In my long years travelling the world reporting on golf, there have been just a handful of those I first looked up to who I can say really went out of their way to make me feel so welcome. One of those sadly passed away early on Tuesday evening.
The Association of Golf Writers were fortunate to be teeing-up at Delamere Forest and also Royal Liverpool in our final two matches of an extended Covid-19 affected 2020/21 AGW ‘Race to Hoylake’ golfing season.
One person was on the lips of those near 20 members who travelled to tee-up and that was Renton Laidlaw. Renton had been known to be ill but it came as a shock on Saturday to learn he had been rushed to Ninewells Hospital in Dundee. Renton was in our thoughts for a golfing reason given as for the first time in AGW history, arrangements had been made to have all six AGW golf trophies present for a photograph ahead of teeing-up at Hoylake. One of the trophies was the now two-year old Renton Laidlaw Quaich.
Since 1986, the Association had been playing for the Presidents Putter, won initially by Scotland’s legendary Malcolm Campbell, who was present for our two golf outings. Malcolm is now retired after a highly-distinguished career in golf reporting. In May 2020, he had the honour of hitting the ceremonial opening tee-shot at Dumbarnie Links just a short distance from his Lower Largo home in Fife.
The President’s Putter is a cumbersome, long wooden item and when the Daily Mirror’s Neil McLeman, as defending champion, arrived with it at Portstewart Golf Club in 2019 and spoke of the drama he had getting the trophy onto his EasyJet flight to Belfast, it was agreed the time had come to arrange a new more ‘manageable’ trophy.
As Secretary of the Association, I proudly say it was my initiative to begin staging AGW golf events in Ireland given so many members were Irish-born and were missing out on AGW competition. We did that firstly with the hosting in 2015 at Kilkeel Golf Club of the Michael Williams Hogget.
In planning for a new trophy, I immediately thought of Renton and though his body was failing him, his mind remained razor sharp as no sooner had I suggested if he’d be agreeable to the AGW using his name on a new trophy and Renton demanded, and ever so politely, that he pay for the new trophy along with the costs of reproducing onto the new trophy, to be named ‘The Renton Laidlaw Quaich’, all those names from 1986 to 2019 who had won the Presidents Putter. Such was Renton’s nature. He didn’t mention the cost and all he sought was it be a quaich and so at Kingsbarns Links in late 2020, the AGW celebrated the opportunity to tee-up in the 20th anniversary year of Kingsbarns Links for the inaugural hosting of ‘The Renton Laidlaw Quaich’.
Unfortunately, Renton was not fit enough to travel from his home in Drumoig to Kingsbarns Links.
I first got to know Renton when I began to get into golf in the early-1990s. Renton would travel out to Australia at the end each year to report on the then ‘Big-3’ in Australian golf – the Australian Open, Australian PGA and Australian Masters. In contrast, I was returning home to Sydney every year after months on end plying the European Tour so our paths naturally crossed, and the more we would ‘bump’ into each other, the more I got to know him. It even got to the stage when Renton would actually welcome me home to Australia, and this from a Scot.
Of course, Renton held legendary golf status whereas I was on the bottom rung and still somewhat finding my feet. I was still a decade away from joining the AGW and that was in 2002. Renton had already served as AGW Secretary and then AGW Chairman before I joined the ranks and was then appointed as President in 2004, two years after I became a member.
The last time I saw Renton in person was when he invited Martin Dempster, as Chairman of the AGW, and myself as Secretary, to lunch in Edinburgh nearly two-years ago on the 30th October, 2019.
In becoming Secretary in mid-2014, I ‘inherited’ around 10 fully laden cardboard boxes of AGW records, files, photographs and what have you that are currently in storage in Dundee. However, before placing them into storage, I spent time looking over the files and what struck me was the vast amount of letters, copies of other forms of correspondence and the great amount of the papers bearing Renton’s name and/or signature.
Of course, in those days everything had to be mailed but the volume of time he must have spent writing out letters, posting the letters and then following-up with ‘thank you’ notes or whatever made me wonder how he ever managed to undertake his own reporting duties.
Renton acted as AGW Secretary from 1978 to 1995 and did he go out of his way to make me feel welcome in the new role. Again, a tribute to his ‘going out of his way’ nature.
Some of the best times with Renton were recently. Accepting his offer to join him for lunch in Edinburgh, working with him on a new AGW golf trophy, arranging for he and his beloved sister, Jennifer to be present at our 2018 AGW annual dinner in the week of The Open at Carnoustie, and that night seeing how much Ernie Els and his wife Leizel were delighted to be present given Ernie and his then girlfriend had been guests at Renton’s Sunningdale house when Ernie first began playing on the European Tour.
From those times in the early 1990s to late 2019 when I last saw Renton in person, he never changed. Yes, his then 80-year body looked very fragile but his mind remained strong and that welcoming manner I had first encountered as a somewhat ‘still wet behind the ears’ young golf reporter trying to find my way in Europe, was just as warm and friendly as it had been all of 30-years or more ago.
The AGW has lost three former Presidents since April with the passing of Jock MacVicar, Goran Zachrisson and now Renton Laidlaw. All I can say is what a golf-writing threesome now playing the fairways in heaven.