Ample food for thought over state of Scottish golf

Callum Macaulay has gone from the Tour to driving a taxi. Picture: Getty
Callum Macaulay has gone from the Tour to driving a taxi. Picture: Getty
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AN ALLEGATION of ageism, a plea for a new national golf centre to be built in the Central Belt, a proposal for amateurs and professionals to compete in an order of merit and calls for home-based players to be granted better access to the country’s leading courses.

Just some of the views expressed in the last 48 hours after social media went into meltdown like never before as far as Scottish golf is concerned following The Scotsman highlighting that Scott Jamieson, 31 tomorrow, will be the youngest of the eight players representing the home of golf on the European Tour next season.

The debate involved a wide cross section in the Scottish game and comments from the likes of Scott Henry, Callum Macaulay, Jamie McLeary and Paul McKechnie can surely help shape a brighter future for the sport in this country given that they’ve all experienced the sharp end of professional golf.

Take Macaulay, for instance. A former Scottish Amateur champion and member of Scotland’s Eisenhower Trophy-winning team in 2008, the Tulliallan player secured his European Tour card at the first attempt that same year then came within a shot of winning the Madeira Islands Open the following season. He was successful again back at the Qualifying School in 2012 yet, just two years on, is driving a taxi to make ends meet after recently becoming a father for the first time.

“The bottom line is pressure,” said Macaulay as he tried to put his finger on why so many Scottish players with good amateur records struggle to find their feet in the professional ranks.

“It causes a lack of confidence and that causes a lack of form. The snowball effect people talk about can work both ways in golf.”

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In the first batch of players to be supported by Team Scottish Hydro, the initiative launched in 2011 to help potential European Tour players, Macaulay also received backing through Scottish Golf Support Limited, the body set up to administer a £1 million investment in the game by sportscotland.

“I wouldn’t have changed anything in the respect of the help and support I received,” added the 30-year-old. “The one mistake I made was changing my swing, the result of that being that I totally lost my form for a year and a half. I lost my confidence and that’s the main reason I’ve gone from playing on Tour as recently as two seasons ago to driving a taxi.”

The loss of a generation of Scottish golfers in European Tour terms has come at a time when the country’s leading amateurs enjoy better winter training than ever before. A group of players is currently out in the United Arab Emirates and the majority of them will also be heading to South Africa early next year.

“I think the SGU do a great job with amateurs,” acknowledged Henry, a two-times Scottish Boys champion. “The opportunities to succeed and develop are certainly there for these guys. It’s a great education, but you can’t teach a player to have drive and determination to overcome setbacks.”

While the common perception is that the new generation of Tour players are recent recruits from the amateur ranks, the likes of Craig Lee and Chris Doak have proved otherwise in recent years. Both used the Tartan Tour to toughen themselves up and Henry, for one, believes Scotland’s leading amateurs and home-based professionals should fight it out over the course of a season for funding rights.

“For me, an Order of Merit in Scotland is the only way we will develop better tournament players and also get a fairer reflection of who is ready to play Challenge Tour and European Tour,” said the 27-year-old Clydebank man, regarded by many as being the best bet to trim a few years off that aforementioned age statistic in the next season or two.

“It would require the PGA and SGU planning, but I think this would be beneficial because if you can’t compete at the top level in your own country then forget about competing on the Challenge Tour.”

Henry’s younger brother, John, is using the Alps Tour, one of the growing number of third-tier circuits, in his bid to scale the golfing heights. He believes Scotland’s courses can play a bigger part in helping the likes of him, something that resonates with this correspondent after being told by one of our European Tour players that he was asked to cough up a green fee at one of the country’s foremost venues due to the fact he was no longer a PGA member.

“More of the top Scottish courses should be willing to give courtesy to all pros and top amateurs,” said Henry. “A great example is the French National in Paris. It lets French pros and players in the French Federation play the course and use the facilities on weekdays.”

Taking that a step further, both Macaulay and McLeary, who lost his European Tour card for next season along with Peter Whiteford and Alastair Forsyth, would like to see the creation of a national golf centre – in the right place this time.

“Drumoig was a brilliant facility in a poor location,” said Macaulay of the ill-fated SGU project near Leuchars. “We need something like that along the M8 near Harthill.” Concurring, McLeary added: “We need a world-class facility in the heart of the country. A 7,500-yard course with all-weather range and short-game area.”

While that may be prohibitive due to the cost of such a facility, money is there to support players in their bid to climb the ladder. At 37, McKechnie knows he’s not going to reduce the age average if he makes it on to the European Tour. Nonetheless, as a full Challenge Tour card holder, he reckons he should be entitled to some of the Scottish Golf Support Limited backing.

“The state of Scottish golf is diabolical and one of the chief culprits is [Scottish Golf performance manager] Steve Paulding as he is ring-fencing the Government money for kids coming through,” claimed McKechnie. “I’m not a spring chicken, but I won a full Challenge Tour card off the EuroPro Tour last year and had big enough balls to go for it. I applied for support but was deemed to be too old to receive funding. It was ageism and that is absolutely disgusting.”

Ample food for thought, then, as Scottish golf comes to terms with the double disappointment of failing to have a European Tour graduate in 2015 from either the Challenge Tour or Qualifying School. According to Macaulay, though, that is only a blip. “I don’t think there’s any real cause for concern as the standard in Scotland is too good,” he insisted, adding that his stint behind the wheel is only a temporary measure. “Once I’m right financially, physically and mentally, I’ll be back,” he vowed.

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