RENTON Laidlaw is glad he stuck to his guns after being advised by an old headmaster to give up on his dream of becoming a journalist and take the “safer” option of banking.
Nearly 60 years on, his career covering golf has seen him earn lifetime achievement awards from both the PGA and PGA of America.
Last week, Laidlaw also became the first non-American golf writer to cover The Masters for 40 years, joining an exclusive club.
Edinburgh-born Laidlaw started out as a copytaker on the Pink News before becoming the golf reporter for the Evening News.
After a spell in television, first with STV then Grampian TV and, finally, the BBC as its news anchor in Edinburgh, he returned to the golf beat with the London Evening Standard.
He then started to combine television and radio assignments on weekends and for 15 years he was BBC Radio’s golf correspondent.
A move to full-time broadcasting followed with British Satellite Broadcasting, which was taken over by Sky TV, and these days Laidlaw’s dulcet tones can be heard on The Golf Channel.
His career has taken him around the globe more than once but he still cherishes those humble beginnings in his home city.
“I didn’t start as a tea boy – I was a rung up from that,” he said, laughing. “I was working for the News as a copytaker when I was just 13 or 14.
“I used to do the results for the Pink News and we had a good team as the other member was Arnold Kemp, who went on to become editor of The Herald.
“When I was at Daniel Stewart’s College, the headmaster asked me what I wanted to do and I said I wanted to become a journalist.
“His reaction was to say, ‘why don’t you go and think about that as it would be safer to become a banker or work for an insurance company’.
“About three weeks later he asked again and I said that I hadn’t changed my mind. He then played a part in me being offered a job on The Scotsman, but I opted to start on the News as I knew the people in the office so it made sense to do that.”
In 1962, five years after starting as a junior reporter, Laidlaw was pulled aside by Jock Robertson, the paper’s sports editor at the time.
“He asked if I’d like to become the golf reporter,” added Laidlaw. “He also asked if I wanted to cover the rugby as well but I told him football was more my game.
“When he asked if I was ready to start, I was expecting him to say it would be the following week but he said, ‘get your coat as we are going down to Prestonfield for an East of Scotland Alliance event.
“He told me to ask for the secretary as he’d look after me and my first writing assignment was to file 150 words at 12.15 that day.
“At one stage I was the youngest golf reporter in Scotland and Frank Moran of The Scotsman was the oldest.
“It was a very special stage in my career. I was lucky. There was Ronnie Shade, who won five Scottish Amateur titles in a row. Then, when he turned pro, a chap came along called Bernard Gallacher. He’d phone me every Monday morning, saying ‘Renton, I’ve broken another course record’.
“We’ve stayed friends to this day and it’s great to have come through my whole career being close to so many people.”
One of Laidlaw’s favourite events to cover was the Dispatch Trophy at the Braids.
But it was down to the team tournament that he missed out on being at Carnoustie when Shade played South African Bobby Cole in the final of the British Amateur Championship in 1966.
“It was reduced to 18 holes because of fog,” he recalled. “If it had been played over 36 holes I think Ronnie would have won instead of losing 3 and 2.
“However, I couldn’t go as I was told no-one else could cover the Dispatch Trophy as it was so complicated due to it being a double foursome event – a terrific one, too.”
Laidlaw, who lives these days at Drumoig, near St Andrews, but also has a house at Sunningdale in Berkshire, has covered 15 Ryder Cups, 132 majors and now 40 Masters.
“That is regarded as being special at Augusta and I’m also the first European to achieve the feat,” he said.
Laidlaw’s own golf career started at Lothianburn before moving to Dalmahoy and then to Royal Burgess. He is also a member of the R&A, Wentworth and Sunningdale as well as being an honorary member of Ballybunion.
He never managed to get his handicap lower than 12 but enjoyed playing with some of the game’s greatest players, including Seve Ballesteros.
“I consider myself very lucky,” said the long-time secretary and now president of the Association of Golf Writers.
He is also editor of the R&A’s Golfer’s Handbook, which is considered ‘The Golfer’s Bible’ by many golf writers.
In July, The Open returns to Muirfield, where Laidlaw covered the event for the first time in 1959 and has watched it grow and the game in general, too.
“I think that everyone in Europe has benefited from the tremendous working relationship between the golf writers and the various ruling bodies over the past 25 years,” he said.
“Because of the close co-operation, the working conditions for journalists covering golf are superb and that helps us all cover the game to the very best of our ability.”
Few have done it with more ability over the years than Renton Laidlaw.