Over the years I have spent a lot of time in golf clubs but not, I hasten to add, pursuing the wee white ball over the grassy countryside.
Instead, my time has most often been spent at the 19th hole playing in the band and/or giving the occasional history talk. However, my lack of skill has not stopped me becoming a devoted armchair follower of all sports and I like nothing better than to rub shoulders with those who have made the grade with bat, ball or five iron.
For the last two weekends I have been in my element, first at the Bill McLaren Foundation dinner at Falkirk Rugby Club at the invite of the mighty Alex McQuade, and then at a prizegiving at Glenbervie Golf Club which also marked the retiral of the long-serving secretary and fellow Falkirk FC masochist, Ian Webster.
I confess that I know very little about the history of rugby in the Falkirk area. At the dinner, however, Provost Pat Reid introduced me to Alan Lawson, former Scotland scrum half (15 caps) and son-in-law of the great ‘Voice of Rugby’ himself.
I had forgotten that Alan had attended Falkirk High School and was the son of no less a man than Falkirk’s most distinguished local historian, Lewis Lawson. It was his masterly histories of Falkirk and of Falkirk Parish Church that set me off on what has been a 40-year passion. Alan was delighted to know how highly his dad, now in his 90s, is still regarded in the town.
Now, unlike rugby, golf has been played here for centuries. In 1638 Alexander Livingston was convicted for hitting John Gardiner over the head with “ane staff or golfeclub to the effusion of his blood” in the High Street! Even earlier, Mary Queen of Scots, a low handicap golfer but a high handicap Queen, visited Callendar House and might well have swung a niblick near the Cladhan, which some say was Falkirk’s first golf course and the place of public execution.
The first proper local course, the Tryst at Stenhousemuir, dates back to 1885 when a group of Carron managers laid out a course over the ground used for the famous Falkirk trysts – the greatest cattle fairs in Europe. It was another 37 years before the Tryst had a rival at Carmuirs inspired by the Provost of Falkirk James G Russell, a keen golfer himself – another course and historic spot – this time the great Roman fort.
The last of the big three, Glenbervie, was opened in 1932 by a group of ‘professional gentlemen’ to the design of the famous golfer James Braid on lands leased from Carron Company.
These had once been cloaked by the royal forest of Torwood where an ancient oak tree once sheltered William Wallace. Well maybe!
As a child I remember the late John Panton, long time professional at the club, bringing great distinction to our district. He would have been delighted to know that Glenbervie continues to produce Scottish champions today and, in the same way, we should all be proud of what Falkirk Rugby Club has achieved not least in producing Finn Russell, an undoubted star of last week’s win over Argentina.
My sincere thanks to both the rugby club and Glenbervie for their hospitality.
I may not be able to compete on the field of play, but with a knife and fork I more than held my own.