“It was dealing with a complaint against Neil Lennon for shouting at a referee,” said McKinlay, who was the SFA’s director of football governance and regulation before stepping up to become chief operating officer and, latterly, interim chief executive following Stewart Regan’s departure in February. “Third day in was to deal with a Rangers complaint, who had not long gone into administration.”
That saga kept McKinlay busy long after that first week. “My first summer was all the Rangers stuff – I got a baptism of fire there,” he added. “I had to get up to speed pretty quickly and I expect to get up to speed pretty quickly here, too. I got to understand politics quite quickly and dealt with some interesting characters.”
McKinlay has taken over the reins at Scottish Golf reins following Blane Dodds’ move to a similar post at Tennis Scotland. He was offered the golf job as he flew out to Switzerland to stand in for Regan, his boss at the time, at a Uefa meeting. Two days later, he found himself calling the shots at the SFA but insists he wasn’t interested in turning that interim role into a permanent one. “You wait your whole life to be a chief executive and you get two offers in the one week,” he recalled, laughing. “There were rumours flying around all over the place that I was going to change my mind [about moving to Scottish Golf], but it was well known that I had done six years and I wanted a new challenge. It [working in football] gets very cyclical and the same issues come up all the time. I used to refer to it as déjà vu all over again.
“It was normal time for me to start looking for a new challenge. I always say that if you are leaving a job, always make sure that the pull factors are bigger than the push factors otherwise it’s not the right job. The pull factors for this job were massive. As soon as it became an opportunity, I wanted it. When the chief executive’s job at the SFA came up, I did not put my hat in the ring, I can assure you.”
Even though he has joined an organisation that is facing job cuts due to sportscotland funding having been slashed and a bid to increase an affiliation fee paid by every club member being rejected, McKinlay is excited about his new challenge at Scottish Golf. “I am really looking forward to it and this augurs well with such a positive way to start,” he said referring to Aberdeen Standard Investments committing to a two-year extension of its backing of Scotland’s leading men’s and women’s amateurs.
“I see it as a huge opportunity and I genuinely feel that if this job is done well, then it is the best job in Scottish sport as we are the home of golf.
“When the opportunity came up last October/November, I thought to myself, ‘that is really exciting’. My first interview with the recruitment agency was the same week as Scottish Golf’s first national conference in Edinburgh, so I went to that, sitting quietly at the back of the room.
“That could have gone two ways for me personally. I could have come away from that thinking, ‘God, why do I want to be involved in that’ or thinking, ‘this is really exciting and a huge opportunity’.
“Yes, there are all these challenges. My impression, though, is that everyone knows what the challenges are. It is now trying to get on and deal with some of them. So I came out of the conference that day genuinely thinking, ‘yes, I really want this’. I was really quite motivated and things haven’t changed a lot in the interim, to be honest. Yes, since then things have happened that are maybe not ideal, but that doesn’t faze me.”
One of his first priorities is to establish a “proper connection” with Scottish Golf’s membership, believing that “misconceptions” were partly to blame for the failure to gain support for a proposal to raise the affiliation fee by £3.75 to £15. “It is easy to blame them [the membership] for that, but we need to get out and explain it [what that fee is used for] better,” he said.
Driven by Martin Gilbert, Aberdeen Asset Management started backing the Scottish amateur game in 2007 and that is now continuing under a new banner following last year’s merger with Standard Life Investments. “It is great to have this sponsorship extension with Aberdeen Standard Investments,” said McKinlay who went on to outline where he would like to see Scottish Golf’s main funding come from. “We want less reliance on the members’ money and I am sure members want us to be less reliant on their money as well. One of big things going forward is to bring in more external money, both sponsorship and government money.”