Boy wonders: Past Scottish Boys’ Championship players explain why the event was like their ‘major’

A rite of spring and a rite of passage as a golf-mad youngster growing up in Scotland… Andrew Cotter’s perfect summing up of the Scottish Boys’ Championship, an event he played in as he cut his golfing teeth growing up in Troon.

2009 Scottish Boys' champion David Law holds the trophy with Paul Lawrie.

“It was a spring date set in the diary which carried me through long Ayrshire winters,” recalled Cotter, pictured below, now one of the most recognisable voices in sports broadcasting. “As the days finally started to lengthen, there was excitement at the season starting. The Masters on TV and playing in the Scottish Boys.”

First held in 1935, the Scottish Boys secured a place in the hearts of thousands of competitors over the years in that spring slot, though, admittedly, the weather often still felt winter-like at North Berwick and Dunbar, the two venues until 1979, then West Kilbride, Royal Aberdeen, Murcar, Southerness and Monifieth as well.

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“Winning the Scottish Boys at the time for me was like Tiger Woods winning a major!” declared Blairgowrie’s Bradley Neil of his 2013 title triumph at Monifieth. “It gave me confidence in what I was doing as a player and how I was growing.”

Others tell similar tales. “It meant the world to me as a young lad from Edinburgh and the championship just down the road at North Berwick,” said Sky Sports golf commentator Ewen Murray, a pupil at Currie High School at the time, of his 1971 success. “The year before, I had lost the final of the British Boys at Hillside after being one up and two to play.”

Five years after being taken by his dad, Ian, to watch Murray prevail on the East Lothian coast, Brian Marchbank emerged victorious in the event’s first staging at Dunbar. “I was fortunate that I came from a serious golfing background, so it was always on my radar,” admitted Marchbank, an Auchterarder member.

His victory was bitter-sweet. “The guy I beat in the final was a really good friend of mine, John Cuddihy from West Lothian,” added Marchbank, who was the British Boys’ champion at the time, having beaten Sandy Lyle in the final to claim that title the previous August. “That was the third consecutive final he’d lost. I desperately wanted to win it but, at the same time, I felt for John.”

Forres Academy pupil Hugh Stuart said he didn’t recall being “over excited” when he sprung a surprise in the 1959 final. “I played Bobby Walker,” he recalled of that event. “Cyril Horne wrote after the semi-finals: ‘We are all left wondering what Walker’s winning margin will be’. After the final, the Sunday Post headline read: Drive for show, putt for dough.” Slow play clearly wasn’t a problem back then. “We took just two hours and ten mins for the first 18 and four hours in total for 34 holes,” added Stuart in recalling his 3&2 win.

Andrew Coltart, who went on to become a European Tour winner and Ryder Cup player, was flying the flag for Thornhill when he triumphed in 1987. “I’d been trying for three years previously to no avail, so it meant everything,” he said. “I remember a good battle with Stuart Bannerman in the final and I also remember eating the same dinner of beef curry and boiled rice each night. Not because I was superstitious but because it was bloody good!”

Alan Tait’s triumph the previous year came in a memorable weekend for golf. “The Scottish Boys was sponsored by STV at the time and the late great Arthur Montford commentated on the final which was shown on Sunday Scotsport the following day,” recalled the Irvine Bogside man. “That night I then sat in my pyjamas watching my all- time hero Jack Nicklaus win The Masters for the sixth time aged 46. It was certainly a 48 hours to remember.”

Other former winners include Duncan Weir, who is better known in golfing circles these days as the R&A’s executive director of Golf Development and Amateur Events. “It meant the world to me and, on reflection, gave me the opportunity to play US college golf, which led to working in golf for my entire career,” said the Burntisland boy of his 1979 victory.

Twelve months earlier, Winterfield’s John Huggan was crowned as champion. “It meant a week off work,” he recalled of his job with the Royal Bank of Scotland at the time in Edinburgh city centre. Like many champions, he survived a scare en route to glory. “I remember John King missing from two feet on the 19th green in, I think, the fourth round. Had he made it, I was out,” added Huggan.

While it just wasn’t to be for the aforementioned Cuddihy, Inverallochy’s Steven Young claimed three successive title triumphs from 1993 while Scott Henry won back-to-back in 2004 and 2005. “The first time I won at Southerness, I can remember doing everything I could to be ready for whatever was going to happen that week,” recalled Henry,
a Cardross member at the time. “I actually played some of the best golf of my career without even thinking too much about things. My main memory was how proud my dad was of me. I could see in his face how impressed he was and that he was proud of how I handled myself as, at times, my temper had held me back before.”

Stewart Whiteford heaved a huge sigh of relief after the Lundin player
landed the title in 1996. “My opponent in the final was my great friend, Fraser McLaughlan. I was, I think, six up with nine holes to play and coasting when my mind started to wander towards the winner’s speech. There is nothing more terrifying for a junior than making a speech!” he said.

“Anyway, five holes later, Fraser holed a birdie putt, punched the air and there was a roar from the quite sizeable crowd. Suddenly, I was only two up with four to play. I remember getting quite a fright but managed to knuckle down to win at the 16th.” Like Marchbank, David Law landed
his win in his last year of eligibility. Recalling that 2009 success representing Hazlehead, the European Tour winner said: “I was very aware of it for a few years with the way the rotation system the SGU used to work. I was the top seed that week, too, and being able to deal with the added pressure I’d put on myself with it being a home week, I took so much confidence for being able to see it through and win.”

It was a mixed bag of weather at West Kilbride when Craigielaw’s Grant 
Forrest became champion in 2010. “I remember the weather at the beginning of the week being horrendous,” he recalled. Stuff we wouldn’t even consider playing in now, but thankfully it doesn’t really matter when it’s matchplay. Then it was glorious sunshine for the whole day of the final. I enjoyed it, just going head-to-head against one other guy every round.”

The event, of course, no longer 
occupies that spring slot, having been moved by Scottish Golf to the summer, effectively switching with the boys’ stroke-play tournament, as part of 
an overhaul of the domestic schedule.
“I’m a little disappointed they’ve 
moved the date as I think that was 
part of the beauty of the event,” said Law.

Forrest said the switch was a “shame”, adding: “Having the slot in April gave the event a special feel. It was like the first major of the year for us. It gave it more attention. I remember the scores had their own dedicated page in 
the papers every day which was really cool. When you’re just a young lad, seeing your name in the paper was quite a big deal.”

And not just for winners. “Unfortunately, the months of eager anticipation usually lasted far longer than my actual involvement in the championship,” said Cotter. “By Monday or Tuesday, I was heading home from either Dunbar or West Kilbride. In my defence, I did take Scottish internationals and future Walker Cuppers to the 18th hole and sudden-death defeats before one glorious run to the fourth round. But, win or lose, it was always special.” Hear, hear.