From Tiger Woods and Butch Harmon to Clitheroe Golf Club: Wayne Johnson talks golf, coaching pros, travel, and his new project in Lancashire
One Spring in the late sixties, Wayne's father decided to take up golf at his local club in Windermere in the Lake District. Owing to the club's family-friendly approach to children and welcoming outlook, he took the then-seven-year-old Wayne with him. And that, as they say, was that.
"In those days, membership was a pound a year for seven-to-15-year-olds, so you can imagine how popular it was for local kids," says Wayne, now 60. "Like a lot of kids, I got into golf because of my parents and so I went along and started caddying and hitting a few balls and one thing led to another. Once a few mates started going, that was it.
"At that age, you just turn up, give it a whack, and enjoy playing," he adds. "The club was so friendly and open, so I was fortunate in that respect."
Wayne fell in love with the sport and, whilst he says he never necessarily recognised an obvious natural talent for golf in himself, he enjoyed it immensely. He was also lucky enough to be one of the beneficiaries of an initiative paid for by the Golf Foundation which saw the club's pro give kids an hour's free tuition every Saturday to encourage and coach them.
Continuing to golf throughout his time at school, Wayne also threw himself into football, rugby, and cricket as well as learning how to ski, eventually going on to study architectural masonry at college in Bath owing to the fact that his father was a stonemason. But golf soon lured him back north when the opportunity to become assistant pro at Windermere arose in 1983.
After a four-year PGA programme and a couple of stints with the ski company Salomon and then golf company TaylorMade, where he worked in research and development and in communications, Wayne was offered something entirely different which nudged his career off into a new direction entirely.
"Through TaylorMade, an opportunity arose to become the head professional at the Wisley Golf Club in London," he says. "It was 1991 and the Wisley had just opened as one of the city's high-end private golf clubs. My role combined work in the golf shop with coaching as well as things like running tournaments and making sure the whole operation ran smoothly.
"I was really involved in the day-to-day business and it was a much higher standard than I'd experienced before," Wayne adds. "I was there for just short of a year before the guy who brought it to fruition with all the funding asked me to join him and be director of operations at a golf club and residential development in Portugal called Pinheiros Altos in '92."
A stint in the sun followed, with Wayne describing it as 'a dream' to work in something he was so passionate about. "Everyone goes into it thinking 'I'd love to be a Tour player one day', but reality soon sets in because it's really hard to be that good," he says of any ambitions of turning pro. "The time, energy, and effort which goes into golf at the highest level is all-consuming.
"And being an assistant pro isn't quite as glamorous as people may think!" he adds. "You're predominantly working in the golf shop as well as a little junior coaching and making the tea. It gives you the chance to play the game, but most guys go into Tour golf purely as a player as opposed to coming through the ranks as an assistant pro.
"That being said, certain guys do it - Ian Poulter is an exception, as are several other players on the European Tour who have done exceptionally well having come from that kind of background."
After Pinheiros Altos, a decidedly more alpine change of pace awaited. After a period coaching at Zell-am-See in Austria, Wayne was head-hunted to establish Callaway Golf Austria. But, before long, an old contact he'd made on the Iberian peninsula got in touch again with a proposition: working with one of the game's most famous coaches.
"It wasn't until I went to work for Butch Harmon that my passion for coaching was really ignited," says Wayne. "You just learn so much by working for and with him day-in, day-out that it gives you a totally different perspective on the concept of teaching the game in general."
Having worked with Claude Harmon, the son of the legendary Butch, whilst in Portugal, Wayne also became good friends with Butch himself, having first met him when he'd come out to Pinheiros Altos following that year's Open Championship. And, in '97, Butch offered Wayne the chance to work for him as a coach at the Butch Harmon School of Golf in Las Vegas.
"All we did every day was teach golf and I was fortunate enough to work with Butch himself quite a lot," says Wayne. "While I was there, the likes of Tiger Woods, Adam Scott, Darren Clarke, Lee Westwood, José María Olazábal all came through as well, which was an experience! It was just incredible.
"Tiger would come out quite a lot and Adam Scott went to college in Las Vegas so we saw him a ton," explains Wayne. "Just to be able to rub shoulders with some of the greats of the game meant that you couldn't help but learn so much about golf. Just by watching and listening to them as they worked on their swing and other fundamentals...
"It was great to be around such world-class players," he continues. "And, day-in, day-out, I was shadowing one of the world's best coaches - Butch doesn't suffer fools gladly and he had a fiery temper, but he was supportive and very generous. The learning curve was immense but he was great to work for because he was really invested in you becoming a better coach."
Comfortably one of the world's most famous people for over two decades, Tiger Woods is a mythical being to many people, so what was it like to work with him so closely?
"Working with and seeing Tiger in action up close was fantastic, a privilege really," says Wayne. "How many guys get to watch Tiger hitting balls from a couple of metres away? You realise, as with all top players, there's a God-given talent coupled with a huge work ethic, coaching, and practice on the fundamentals. That allows them to make the most of their ability.
"Tiger's a fantastic guy as well and he was always great with me," he adds. "When you get to that level of stratospheric fame, you naturally become a little insular so people might come away thinking you're a bit rude, but you just have so many people wanting a piece of you.
"I don't think you could be someone like Tiger and not be a little tunnel-vision but, if he knows you, he's so friendly and pally."
After Vegas and a stint at the Butch Harmon School of Golf in the Bahamas, Wayne moved back into the world of directorship once more, first heading out to the UAE in 2002 to set up The Academy by Troon at the Montgomerie Golf Club Dubai for four years before helping establish Monte Rei Golf & Country Club, which has since gone on to become Portugal's number-one course.
Following that, he went back out to the Middle East for seven years to help establish The Race to Dubai based out of Jumeirah Golf Estates and, as part of that, set up the European Tour Performance Institute before being asked by south African golfer Ernie Els' representatives to help found The Els Performance Golf Academy out in Vietnam.
Globetrotting doesn't quite cover it.
"There's an awful lot of pride and professional fulfilment in being involved in such prestigious projects at some of the world's very best golf facilities and I've met some brilliant people," says Wayne, who name-checks up-and-comers he's proud to have mentored such as the director of golf at PGA Catalunya and the general manager of Finca Cortesin in Spain.
"I've been lucky enough to experience so many different cultures having been able to travel the world through golf and you've got to have an attitude of 'let's go for it' to work in so many different environments because they're all so unique, but It's been unquestionably brilliant to travel with my work.
"It also helps to be single!" he adds with a laugh. "Then you don't have to worry about uprooting your family and kids."
At the start of the pandemic, Wayne returned to the UK to be closer to his parents up in the Lake District. After a period out as Covid gripped the globe, a new position far closer to home came up and it proved to be an intriguing proposition indeed: that of Director of Golf at the 130-year-old Clitheroe Golf Club.
"The opportunity at Clitheroe which really appealed to me because it offered the chance to do something a bit different," explains Wayne, who has been charged with establishing the club's new top-of-the-range teaching and practice facility as the North West's 'centre of excellence' for golf. "It was just so exciting.
"Private members clubs in the UK are generally stuck in the mud in a sense but, coming here, the board and the people I've met all had a vision to raise standards and establish a state-of-the-art facility in the region," he adds. "We've got the chance to build something from the ground up and do something very special here and I'm loving it."
With a background in golfing expertise spanning more than three decades and a CV littered with more than a handful of once-in-a-lifetime jobs, the international golfing world's loss is very much Lancashire's gain when it comes to Wayne Johnson.
"Everything has been so positive," he says of his time at Clitheroe so far. "And we've got big plans."