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  • Alistair Tait

Thank you for my career Bill Robertson. R.I.P.

I don’t know what Bill Robertson saw in me in 1988 when he took me on as an assistant editor for Today’s Golfer magazine. But his decision changed my life, gave me a career in the game we both loved.

Maybe that’s why Bill’s death hit me so hard yesterday, why the tears have been flowing intermittently since I got the news. I’ve never liked the word “gutted,” but that’s how I felt when I heard of Bill’s passing. I’d just finished a round of golf at Woburn and looked at my phone to see the email headline that told me my mentor had passed away.

It was hard news to take. Still is.

Those early days on Today’s Golfer with Bill, Dave Clarke, Paul Crawford, Lauren St John and Pat Toye filled my thoughts yesterday. They were heady, brilliant, exciting, often stressful times. How the six of us, led by Bill, somehow managed to get a new magazine out the door every month on time and on schedule still baffles me.

I've never met anyone in the game with more ideas than Bill. He had this little cubicle of an office while the five us operated in what was basically a glorified cupboard. Bill would constantly come out of his office with yet another idea for a feature or a column or series.

Bill Elliott was a columnist for TG in those days. In his fitting tribute to Bill on the Association of Golf Writers website, he writes:

“He was full of ideas and enthusiasm and possessed a gentle determination and ambition that never left him. Most of all he had a clear idea about what he wanted and knew how to drive it forward while carefully listening to what you had to say about this or that project.”

As someone in the inner circle I can relate to the “enthusiasm” part of the sentence, I’m just not sure about the “clear idea” bit. Bill had tons of ideas, but sometimes we were never clear about how to see those ideas through to the printed page. He had so many ideas that I wondered how we’d fit them all into the magazine. Thankfully that duty was left to Clarkie.

In his excellent tribute to Bill on the Association of Golf Writers website, former Today's Golfer colleague Martin Vousden relays a time when Bill reminds him just how lucky he is to be writing about golf for a living.

“Don’t ever take this sort of thing for granted,” Bill said

Bill never took the game for granted. He loved it, and knew it inside and out. He could play too. He's pictured above, on the right, taking lessons from TG contributing professional Eddie Birchenough, Royal Lytham's long-serving club professional. Bill had arguably the best short game of any amateur I’ve ever played with. He was the master of the bump and run, a skill he’d honed from growing up playing courses like Carnoustie in his native Angus.

He had so many stories about the game, about fellow journalists. As a young journalist keen to further my education, I ate up his words like a hungry Labrador devouring its dinner.

I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor than Bill. His enthusiasm for the game was keen to everyone who knew him. He passed that on to me and everyone he worked with.

Today’s Golfer wouldn’t have become the success it became if not for Bill’s enthusiasm. He launched a new magazine into a market filled by two traditional magazines, Golf Monthly and Golf World, and made TG stand because of one very simple philosophy. He realised readers wanted to improve their games and made instruction a big part of the magazine. “Your Golf” was the magazine’s unofficial motto, and it proved effective. It wasn’t long before TG was punching above its weight and taking on Golf Monthly and Golf World on equal terms. Indeed, it didn’t take long from its inception for TG to become market leader. It wouldn’t have done so if not for Bill.

Martin reflects my own feelings when he says:

“It is hard to describe how affected I am by Bill’s death; one of the cornerstones of my own life has been removed and I know I will miss him greatly.”

I already do. He was a key cornerstone in my life too.

Thank you, Bill, for giving me my career, for somehow seeing my potential all those years ago that led to a lifetime writing about golf. I’m forever in your debt. R.I.P. pal.

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