Obituary: George Grant, golf steward

George Grant'.
George Grant'.
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George Grant, plasterer, golf steward and footballer
Born: 12 October, 1933, in Strathkinnes, Fife.
Died: 21 January, 2016, in 
St Andrews, aged 82.

For a man whose “religion” for most of his life was golf, it seemed only fitting that his death should make history at the club.

Ever since he had first bicycled to the course, with his putter or driver tied to the crossbar, it was the place George Grant could inevitably be found.

In time the young plasterer became club captain and then a hotel golf steward and golf tour organiser, roles that brought him into the sphere inhabited by the rich and famous, from Jack Nicklaus to Sean Connery and Prince Rainier of Monaco.

When it came to his funeral his only choice of venue was “the club”. What was slightly more surprising was that the club in question was St Andrews and the ceremony took place overlooking the 18th green of the hallowed turf of the Old Course, the world’s most iconic course, and was reportedly the first funeral to have been held there.

Yet for Grant the game was not his first sporting option: as a young man, brought up in Strathkinnes and educated at St Andrews’ Madras College, he had played rugby for the school and football for several local teams including Kemback and St Andrews Swifts. Then there was a spell as a professional footballer with Dundee United.

But in those days the lot of a footballer was not the high-rolling lifestyle that today’s sportsmen enjoy and in the post-war era of the 1950s he decided his future lay in the more secure field of the burgeoning housebuilding sector. He trained as a plasterer, serving his apprenticeship with Hutton of Ladybank in St Andrews and worked for a number of local companies in the construction trade.

On his many journeys into St Andrews he met his future wife Jean, a “clippie” on the buses and they married in 1955, later settling down in the town’s Lamond Drive. Around this time he took up golf and, after being taught to drive by a fellow golf club member, he traded his bike for a Mini Traveller, meaning he could now practise with a whole set of clubs. He became vice-captain of St Andrews Golf Club in 1976 and then captain two years later when he had the distinction of awarding golfing legend Jack Nicklaus honorary membership during the 1978 Open Championship.

Meanwhile he continued to work in the plastering trade, mainly on building sites and latterly for Bett Brothers. After the firm was awarded the maintenance contract for RAF Leuchars his duties included taking part in exercises at the base when he was regularly “shot” and evacuated to the field hospital, aka the canteen.

When the decades of heavy manual work took its toll he left the trade. He was in his early 50s and had had his first hip replacement. When he decided to look for lighter work and a position as golf steward at the Old Course Hotel came up, his passion for the sport made him an ideal candidate. It also gave him the opportunity to combine business and pleasure.

Subsequent promotion to chief golf steward provided the chance to meet and greet golfers and celebrities from all over the world including foreign and acting royalty, performer Bruce Forsyth and the many golfing greats such as Peter Allis and Gary Player.

His job was to ensure they got their tee time on the Old Course and it was a role he relished until company rules dictated he retire at 65. He wasn’t ready to stop working altogether and fortunately an American company, recognising his wealth of experience and knowledge, offered to make him their Scottish representative.

A new career followed, organising golf tours throughout Scotland and Ireland for wealthy American clients. Again he was in his element, ensuring he made their stay here as memorable as possible. The flexibility also meant he could spend more time with family, particularly his grandsons Grant and William who he would take fishing.

Diagnosed with prostate cancer in his 70s he refused to bow to the disease and, with treatment, enjoyed many more years before it finally won the battle, though not before he had made clear where he wished to receive his send-off.

“It may seem a strange venue to some, however dad wasn’t a deeply religious man. His passion, his religion, was golf and his last wish was that we hold everything ‘at the club’”, said his son Bill.

And even as he set off on his final journey his father remained in sight of the greens, driven along Grannie Clark’s Wynd after being piped from the club to the strains of Amazing Grace.

Predeceased by his wife Jean, he is survived by their children daughter Frances, sons Bill and David, two grandsons and his sister Ann.