Obituary: Billy McCondichie, professional with Hilton Park Golf Club for more than half a century

Billy McCondichie, golfer. Born: 22 July 1940. Died4 13 November, 2017, aged 77

Billy McCondichie

Billy McCondichie was one of the best known figures in the world of Scottish golf and beyond over the past 60 or so years. His name will always be associated with Hilton Park Golf Club at Bearsden where he was a professional for 51 years. On 10 June 1955, aged 14, he turned professional as assistant to his father Jimmy, who had been the club’s professional for about 25 years. When his father retired in 1972, Billy replaced him as senior pro, continuing in that capacity until 2006. Between them they contributed almost a century of service to the club, a remarkable statistic. A promising tournament player as a youngster, he came to public notice when as a 17 year old he posted an excellent first round score in the 1958 0pen Qualifying at Lytham. The following year he won the Scottish Assistant Professionals’ Championship at Pollok, a competition which over the next decade would feature winners of the calibre of Bobby Walker, David Huish and Ryder Cup player Norman Wood. In 1962 he was finalist in the West of Scotland match play championship and a year later won the Glasgow and District Professional title, succeeding the renowned Eric Brown as champion.

Although he competed creditably for a number of years throughout Britain, Europe and South Africa, rubbing shoulders with some of the “greats” of the game, it is fair to say he never fulfilled his early promise, largely due to being afflicted by the putting “yips”. Several times he was in contention in tournaments going into the final day only to suffer from their onset bedevilling his prospects. On one occasion at Carnoustie, when in a strong position on the 17thth hole in the final round of a competition, he knocked his putt clean off the green and required a wedge for his next shot. Despite these difficulties, he had an ongoing love affair with the Open Championship, in whose qualifying competition he took part for over 20 years, where he also particularly enjoyed the Bollinger tent. There players, sponsors, journalists, caddies and officials would congregate and as a sociable individual, affectionately referred to sometimes as “Champagne Billy”, he was in his element in what he liked to refer to as his “office”. An accomplished networker before the term had been recognised, he became extremely well connected and was on good terms with many of the sport’s celebrities of his time including Tony Jacklin, Peter Alliss, Gary Player, John Panton, Norman Von Nida, John Panton, Harry Weetman and others. He was also close to many Scottish professionals, including Brian Anderson, John Stark and Bob Jamieson.

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Before his father became a golf professional, he was a mechanical engineer and on securing the Hilton Park post, he and his wife moved from Garnethill to live in Bearsden where Billy was brought up and attended the local Academy. From an early age he was steeped in the game, encouraged by his father, who had been a good enough player to win the Scottish Professionals’ Championship in 1947. A trip to Carnoustie in 1953 to watch the legendary Ben Hogan win the Open left a big impression on him and he remembered admiring the tempo of the American’s swing and being surprised at how small he was. It further fired his ambition to become a professional golfer and when the opportunity arose to join his father as assistant, he seized it.

As time went on he reduced his tournament appearances to concentrate on his club duties. As a businessman he was astute, which helped him establish a highly successful shop offering a range of quality services to an appreciative membership. During his tenure, he also trained about 30 assistants who qualified as PGA professionals and went on to establish themselves in posts here and in Europe. He was particularly well regarded for this aspect of his work, which was considered almost a form of quality assurance from the perspective of potential employers. On his retiral in 2006 he was awarded the prestigious honour of an Honorary Membership of the PGA, partly because of this outstanding aspect of his work as well as his exemplary record as a long standing professional.

A talented general sportsman, Billy was an expert clay pigeon shot and entertained hopes of selection for Scotland in the 1986 Commonwealth Games. He shot regularly with Sir Jackie Stewart, who became a close personal friend and who visited him shortly before he died of recurring cancer. First diagnosed ten years ago he was advised his life expectancy was short. Through a combination of fierce personal determination and excellent medical support he defied the odds to survive till recently. During that time he was an avid supporter of cancer charities, especially Friends of The Beatson, organising many fundraising functions including golf pro-ams and in 2013 was awarded the PGA. Scottish regional prize for his charitable activities.

In 1984 Billy married Jean Ferguson, former wife of footballer Jim Baxter, and they enjoyed many years of happy marriage during which he was an excellent stepfather to Alan and Stephen.

He was a big character with a big appetite for life. A gregarious individual with an excellent sense of humour, he was a bon viveur who enjoyed good food and fine wine and was always a generous host.

He is survived by his wife, stepsons and sister Joyce.

JACK DAVIDSON