A SHERIFF may have been appointed to help kick-start the process but, according to Scottish Golf Union chairman Tom Craig, the Wild West-style infighting that broke out first time around will no longer be a problem in the bid to create a unified body to run Scottish golf.
Kirkcaldy-based Sheriff Alas-tair Thornton, a past president of the Law Society of Scotland, has agreed to oversee a ‘Joint Group’ of SGU and Scottish Ladies Golfing Association representatives tasked with developing an amalgamation proposal that would bring the home of golf into line with most other countries in the world.
Put to a vote around 18 months ago, the proposal received unanimous backing from the ladies only to be turfed out by the men after failing to gain sufficient support from the Area associations, the SGU’s 16 shareholders. They voted 10-6 against it, with some accusing the SGU of being heavy-fisted in their approach with them.
The whole process left a number of broken bridges in Scottish golf but, having worked hard in tandem with the SGU president, Maurice Shields, to rebuild them over the past year, Craig is confident the bid is resuming amidst a much better atmosphere.
“Because the initial proposal was rejected, it led to people taking opposing views so the first thing we had to do was try to bring everyone back together again,” he told The Scotsman. “The president and I have worked hard to make sure that we have re-established good working relationships in the whole of the SGU.
“Having met with the Area committees and talked with them, I know we have all got the best interests of Scottish golf at heart, which is fantastic. We all know where we want to get to and a lot of people are going to be working hard to get there in the end as it is the right thing to do.”
With Thornton, a former partner in the Edinburgh solicitor practice, A & W M Urquhart, where he specialised in litigation and mediation, on board, both sides are confident of a “positive outcome” this time but Craig warned that it can’t be expected to happen “overnight”.
“What I’ve come to understand is that it takes time,” he added. “When the original proposal was rejected last year, it was clearly going to take some time to get to a consensus. That was accepted in January and that gave us the opportunity to speak to the ladies again.
“I’m the new kid on the block in this role. I’ve had to learn a lot about how this works. What we did was we went round the Areas. I wanted to understand them, what their thoughts were, so it took time. On reflection, though, I am not unhappy that it has taken time to get to this stage as it is a big issue and is important for the whole of golf in Scotland.
“The SGU, in partnership with the SLGA, is committed to working towards a unified body in the home of golf. There is a great deal of common ground, and both bodies are ready to re-commence detailed consideration by means of a Joint Group. Alastair Thornton’s credentials are impressive and we look forward to working with him.
“The key things about the independent chairman are, firstly, he’s an enthusiastic golfer. Also because of his background as a Sheriff, he knows how to run courts or committees. As a mediator, he understands how to get people around a table and coming to an agreement. He ticks all the boxes as far as I am concerned.”
SLGA chairman Shona Malcolm concurred, adding: “Alastair expressed an enthusiasm for being involved in the process. He is an excellent choice for this role and we are confident that our discussions, as a Joint Group, will enable us to progress this already lengthy amalgamation process to a conclusion which is in the best interests of Scottish amateur golf.”
As for when the saga might finally be put to bed, Craig insisted that coming up with a proposal that met with approval from both sides was more important than trying to win a race against the clock. “We would like the process to take place as fast as possible but we are planning for the next 100 years and I don’t mind if it takes a little longer,” he said.
“The committee meets in early January. The first meeting is already scheduled and it’s up to them after that. The initial proposal has been put to the side. I’m not saying that elements of it won’t re-emerge but they’ve got their remit, they have agreed how we want to operate so it’s up to them to make it happen.”
Malcolm said it was too early to guage how the ladies will respond to a new proposal being put on the table in due course but is keeping her fingers crossed that the SLGA’s shareholders, in its case the clubs, will approach the process starting up again in a “positive” manner. She added: “There was such a willingness from the ladies 18 months ago and, though we won’t know until there is something tangible there to take to them, I am hoping we can recapture that and move this forward.”
Malcolm stayed on in her position for an extra year to see if the amalgamation could go through in that period. She is now set to step down at next month’s annual meeting but is prepared to remain involved in the process if it helps the matter reach a conclusion that would see Scotland follow Wales and England in creating a unified body in recent years.