Golf Monthly Contributing Editor Jezz Ellwood gives an insight into his journey into Golf Journalism and his thoughts on going freelance.
What makes Jezz tick? That’s an interesting question and one I’ve never spent too much time pondering. I’m quite driven, but certainly not fiercely ambitious. Attention to detail and timekeeping are important to me, and once I set out on a task, I will always see it through to the end no matter what.
As for golf, well, it’s been a big part of my life for 30 years, but I didn’t play when I was young as it was still a rich kids’ sport back then, and I certainly didn’t qualify! Football, cricket, tennis and table tennis were my sports, although we would always track down a putting green on family holidays. In fact, I’m convinced I holed more putts as a carefree kid on the patchiest of recreation ground putting greens than I do these days on some of the finest greens in the land! Occasionally I’d watch golf on TV and distinctly remember watching Jack Nicklaus in The Open one year and thinking how easy it all looked.
When the first real seeds of what would become my life’s passion were sown on a school geography field trip to the Isle of Arran in 1981, it still seemed relatively easy. It was the week of the Royal Wedding and we were granted a day off studies on the big day. A few of us wandered down to Lochranza Golf Club, hired some clubs and set off. It’s a long time ago, but I seem to remember doing as well as the regular golfers, though the passage of time may be playing tricks on my memory.
If only I’d taken further golfing steps there and then… for when I did finally take it up in my early 20s, the magic had gone and it seemed anything but easy. Mind you, in my first game on a real course at Poult Wood in Tonbridge, I watched with amusement as my golfing friends showed me how to do it on the 1st tee. The first one skied it 70 yards into the heart of the 18th green where other golfers were putting the finishing touches to their rounds; the other hit it right off the toe, sending his ball at knee height past those queuing up to tee off, before playing pinball with the changing room doors. My 150-yard 3-iron down the middle seemed brilliant by comparison!
By the time I went to college in 1988 to do a sports science degree, I was playing off 12, and when I finished I managed to secure a poorly paid, but immensely exciting job at a new golf course in Horsham. Since that day in January 1993, I have only ever worked in the golf industry and it was while working for the UK distributors of Sun Mountain golf bags in Leatherhead that my unexpected journey into journalism began. A college friend, who now edits another golf publication, was Golf Monthly’s equipment editor, and he asked me to write a few pieces about players to look out for, who might do well in The Open and so on. I loved it and used to slip away to Pachesham Park Golf Centre in my lunch hour to sup a quiet Guinness and put the finishing touches to my latest masterpiece. When he moved on, he suggested I apply for the job, and the rest, as they say, is history. I started out as equipment editor at Golf Monthly in 2002, before moving on to head up the UK courses coverage after five years and contribute in other areas.
This year, after nearly 12 years, I decided to take the plunge into the freelance world. Lots of variables came into play in that decision, but the desire to no longer commute to London played a big part, and with Golf Monthly still keen to use me, all I had to do was convince the wife! Easier said than done with a sizable mortgage and two kids to factor in, but we got there, and at the moment all is going well with the added bonus of now being able to do the school run with my daughter most days.
So what has golf done for me? First and foremost, it’s taken me to places I could never have dreamed of in my youth, even if I’d known what a major part of my life golf would become – Singapore, South Africa, Abu Dhabi, Turkey, all over Europe, and the highlight - as it would be for any mad-keen golfer - a trip to Augusta National in 2004 to cover The Masters. What a thrill that was! Beyond that, I’ve discovered that golf really is my natural habitat. That may sound pretentious, but what I mean is that outside of golf I’m naturally a little shy and wary of others – not socially awkward, but certainly not always immediately comfortable with people I’ve never met before. Put me on a golf course and I’m completely different - happy to chat, comfortable in my surroundings and completely at ease. I can meet people for the first time on the course, and by the end of the round we’ll be getting on like a house of fire with all the mickey taking and banter usually reserved for the oldest of friends. For that, I will always be eternally grateful to this great game of ours.
Oh, and I can be slightly cynical too… which brings me on to Etiqus. In my equipment editor days I saw lots of inventions and ideas that, to my slightly cynical mind, were always destined for failure. One reader even wrote in to tell me how he built tailor-made tees to specific heights by gluing together the various coloured ‘castle tees’. He even kindly told me what size drill bit to use to drill out the lower tee. All just a little too much effort for something costing a couple of pence!
So when Gary Butler contacted me about coming into GM Towers to tell us about his revolutionary ‘pace of play watch’, my editor and I were slightly cynical, but also suitably intrigued, as slow play had been a hot topic in golf for some time and anything offering a new perspective needed to be followed up. Gary came in and told us his story, proudly showing us a cardboard watch and the ingenious ‘Butler Bezel’, algorithmically designed to highlight whether your pace of play was on target.
Clever stuff, but was it commercially viable and would golfers buy into the idea? Gary lasted considerably longer in ‘the chair’ than many, as we both liked him, his enthusiasm and his deep-rooted belief that he was on to something. But I suspect that deep inside we both doubted it would come to anything. Yet here we are a few years down the line with a stylish new watch brand on the market targeted at golfers. Yes, the emphasis may have changed a little such that the pace of play theme is now more of an undercurrent to the Etiqus brand than the major thrust, but golfers can now buy a watch tailored to their passion with some neat little touches.
I like to think that my cynicism has protected me a little over the years, but sometimes it’s nice to be wrong, isn’t it?
Jezz Ellwood - Contributing Editor, Golf Monthly