Obituary: Elliot Rowan, Golf professional

Elliot Rowan, golf professional coached and enjoyed course and club design. Picture: Contributed
Elliot Rowan, golf professional coached and enjoyed course and club design. Picture: Contributed
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Born: 20 March 1931. Died: 23 February 2016, aged 84.

Elliot Rowan who has died aged 84 was a highly acclaimed and extremely successful golf coach for over 50 years during which time pupils of his won more than 50 major amateur titles and counted Walker Cup,Curtis Cup and European Tour players among their number.

He was mens’ Scottish National coach for ten years, seven for ladies, and those whom he assisted at various times reads like a ‘who’s who’ of Scottish golf-Belle Robertson, Bernard Gallacher, Sam Torrance, Russell Weir, Ewen Murray, John Chillas,Ross Drummond, Iain Carslaw, Callum Macaulay among many others.

He also enjoyed considerable coaching success on the continent while head professional for about 20 years at clubs in Holland and Germany. A comprehensive knowledge of the intricacies of the golf swing acquired over a lifetime’s enthusiastic and persistent study allied to his calm,patient and encouraging manner provided the foundations for his outstanding teaching success. While celebrated for his work with the elite he also derived much satisfaction coaching the less gifted and enjoyed involvement in course design and club design.

Elliot was born in Old Kilpatrick, Dunbartonshire, the only child of Bill and Jean.Brought up in Hardgate near Clydebank, he attended sixteen schools because of the wartime blitz and evacuations.Despite that disruption he did well at school and on leaving undertook an engineering apprenticeship at the Singer sewing machine factory in Clydebank where his father was a machinist.

He soon demonstrated aptitude, excelling at technical and freehand drawing,and qualified as a mechanical engineer and design fitter.

He first became involved in golf aged about eight when he accompanied his uncle Bob over Clydebank and District golf course,known locally as ‘the Hardgate.’ Encouraged by his uncle to play occasional shots,he began playing regularly and the game developed into his passion,one that would last a lifetime.

He had an unquenchable desire to learn all about technique and avidly read books on the subject. By his late teens he was playing off scratch and aged 22 won the ‘Hardgate’ club championship,a success that earned him ‘the prize’ of caddying for Bobby Locke when he played an exhibition there. His thirst for knowledge saw him watch Ben Hogan’s every shot as he won the Open at Carnoustie in 1953 and share meals with Hogan’s caddie as he picked his brains about his employer.For Elliot,Hogan was the greatest ever and the inspiration in his own career.

After nine years with Singer,Elliot decided to give up his well paid job and become a golf professional. His first post was as assistant to John Jacobs at Sandy Lodge, resulting in a 90% reduction in wages. That was a sacrifice he was happy to make to attach himself to the man considered by far the country’s best teacher. During his two years there he learned a lot and immersed himself in the game. When a vacancy arose for a head professional at Noordwijk in Holland Elliot successfully applied for it and began his continental odyssey.There followed spells as head pro in Germany at Krefeld and Dusseldorf where he also oversaw the design and construction of a new course. While in Germany he coached five national champions including Germany’s 1965 Sportswoman of the Year Marian Peterson. Although he had little time for his own game, most summers he played in the various continental Opens and in 1959 played in the Open at Muirfield.

Then it was back to Scotland to take up an appointment as head pro at the Douglas Park club at Bearsden before joining the Billingham club in Teesside in the same capacity. That was followed by another spell in Germany as head pro to the Berlin and Munich clubs finally coming back here in the early ‘80’s to Carnoustie. There he coached freelance till 1989 when he moved to St Andrews to continue in the same vein. From the early ‘90’s to 2012 he was teaching pro attached to St Leonard’s School golf programme where according to the school’s former director of sport, June Caithness, “He was a fabulous coach. With the children he was wonderful,he related well to them,had infinite patience and was very encouraging.”

Elliot brought to teaching his understanding of biomechanics and efficiency of motion that had been developed by his engineering qualification and imparted that information in a lucid and comprehensible manner.

Golf for him was a passion and he thoroughly enjoyed helping players at all levels. He constantly made notes as ideas occurred to him and wrote three coaching manuscripts ,with forewords by Bernard Gallacher,Belle Robertson and Sandy Sinclair.

In recognition of his contribution to the sport and the high regard in which he was held, Elliot was made an honorary member of the PGA in 1996,reflecting his status as a ‘pro’s pro’.Despite his accomplishment he was very modest. A principled and very engaging gent, he was a Sinatra fan and enjoyed quoting,’Sing like Sinatra and swing like Hogan.’ He remained actively involved in coaching till relatively recently and is survived by son Lyall and daughter Lindsay.