Obituary: Ian Marchbank, respected golf pro who was the face of Gleneagles

Former Gleneagles pro Ian Marchbank with Sean Connery
Former Gleneagles pro Ian Marchbank with Sean Connery
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Ian Marchbank, professional golfer. Born: 18 October, 1931. Died: 23 September, 2019 aged 87.

Ian Marchbank, who has died aged 87, was one of Scotland’s best known golf professionals as head pro at Gleneagles for more than 30 years, an outstanding ambassador for the game and considered a complete gentleman by all who came into contact with him. Although synonymous with Gleneagles he was also head pro at Turnberry for four years but it is the former with which he is most associated.

Ian Marchbank looks on as Bing Crosby checks his scorecard

Ian Marchbank looks on as Bing Crosby checks his scorecard

During his tenure he dealt with royalty, high-profile politicians, international businessmen, celebrities from the entertainment world, and many of the world’s top golfers as well as innumerable club golfers of varying degrees of ability. He treated everyone in exactly the same way, irrespective of station in life and extended the same respect, courtesy and attention to all. His professionalism allied to those characteristics meant he was extremely popular and well regarded throughout the world of golf.

Although a more than ­capable player himself who competed creditably in Scottish tournaments and several times in the Open, he never harboured ambitions of being a tournament pro but concentrated on becoming the ­consummate club pro. He did however enjoy playing in ­pro- ams abroad, particularly in the Bing Crosby at Pebble Beach when invited by Bing ­himself. An excellent teacher who kept things simple, he enjoyed introducing beginners to the game and encouraging their progress.

He was immensely proud of his position at Gleneagles and although he enjoyed ­Turnberry, he thought ­Gleneagles was “perfection”. In an interview for the book The Jewel in the Glen about the Ryder Cup being hosted there in 2014 he said: “Looking out my window from the pro shop behind the 1st tee on the King’s Course, I felt like the luckiest man in the world. Being pro there was something awful special.”

Indeed, as far back as 1971, with considerable foresight he suggested the Ryder Cup should be held there given the hotel’s popularity with American guests.

Undoubtedly he was the face of golf at Gleneagles and a highly effective unofficial ­public relations representative for the resort. He gave ­lessons to and played with many distinguished guests including Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, Prince Andrew, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Bruce Forsyth, Henry Cooper, Sean Connery, Mark McCormack of the IMG group and international banker Bruce Rappaport.

While at Turnberry he played with President Eisenhower and drove him round in a golf cart, having first been cleared by American security of any affiliation to Communism! He thought Eisenhower “a nicer man you could not wish to meet”.

Gleneagles was a magnet for many of the world’s top golfers, including Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Lee Trevino, who came to play the famous course and enjoy the hotel with their families.

He became very friendly with Player and Trevino, as did their families, and played regularly with both. He had enormous regard for Trevino’s improvisational talent, remembering how on one occasion on a par 3 hole he placed 14 balls on to the green using the 14 clubs in his bag including the putter.

Another time he responded to the American’s challenge of a putting match with a ­difference when Trevino used a Coke bottle to his claw ­hammer, an honourable half the outcome! However the player whose action most impressed him was American Byron Nelson whom he saw practising at Gleneagles in 1953 and thought was ­wonderful.

Ian Marchbank was born in Glasgow to parents John and Margaret née Crosbie and brought up in the Croftfoot area with sisters Betty and Margaret. The family house backed on to the King’s Park nine-hole course where his father took him to play as a youngster, planting the seeds of his lifelong love of the game.

He soon showed considerable potential and later captained his school golf team at Allan Glen’s. During his RAF National Service, he spent most of it near Manchester, his golfing ability leading to playing regular matches with officers and avoiding much “square bashing”. His mind was set on making a career in the game and once demobbed he became assistant pro to Jimmy McLeod at Hayston for about a year prior to joining Gleneagles as assistant to Jack McLean in 1952. In 1958 he moved to Turnberry as head pro,both courses then belonging to British Transport Hotels, and after four years returned to Gleneagles as head pro after McLean’s untimely death, thereby becoming its third professional following him and Gordon Lockhart.

In 1956, in Auchterarder, he married Ella Robertson whom he had met at a dance in the town’s Aytoun Hall and during a long and happy ­marriage they had three sons, Brian, ­Billy and Graeme.

They were a wonderful ­partnership, harmoniously sharing work and family responsibilities, and her death in 2013 was a big blow. All of their sons became involved in golf, Brian, a Walker Cup player and tournament pro out of Gleneagles, Billy who ­succeeded his father as pro and Graeme who was director of golf there.

Ian ‘retired’ in 1993 but continued as Golf Professional Emeritus till 1996, when retirement became obligatory at age 65. He spent a period as captain of the Scottish PGA and was later given the John Panton Award for his contribution to golf.

In retirement he played ­several times a week and enjoyed family life, especially with his grandchildren for whom nothing was too much trouble. A handyman, he enjoyed spending time fixing and building things in his workshop. His death has prompted many warm tributes on social media from a wide cross section of people whose lives and those of many others he impacted positively. He is survived by his sister Betty, his sons, and grandchildren Diane, Mark, Lauren, Cheryl, Jacob and Josh.

JACK DAVIDSON