SAM Torrance believes a new £900,000 indoor golf centre could play its part in Loretto School in Musselburgh producing a future champion in the mould of either Rory McIlroy or Sandy Lyle.
Officially opened by the former Ryder Cup player and captain, the state-of-the-art facility has been created in a building that used to house a swimming pool on the school’s campus in the East Lothian town.
Derelict for a number of years, it has been transformed into an indoor golfing oasis, where pupils on the school’s successful and developing golf programme will be able to hone their short-game skills on a sizeable putting and chipping area complete with a bunker and also use separate putting and swing studios.
“This type of facility wasn’t around when I was young,” declared Torrance, who, of course, was in the privileged position of having a world-class coach, his father Bob, guiding him from the first time he picked up a club and, in fairness, made the most of that good fortune to record 43 worldwide wins.
“It is an unbelievable place,” added the 62-year-old, who was particularly encouraged to hear that it would be used by pupils as young as five. “It’s great that they are starting them at that age as it is important that young golfers get off on the right footing. Maybe we will see a Rory McIlroy or Sandy Lyle come from Loretto,” he continued, before joining the school’s headmaster, Graham Hawley, and Hamish Grey, there representing the newly-formed Scottish Golf Limited, in trying out the new facility.
Hawley praised the Loretto board of governors for having the “vision” to support the latest addition to the school’s Golf Academy, a programme that involved six pupils when it was launched in 2002 but now sees 260 out of the school’s total of 600 pupils participating in golf each week.
“We have the leading school golf programme in Europe and it is fitting that our pupils have the best of facilities,” he added. “One of my predecessors, Michael Mavor, came up with the idea of a Golf Academy at Loretto and what a wonderful idea that it was as this new facility can be traced back to that decision.”
In addition to being used by the pupils, wider access will also be made to Scottish national squads, as well as community groups locally. “Loretto School has really embraced golf,” observed Grey, referring to an 11-year sponsorship of one of Scotland’s leading junior events as well as its golf programme. “Golf is at the heart of the school and it shows. It is the premier golf school, not just in the UK but in Europe.”
Credit for that lies with Rick Valentine, who has been Loretto’s director of golf since the programme was launched and now has three fellow PGA professionals – Ryan Scott, Graham Mackay and Scott Smith – working alongside him. “The research for this project was done on colleges in America,” said Valentine, whose grandmother, Jessie Valentine, was a three-times British and six-times Scottish ladies’ champion. “We looked at how colleges in the colder regions in the States managed to keep their players ticking over through the winter. “
Julie Yang, now a professional based in the US, is probably Loretto’s best-known golfing product to date while the school’s former golf captain, Max Walz, is gearing up for a crack at the European Tour Qualifying School in a year’s time.