Obituary: Finlay Morrison, golfer

Finlay Morrison: Professional golfer who was still playing to a high standard well into his 90s. Picture: Denis Straughan
Finlay Morrison: Professional golfer who was still playing to a high standard well into his 90s. Picture: Denis Straughan
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Born: 7 October, 1914, in Kyles Scalpay, Isle of Harris Died: 21 August, 2015, in Edinburgh, aged 100

A well-known and popular Edinburgh-based professional golfer with strong links to the Outer Hebrides has passed away at a nursing home in the city at the age of 100.

Finlay Morrison played in the Open five times in a professional career that saw him tee off against some of the biggest names in the game.

He was born in Kyles Scalpay on the Isle of Harris in October 1914. His father, Kenneth, was a shepherd who worked abroad in Patagonia on four-year contracts, which explains the symmetry of his family.

Every time Kenneth came back to Harris he found he had fathered another child during his last trip home. Finlay was the youngest of a family of four, his siblings being four, eight and 12 years older than him.

His mother Catherine found the long absences hard going and when her husband came home as the First World War broke out she convinced him to take a job in Scotland.

Kenneth eventually secured work at the Rosyth dockyard and the family moved away from Harris to Burntisland in Fife when Finlay was three.

It was here that he and his brother Murdo first picked up a golf club. After school they earned some pocket money by caddying at the local club.

Finlay began to play the game seriously when he left school at 15 and he was soon displaying the talent that made him one of the best golfers of his generation.

By 1939 he was playing professionally but like so many other sport stars his career was stalled by the outbreak of the Second World War.

When the war ended in 1945 Morrison started as a greenkeeper/golf professional at Leuchars before moving to Glamorganshire GC in Wales. He moved back to Scotland as the resident pro in Elgin, moving east to Deeside after a few years and down to Braid Hills in the capital before settling at Bruntsfield Links, where he worked for 11 years until he retired in 1981.

A native Gaelic speaker, Morrison was very proud of the fact that this made him unique in the professional ranks.

His best result in competition was runner up in the Welsh Open in 1952, where he picked up a cheque for £80. In those days when most working men were taking home a single figure weekly pay packet this was significant prize money.

The list of professional golfers he befriended during his career reads like a Who’s Who of the game – Gary Player, Byron Nelson, John Panton, Eric Brown, Sam Torrance, Nick Faldo and VJ Singh among others.

When Morrison was in his early 90s he was a spectator at a Seniors tournament in Aberdeen which was won by Tom Watson. Another legend of the game, Gary Player, was on his way to the stage to pick up an award at the post-tournament dinner when he spotted Morrison sitting at one of the tables.

In front of hundreds of people and the television cameras he hailed his old friend and insisted that Morrison joined him on the stage. Player told the dinner guests: “This is a real legend of the game. Finlay Morrison is over 90 years old but he can still shoot under his age.”

In his 90s Morrison was regularly scoring in the low 80s in medals at Bruntsfield. Golfers will know how impressive this is.

After retiring, Morrison turned his hand to designing golf courses, including the stunning Isle of Harris course at Scarista on his native island.

A few years ago he told me: “I was at home in Harris around 1981 and someone asked me if I would help them redesign the course. I spent the next few weeks walking the machair with my clubs and suggested where they should put the tees and the greens.”

He added: “I met Nick Faldo recently and he told me he had played at Scarista. He said it is a beautiful course.”

During his career Morrison made hundreds of friends from all walks of life on the golf course. When the former Prime Minister Lady Thatcher came north with her husband, Sir Denis would often play a round at Bruntsfield Links. His first choice of companion was always Morrison. One of his friends at the club, Calum MacLeod from the Isle of Lewis, said: “We all found this highly amusing. Morrison was probably the only socialist at this club.”

In 2009 Morrison was given the inaugural John Panton Lifetime Achievement award by the PGA to recognise his services to the game. At the age of 95 he delivered a word perfect speech to an audience of more than 600 people in a Glasgow hotel, including Peter Aliss and Paul Lawrie.

Morrison lost his wife Mary a few years before he retired and the clubhouse at Bruntsfield became his second home. He drove to the club to meet his friends six days a week until he was 97 and his status among members is clear from the specially commissioned portrait of him that hangs in the men’s locker room.

David Sandford, who was secretary at Bruntsfield Links between 1995 and 2012, said: “Finlay was an outstanding gentleman who enhanced the lives of all of the members with his charm and humour. He was an extraordinary man who lived a very full life.”

Morrison remained true to his Gaelic and religious upbringing. Every Sunday he joined worshippers at the Gaelic service in Greyfriars Kirk in central Edinburgh, where he will also be fondly remembered. Finlay Morrison is survived by his daughter Catherine and son Kenneth, two granddaughters, Katrine and Sara and three great-grandchildren, Breagha, Anders and Mikel.

His funeral takes place at 3pm today at Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh.