Paul Lawrie, who recently accepted an invitation to sit on the board of the European Tour Group, was 17 years old and playing to a 5-handicap when he signed on as an assistant professional at Banchory Golf Club. “When I walked into the pro’s shop,” recalls the winner of the 1999 Open at Carnoustie, “I was fully focussed on being a golfer. I never thought for a moment that I’d be involved in what I am today. It’s all come about bit by bit; it’s just evolved, if you like.”
No-one has followed his step-by-step process more closely than Martin Gilbert, the former chief executive officer and co-founder of Aberdeen Asset Management – it now goes under the name of Abrdn – who is himself a member of the board. As Lawrie’s main sponsor, Gilbert always looked forward to his annual invitation to play alongside his fellow Aberdonian in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and today, according to Martin’s calculations, they have teamed up as many as 15 times.
“All the pros tend to be good at switching on and off at the Dunhill but, whatever the circumstances, Paul never forgets he has an amateur companion,” he said. “Even when he was winning – in 2001 – I don’t think he ever mentioned himself until we were half way up the 18th on the last day. That’s when he said he needed to finish with a birdie. His approach spun back into the Valley of Sin, but would you believe he holed from 40 yards to claim the title. That putt also won him the European Tour’s shot of the year.”
With regard to Lawrie’s new role as a board member, Gilbert says that he has been watching the player growing in confidence on the business side of things from the moment he began his Paul Lawrie Foundation in 2001: “Paul’s a great ambassador for Scotland. What he’s achieved is phenomenal. His heart’s in the right place and his work ethic’s phenomenal.”
In keeping with the teaching side of his foundation, Lawrie created follow-on opportunities for the students. He started his own management group, 5Star Sports, in the same year as he started his foundation, while he is a regular contributor to the expansion of the Tartan Tour. One way and another, there is no stopping him.
“It all goes to show,” continued Gilbert, whose Aberdeen-based Abrdn is nowadays a global affair, “that you can make it from Scotland; you don’t need to hurry down to London.”
“Paul’s a great ambassador for Scotland. What he’s achieved is phenomenal. His heart’s in the right place and his work ethic’s phenomenal.”
Shona Malcolm, who was the first woman secretary of the Scottish PGA, suggests that Lawrie’s short course, which is part of the Aspire Golf Centre he took over in 2012, has alerted Scotland to the need for a return to the days when every town had its own mini course. “Sadly,” says Malcolm, “many of them died a death years ago, often leaving the local youngsters with nowhere to get started. Today, with so many of the 18-hole courses boasting full memberships, these starter centres are vital. Plenty of places are now copying what Paul’s done.”
For another well-known Scot who has no hesitation in saying that Lawrie will have plenty to contribute to golf’s administrative side, Ken Schofield, the former chief executive officer of the European Tour, highlights the fact that his compatriot has many of the same qualities as the board members who were doing duty in his day. They included such great players as Neil Coles, Bernard Gallacher, Tommy Horton, John O’Leary and Peter Townsend.
“Like Paul, they all cared for their fellow players and were happy to give back to the tour,” says Schofield.
Everyone can pick out a moment from Lawrie’s career which resonates with them. In connection with his winning of the 1999 Open, I have always loved the thought of how he motored down from his home in Aberdeen with his wife for the final round – and added the Claret Jug to the car’s contents for the journey home. Since everyone else who wins the Open in this day and age either comes to Scotland by plane or drives north for the week, he has to be just about the only person to have headed south.
That he is a family man through and through explains why Lawrie was never keen on playing in America. “Living in the States was never an option,” he says. “I always liked getting home between events and seeing Marian and the boys.” In fact, he fell for the house where the family spent many happy years long before his week-of-weeks at Carnoustie, with the Open prize money contributing to the purchase.
He would take his sons to junior golf events, and, in that capacity, my favourite memory was of watching him queueing up among the other fathers and caddies in the Dunbar professional’s shop to buy chocolate bars and a drink for his son, Craig, who was about to tee off in the Scottish Boys’ championship. (Craig Lawrie is now playing on the Tartan Tour where he won last year’s Scottish Farmfoods Par-Three, while Michael, Craig’s younger brother, is in his last year at Stirling University.)
You ask Lawrie if he has any ideas that he wants to bring up at his early DP World Tour board meetings and he replies in the negative. “I think they’re doing a pretty good job, bearing in mind the tough months in which they’ve been operating recently,” he said. “At the moment, I’m just looking to settle into the role.”
Yet at a time when there is so much emphasis on how the amount of money swirling around professional sport is increasing seemingly by the hour, there is something preying on his mind.
“Ultimately,” he says, “professional sport is driven by consumer demand, and sponsorships and rewards reflect that to a large extent. Personally, though, I’d like for more of the money to go towards the development of the game at different levels.”
Top: Paul Lawrie during the final round of the Farmfoods European Senior Masters