While it was extremely enjoyable to be part of such a glitzy occasion, it was difficult not to wish that the 550 people at Edinburgh’s Corn Exchange on Friday night were there to talk about Scottish golf and trying to mould its future rather than celebrate the country’s main achievements in 2016.
The guests included a major champion, European Tour winners, Ryder Cup players, Ladies European Tour winners, Walker Cup players, Curtis Cup players and captains, an Eisenhower Trophy winner and PGA professionals, as well as administrators and officials from all levels of the game.
Add knowledgeable individuals from other sports, such as former Scotland football manager Craig Brown, 77-times capped Scotland rugby player Nathan Hines and Tennis Scotland coach Colin Fleming, along with successful business people, and it’s easy to see why much could be gained if such a gathering was to talk golf, not toast it.
Credit where credit is due. The Scottish Golf Awards has established itself as an excellent event on the social calendar and the team tasked by Scottish Golf with organising it do a smashing job. There’s a touch of irony, though, that the bash seems to have gone from strength to strength at a time when, viewed mainly at the top level but from a wider perspective as well, we actually don’t have nearly as much to shout about as in the past.
Russell Knox, voted Scottish Golfer of the Year for a second time in a row, is flying the Saltire admirably on the world stage, but he’s our only male professional in the game’s top 100 at present. Martin Laird is the only other in the top 200. That, coupled with the fact that the current average age of Scottish players currently holding European Tour cards is an astonishing 37 is nothing to be boasting about.
Neither, unfortunately, is the fact that, after 64th-ranked Catriona Matthew, our long-time No 1, the next highest Scot in the women’s world standings is Pamela Pretswell in 265th then Kylie Henry in 295th. Also, there wasn’t a Scottish player in Elaine Farquharson-Black’s winning Curtis Cup team in Ireland last year, with the same thing looking like happening in the next big assignment for Great Britain & Ireland’s women, this summer’s Vagliano Trophy.
There are no fewer than six Scots in the initial GB&I squad for the Walker Cup, in Los Angeles in September and that is encouraging.But, for the likes of Connor Syme, Robert MacIntyre and Sandy Scott in particular, an improved framework clearly needs to be in place to give them the best possible chance as Scotland tries to get back to the days of turning amateur talent into polished professionals.
Which is why we should be trying to get the majority of those people there on Friday night back into the same room again because, in the likes of Paul Lawrie, Stephen Gallacher, Richie Ramsay, Alastair Forsyth, Stephen McAllister, Pretswell, Farquharson-Black, Belle Robertson, adopted Scot Beth Allen, PGA pros Stuart Syme, Alasdair Good and David Scott, we have so much talent and experience to draw on but don’t make use of that nearly as well as we should be.
Here’s something to chew on. A decade ago, Gavin Dear was one of Scotland’s leading amateurs. In 2008, he joined forces with Wallace Booth and Callum Macaulay in the first tartan trio to win the Eisenhower Trophy, beating an American side that included Rickie Fowler to put Scotland on top of the world in Australia. A year later, the Murrayshall man made the Walker Cup team before turning professional with a handicap of plus four. Despite subsequently winning the Alps Tour Qualifying School then securing backing through being part of Team Scottish Hydro when it was launched in 2011, it never really happened for Dear in the paid ranks. Having given up on his dream, he’s now enjoying playing amateur golf again and working for Edinburgh-based ShotScope. Yet, no-one has ever sat down with him to ask what, if anything, could have been done to have seen his career map out differently or, equally, help the next generation of young Scottish professionals, once that cotton wool comes off.
Friday night’s event showed that, from top to bottom, there is a palpable passion for Scottish golf. Let’s start making better use of that to give future stagings a platform to celebrate more significant successes. And the confidencethat we are working as one to try to make that happen.