up dull passages of play, and though he never reached the heights that Ryder Cup contestant Alliss did as a player, Hay's vast experience of the sport in a range of guises meant that he often provided more incisive insights.

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Given that the BBC coverage was picked up by channels worldwide, and that he also worked for ABC and NBC in the United States and other stations elsewhere, Hay's gentle brogue was probably the most heard Scottish voice in sport, even ahead of rugby's Bill McLaren, a BBC colleague whose work Hay greatly admired.

Hay came across from behind the microphone as a likeable and knowledgeable sporting gentleman from Edinburgh, which is exactly what he was.

Yet there was so much more to the man than just commentating. Educated at Musselburgh Grammar School, where he was a keen rugby player and a keen golfer from an early age, he won the Musselburgh Boys Championship at 17 and his life's course was set.

Many excellent rounds as an amateur followed, but Hay realised that if he wanted to be a professional he would have to go down a path that was different from most top golfers of that era. He once said he would need "something to sell", as professionals were mainly from a better-off background.

After serving an apprenticeship with the famous Ben Sayers clubmaking concern in North Berwick, and completing his National Service in the RAF, Hay went south to work under professional Bill Shankland at the Potters Bar club in Hertfordshire, which would later be the proving ground for Nick Faldo.

Having originally been turned down as an apprentice professional, Hay landed his position with Shankland after Ben Sayers Junior intervened personally on Hay's behalf.

In those days, without the backing of a club or patron, securing an apprentice professional position which the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) would recognise was almost impossible, and once money had exchanged hands, a professional had little or no chance of returning to the "unsullied" amateur game. This was also still an era when snobbery ruled the PGA.Hay once recalled that the fact that he had been raised in a tenement counted against him when he wanted to be a professional, yet he would eventually be a PGA member for more than 50 years.

His natural skill and talent saw him through, and after qualifying as a professional in 1952, his life became that of the club pro - as opposed to the tournament player - with the East Hertfordshire, Dunham Forest and Ashridge golf clubs.

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Put simply, Hay was a much better teacher than top-class player. His long spell at the latter club, some 13 years in which his reputation as a coach grew by the day, was followed by his very successful transfer to Woburn, where he not only designed one of the courses but became the managing director of a golfing complex which would become recognised as a world leader.

His coaching role flourished so much that the BBC soon found a new outlet for his mellifluous tones.

Hay, who had long been a raconteur, loved to tell the story of how he buttonholed legendary sports commentator David Coleman at a gymkhana dinner and was told "You should work for the BBC."

After an audition in which Peter Alliss helped him, Hay did indeed get the chance to be a commentator, and for 26 years until 2004, his was a shrewd and always welcome voice at the forefront of the golf coverage of the corporation and other channels.

Hay was also a talented artist and illustrator, contributing many drawings to Golf Illustrated, and authored several golf books in which he completed some excellent paintings and drawings of golf subjects that were much sought after and will only accumulate in value now that he has gone.

He had a pride-of-place car parking space at Woburn from which he sallied forth, and he never ceased to praise the village's unique air.

Hay had become a popular after-dinner speaker on "the circuit" long before the BBC decided to part company with him in 2004 - a decision he took with equanimity even though Alliss fought hard to preserve their duet.

Last year the Scottish PGA honoured Hay for his services to golf, with many tributes paid to him by golfers that he had coached and encouraged in their careers. These tributes have been echoed and amplified since Hay's death following a short illness.

Alex Hay is survived by his wife Anne and sons Graham and David.

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