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  • Alistair Tait

The "Magical" Life of Renton Laidlaw

Updated: Oct 14, 2021

It wasn’t easy breaking into the world of golf writing when I first started out. Thankfully, people like Renton Laidlaw and a few others helped me establish myself in the often cliquey, share no stories world of the European Tour press tent.

Renton, who passed away yesterday aged 82, went out of his way to help me, and other young writers, navigate through media centres. Not only that, but sit and have lunch with me, invite me to dinner, ask me if I was getting enough work, and to let him know if I needed help or advice and he’d only be too happy to help. The preceding sentence might sound a bit meagre but, believe me, for a young writer it was massive. And he WAS a huge help.

Seve Ballesteros often said the European Tour was one big family, with all its feuds and friendships and everything else that goes with any ordinary family. Ditto for European golf writers. Renton, along with other respected senior figures, was part of the glue that held the Association of Golf Writers together as far as I and other writers were concerned. Renton joined the AGW in 1963, was secretary from 1978–1995, chairman from 1995–98, and president from 2004–2015.

It was because of Renton I first heard the "Selkirk Grace," one I’ve used many times at Tait family dinners. It has been attributed to Robbie Burns, but there’s dubiety on whether Burns actually penned the lines or just appropriated Lord Selkirk’s. Renton had no problems appropriating these famous lines to open every AGW dinner on the Tuesday evening before the Open Championship.

Some hae meat and canna eat, And some wad eat that want it, But we hae meat and we can eat, Sae let the Lord be Thankit!"

It just wasn’t an AGW dinner without those words rolling off Renton’s mellifluous tongue.

Renton (pictured above seated centre with, left to right, Liezl Els, Roddy Carr, former European Tour CEO Ken Schofield, Ernie Els and sister Jennifer) began his media career at the Edinburgh Evening News, graduated to the London Standard, worked in radio and then made the move to television. His dulcet tones have been heard in living rooms all over the world. As Renton wrote in Forgive Us Our Press Passes: A History of the Association of Golf Writers, he made an interesting start to his distinguished career:

“My start in golf reporting proper was dramatic enough. Although I had worked sending scores from the 1959 Open Championship when the press tent was just big enough to accommodate the 30 or so reporters (800 today), and you parked your car beside it, I had not written golf properly until the morning ‘Jock’ Robertson offered me the job (on the Evening News), whisked me immediately in his car to Prestonfield Golf Club in the shadow of Arthur’s Seat, introduced me to Jimmy Kean, secretary of the Edinburgh and East of Scotland Alliance, and left, requesting 150 words at 12:30! It was the start that would end up giving me a worldwide career.”

From 150 words, Renton ended up broadcasting to 80 million homes through his work with the Golf Channel.

Although distinguished in the world of golf, Renton never let his reputation get to his head. He was humble enough to admit he didn’t get everything perfect, such as this anecdote from Forgive Us Our Press Passes:

“When working with Peter Oosterhuis, he remarked in commentary that the Japanese golfer we were discussing practised even harder than Bernhard Langer or Vijay Singh, hitting 1,000 balls in the morning, 500 in the afternoon and a further 500 in the evening. ‘That,’ I said innocently, ‘is a lot of balls.’ We had to stop the recording and then had several false starts because everyone kept bursting into laughter at that point even though I’d changed the words.”

He closes that Forgive Us Our Press Passes article with the words:

“I will wake up, but until I do, I can only reflect that my last 40 years involvement with golf has been, to use a word regularly used by Peter Alliss, television’s doyen of commentators, just ‘magical.’”

It has been for us too, Renton

Renton joins media legends Goran Zachrisson, Ben Wright, Peter Alliss and Jock MacVicar, who all went to that great press tent in the sky this year. I hope they enjoy many dinners together, meals Renton will start with “Some folk hae meat…”

Thanks for everything you did to help me and others get started in golf, Renton. RIP.

#JustSaying: "He has been indefatigable in his work for the Association (of Golf Writers) … he’s never flinched from putting forward forcefully the interests of the print media.” From Forgive Us Our Press Passes

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