Scotsman Obituaries: Willie Milne, golfer
Willie Milne was a richly talented Scottish golfer who excelled in the amateur ranks and enjoyed a successful career as a professional. Physically impressive at 6ft 3in and over 16 stones, he was a larger than life character who occasionally attracted unwanted headlines when younger but on his day was a superb player.
Precociously gifted and essentially self taught with a lovely smooth swing, he had a formidable amateur pedigree, initially representing both Scotland and Great Britain and Ireland at youth level before doing so as a senior, notably in 1973 in the Walker Cup against the USA where he distinguished himself by winning his two singles matches.
Turning professional shortly afterwards, Willie enjoyed almost immediate success at the Lusaka Open in Zambia followed by successive home victories in the Northern Open and high finishes elsewhere. In 1979 he was pipped to the French Open title by one stroke by fellow Scot Bernard Gallacher but had the satisfaction of leaving players of the calibre of Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Tony Jacklin and Gary Player in his wake. In the 1980s, by then essentially a club pro, he twice represented Great Britain in the PGA Cup against their US counterparts.
Willie held a number of club posts, one of the highlights being Director of Golf for four years at the exclusive Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle, Dornoch, from its early days in 1995, his input from both a personal and golfing perspective making a huge contribution to its success. There he met a German guest, Silvia, with whom he went on to enjoy a lifelong relationship, calling her “the love of his life”. They set up Golfglobal Limited, a successful golf travel business based in Munich where Willie resided from 2002 onwards.
William Torbet Gray Milne was the only child of William and Agnes and brought up in Drummond Street in the village of Muthill, near Crieff, where his father operated a newsagent’s business. Tragedy struck in December 1960 when Willie’s father was fatally injured in a road traffic accident.
After initially attending a local school, Willie moved to Morrison’s Academy, Crieff, where he showed ability at rugby and badminton. He claimed to have started golfing as a youngster “because there was nothing else to do”. Soon he demonstrated outstanding aptitude in his efforts to emulate hero Jack Nicklaus, supported in his endeavours by his devoted mother. After playing at Muthill, he joined Crieff Golf Club where he quickly made his mark, winning the club championship for four consecutive years from 1970 and setting a course record of 60, aged 20.
On leaving school Willie began surveying studies at college in Glasgow but soon golf became his main pursuit, facilitated by sponsorship from a benefactor which enabled him travel to Florida for warm weather practice.
A long straight hitter, he also had a surprisingly effective touch round the greens, given his physique, and by the age of 19 was off scratch while by 21 was the youngest “plus handicap” player in Scotland at plus 1.
After youth international representation and a 3rd place in the British Youths’ Championship, he was selected for Scotland as a senior in the 1972 Home Internationals, helping them retain the trophy. A year later he was the youngest member of the Scotland team in the European Amateur Team Championships in Penina, Portugal, where he recorded the equal best qualifying round before winning all his singles against Germany, Sweden and England, helping the team claim second place.
Later that year he was selected to play for Great Britain and Ireland in the prestigious Walker Cup at Brookline, Massachusetts. In one foursomes match, Willie and partner lost by 1 hole to future Open champion Bill Rogers and partner before going on to win both his singles, against Mark Pfeil, by 4 and 3 and Mike Killian, 2 and 1. He again played for Scotland that year in the Home Internationals, defeating future Ryder Cup player Irishman Des Smyth in their singles and foursomes ties.
Shortly after he turned professional, enjoying almost immediate success in 1974 in Zambia, including a lucrative “hole in one” prize, followed by two consecutive Northern Open wins, the first in a new Championship record, over Murcar, and the second in 1975, convincingly won at Nairn where he also secured second place in 1979. That same year he was a meritorious runner-up at the French Open at Lyon, while in 1980 he finished second to Sam Torrance in the Scottish Professional Championship.
After playing full time on the European tour, in 1980 he became principally a club pro. holding posts at Tayside Golf, Sand Martins, Berkshire, the Carnegie Club and the Carnoustie Hotel and Resort among others and was appointed Captain of the Scottish PGA in 1984. Club commitments permitting, he continued playing competitively and represented Britain in 1982 and ’86 in the PGA Cup against the USA in Tennessee and Illinois, remaining undefeated in singles. He also qualified for five Open Championships where he played practice rounds with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. And in 1999 Willie received unexpected acclaim when, in the Open at Carnoustie, he played the third round as a marker for Martyn Thompson, recording an excellent 76 in very testing conditions, better than many top players.
Over the past two decades Willie enjoyed travelling worldwide in connection with Golfglobal Ltd, organising bespoke golf experiences for an international clientele. A straight talking individual who treated everyone the same irrespective of status, he was a cheerful, warm-hearted and sociable fellow who lived a full life. He is survived by partner Silvia.
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