Letter from Europe
Here’s what made Renton Laidlaw a great golf broadcaster—and an even greater friend
The outpouring—let’s call it what it was, a deluge—of genuine affection said it all really. The many tributes paid to Renton Laidlaw in the wake of the 82-year-old Scotsman’s passing on Tuesday followed a similar theme. Former Ryder Cup player Ken Brown summed it up best with the last line of his contribution, “love always.” But just about everyone mentioned the good nature that was the hallmark of the legendary journalist and broadcaster’s career and life. And with good reason. Rare is the member of golf’s just-about-worldwide community who has not been touched by Renton’s propensity for kindness, warmth and generosity of spirit.
I am just one of those people. And proud to be so. My friendship with my fellow Hibs fan (Hibernian Football Club), was, on the face of it, a little unlikely. But only if the only Renton you knew was the public Renton, the peerless broadcaster whose deep knowledge of golf and golfers shone through every one of his countless appearances on radio and television. Away from the microphone and the camera he was free to offer stronger opinions than those he revealed in his professional life. I will miss the invariably thought-provoking discussions we had during our regular lunches over the last few years.
The vast majority of those meals took place in the same place. Renton and his sister, Jennifer, live at Drumoig in Fife, a few miles from St. Andrews and maybe 40 minutes from my own home. Most times, we sat at the same table in the Drumoig Hotel, the one by the window. Most times we ordered fish and chips. Most times he drank a ginger beer and lime. And absolutely every time we had ice cream for dessert. Renton liked ice cream. A lot.
I did a lot of listening at those lunches. I would have been crazy not to do so. Renton had an almost endless fund of anecdotes involving just about every significant figure in golf over the last 60 years. He had met them all as his career moved from copy-taking on the Evening News newspaper in his home city of Edinburgh, to “the box” on Grampian Television, Scottish Television and the BBC (where he read the news on the still-running “Reporting Scotland” show every evening) then on to the London Evening Standard as the golf correspondent.
Not long after, Renton was doubling as the golf man on BBC Radio, a gig that eventually led him seamlessly into the role for which he is best known in the United States. Until his retirement at the end of 2014, Renton was the front man on the Golf Channel’s coverage of the European Tour. The introductions to those shows became legendary for both their humor and the often eccentric locations. By way of example, Renton once uttered his opening lines while standing in the middle of fast-moving traffic on the Champs-Elysees in Paris. If he’d had any hair, it would have been raised.
Warren Humpfreys, Ken Brown and Renton Laidlaw broadcasting a European Tour event for the Golf Channel in 2012.
Renton had great affection for two of the four major championships: the Open and the Masters. He first covered the former at Muirfield in 1959 when Gary Player won and he was the first European journalist to make it to Augusta National more than 40 times. As such, he has a parking space at the Masters, as well as a cherished spot on the “wall of fame” in the plush new media center he sadly never had a chance to visit. He was not an outwardly boastful or proud man (far from it), but I know those tributes gave him as much pleasure as the many awards he collected over the years.
In what has become something of a rarity in this modern world, Renton was a genuine friend to many of the game’s luminaries. He could get them all on the phone, just about any time he wanted. But he had his favorites. Ernie Els, who as a young and impecunious pro, lived in Renton’s cottage at Sunningdale for a year or so was one. So was former Ryder Cup captain Bernard Gallacher (another Hibs fan).
Renton never married, although he did press the ejector-seat button on a number of engagements in his early life. I could never get him to reveal too much about what went on there, but he always changed the subject with a little enigmatic smile on his face. Which is how I will most remember him.
In 2003, Renton Laidlaw received the PGA of America Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism from then PGA president M.G. Orender.
The last few years of Renton’s life were not particularly easy. There were brushes with cancer. And he had issues with his heart. And at the end, COVID-19 was diagnosed as he lay in the Ninewells Hospital in Dundee. But through it all, at least to me, he admitted to little pain or discomfort—and only when pressed to do so.
Anyway, his suffering is over now. And I’m glad of that at least. I’ll miss my friend, as I know thousands of others around the world will also. It was a pleasure to know him.