RIP Dave “Scoop” Birtill
Updated: Jan 17
Many of you reading this have probably never heard of Dave Birtill, who has died at the age of 79. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who shed a tear on hearing of his passing. Bet there were quite a few players doing the same.
Dave is worth shedding a tear for.
He was the PGA North Region press officer for over 30 years. There wasn’t anything Dave didn’t know about golf in the North West of England.
As the Lancashire Region of Golf Clubs website reported, Dave began his newspaper career at the Chorley Guardian. He was a reporter and sub-editor at the Lancashire Telegraph in the mid-60s before moving to the Wigan Evening Post and Chronicle. He later worked in Manchester for the Daily Telegraph, Daily Mirror, Daily Star, Sunday People and Sunday Express.
He took up golf writing in the 1980s and worked for trade magazines before joining the Manchester Evening News sports desk as a sub in 1999. After retiring in 2006, he continued to write extensively from his home in Chorley, contributing to magazines such as PGA Professional and English Club Golfer.
Regional newspapers have become, well, paper thin in recent years thanks to the advent of the internet. That’s if they even exist anymore. I remember when they were invaluable sources of local information. Including information on rising golf stars.
Dave knew his beat, everyone in his beat, players and officials alike, and he covered it brilliantly. As 1989 European Open winner Andrew Murray tweeted, some called him “'scoop, coz he always was 1st to know 'stuff.’”
Nothing got past Dave. He was a treasure trove of information. Many a time at an Open Championship I would tap him on the shoulder and ask him about a player from his beat, and he would gladly rhyme off everything I needed to know.
I covered my first Lytham Trophy in 2002 when England’s Lee Corfield won the prestigious title. Dave had been covering the Lytham for 20 years by the time I turned up. In those days, there would be at least five, maybe six, golf writers covering the Lytham, one of the four British Amateur majors along with the Amateur Championship, the Links Trophy and the Brabazon Trophy. Needless to say, Dave’s knowledge of the tournament was invaluable, and he was generous in sharing it with us. He didn’t take himself too seriously either, and loved a good laugh and a joke. We had some fun times at the Lytham back in the day.
Those were the days when amateur and regional golf got the coverage it deserved. Dave covered the North West of England, Dave Hamilton the South East, Bob Davies the Midlands and the late Peter Godsiff the South West for English Club Golfer. Alan Booth covered Hertfordshire, Alan Hedley the North East of England.
Nowadays the Lytham Trophy is probably lucky if one journalist turns up, and regional golf newspapers no longer have the funds to pay for golf coverage.
Whisper it, but some national newspaper golf writers perhaps looked down their noses at their regional peers. Yet the regional newspaper writers were just as valuable a source of information as the national newspaper writers, perhaps more so because these were the golf writers who knew the stars before they were the stars.
Every future Tour player who came out of the North West of England would have met Dave at some point, been interviewed by him. They’d have received column inches in regional newspapers as a result. They perhaps found it easier to get sponsorship deals because of the coverage Dave gave them.
You only had to read the tributes from the likes of Murray, Lora Fairclough, Paul Eales and many more to know not only the esteem in which Dave was held, but how many lives he touched in his career.
He certainly touched my life and helped my career. I’m forever indebted to him. He was a diamond of a guy the like of which, sadly, we’ll probably never see again. RIP Dave.
#JustSaying: “The professional golf watcher never catches the action. I could write a volume on Great Moments in Golf I Have Missed.” Peter Dobereiner