Martin Dempster: Why the ‘golfing family’ is something game can be proud of

You might have heard people talking occasionally about the “golfing family” and wondered if it actually exists. It certainly does, as I was reminded on Friday morning as I looked around me at the group of people standing in Tranent Cemetery bracing themselves, chittering to the bone in some cases, against the strong wind whipping eastwards.

Paul McGinley, right, led players and caddies at the funeral of Edinburgh Jimmy, left, in Tranent. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty

We were there to say farewell to one of the game’s great characters, James Rae, or, as he was affectionately known in golfing circles, “Edinburgh Jimmy”, and the mix of people who’d made that effort epitomised a sport that may have its faults but is second to none when it comes to creating friendships and bonds.

Paul McGinley, who broke the news of Rae’s death at the age of 64 at the start of the year, having had him at his side for a number of years and also his caddie master at the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, was there to pay his respects, taking one of the cords as Rae was laid to rest with a golf bag and flag at the back of his grave.

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Standing close to McGinley was Stephen Gallacher, one of the many players Rae had come across over the years and been entertained in the process, with tales from that Ryder Cup in Perthshire being regaled to the sound of laughter as the mourners made the short walk to the cemetery from Tranent Parish Church behind the hearse and a lone piper.

The players present also included Stephen McAllister, DJ Russell and Andrew Oldcorn, all of whom had come across Rae earlier in his career, before he started working for McGinley and also Ian Poulter, who, in his social media tribute, described his initial impression of Rae as the “most hard-nosed Scot I’d ever met” before coming to the conclusion he was the “most generous, kind-hearted person I have ever met”.

By all accounts, Rae’s bark was worse than his bite, which was why his caddying colleagues in particular turned out in force last week, with many of them making long journeys to say their farewell in person. Janet Squire, Damian Moore, Julian “Ferret” Phillips. “Scouse” Gary, “Mucker” Andy Forsyth, “DVD” John, Dave Kenny, Mick Donaghy. “Wee” Ritchie Blair, “Magic” Dave Johnston, Dermot Bryne, Brian Smallwood, Ray Latchford, Peter Probin, “Daft” Wayne, “Drumo”, Stephen Neilson and Greg Stanfield. Apologies if I have missed anyone or offended anyone, but they were all there.

Donaghy, who currently works for Tyrrell Hatton, was really feeling the cold, having just returned from a holiday in Thailand, but, as one of the characters in the current caddies’ corps, it was easy to see why he wanted to be there before getting back to work in this week’s WGC in Mexico.

Others in attendance included George Smillie, the starter at the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, who - and I don’t blame him - couldn’t resist the opportunity of injecting a touch of humour into our day by reminding me about my fresh air shot on the first tee at Muirfield at the media event for the 2013 Open.

With all that lot mixed in with his sister, Ina, and other members of the family, the golfing community certainly did itself proud in helping provide a fitting send off for a legendary figure on the European Tour, with no one in the game feeling a bigger void by his loss following a major stroke than McGinley.

“I think it is changing as the game becomes more global, but there is still very much a family there and Jimmy was very much part of that,” said McGinley. “The caddie fraternity was his family, as well as my family, having spent a lot of time with us down here in Sunningdale, and also his family up in Scotland .” Every family needs a “Mother Hen” and McGinley reckons it was fitting that Rae earned that nickname from one his closest friends, Ray “Latchie” Latchford. “Whether it was the black caddies coming from South Africa or the new kids coming through in Britain or Ireland, Jimmy was aware of everybody and you had to prove yourself to him,” he added.

From the very start of my career covering golf, it was exactly the same before I was warmly welcomed into the fold by the likes of Jock MacVicar, Alister Nicol, Ian Wood, Jack Robertson, Ian MacNiven, Norman Mair, Raymond Jacobs and Peter Donald in Scotland and Peter Corrigan, Colm Smith, Michael McDonnell and Michael Williams elsewhere.

My own “golfing family” has grown every single year and now includes members in all corners of the globe, having been brought together by this great game and sharing a passion for a sport that, for all that it has its shortcomings, can still play a big part in shaping life skills.