ANDREW Skinner followed in his father’s footsteps as head professional at Royal Dornoch Golf Club 25 years ago.
Willie (90) was pro from 1973-98 and they took to the famous links to mark the milestone.
“The Skinner name has been closely linked to the golf club for a long, long time,” said Willie.
“It was a proud day when Andrew took over from me as the professional. He has always been very popular with the members, and I still get good reports about him!”
Three generations of the Skinner family have played key roles at the world-famous golf club.
Andrew’s grandfather William served as club secretary from 1941-1951 after the near 60-year reign of town clerk and legendary secretary John Sutherland. Grandmother Isa was a multiple club champion.
After leaving Golspie High School in 1988, Andrew (53) took up a four-year PGA apprenticeship on his father’s watch. Six years later he followed his dad into the head professional role.
“I was one of four candidates selected for an interview, so it wasn’t a fait accompli by any means. Thankfully I got the nod,” he said.
“The club changed beyond recognition during my dad’s time, and I have experienced peaks and troughs.
“Various economic upheavals, the Libyan bombing, the attack on the Twin Towers and most recently the pandemic all brought a halt to Americans travelling. Those meant unusually quiet summers here.
“We see well-known faces from the world of sport, entertainment, film, politics and business. But it is also nice chatting to members and interesting people from all walks of life.
“The highlight for me must be playing with Jack Nicklaus in 2014. He had never been here before and just wanted to go out with a couple of guys from the shop.
“We were given a week’s notice but had to keep it hush-hush. Gary Dingwall and I had the honour of playing with one of the all-time golfing greats.
“Jack was such a gentleman. He was in his 70s and a bit rusty, but we could see he still had an eye for links golf.
“It was July and there were a lot of people around the clubhouse. After the turn, it was clear word had got out and the galleries grew with each hole.
“After his round, in the shop Jack was kept busy signing dozens of the Royal Bank of Scotland Nicklaus fivers. I made sure I got mine signed!
“Jack later sent a nice letter of thanks which is framed in the clubhouse.”
While current pros tend to be engaged on hectic Tour schedules, past champions making for Dornoch have included Greg Norman, Craig Stadler, Sandy Lyle and honorary member Paul Lawrie.
“Probably the biggest crowd we have had before someone has teed off was for footballer Gareth Bale. That was because social media had got hold of it,” explained Andrew.
“I remember basketball superstar Michael Jordan coming into the shop with pals. He was looking for a pair of socks and asked about sizes. I looked down at his feet and they were about size 15. I told him one size fits all!
“It was a bit chilly so he also bought a beanie hat. So my claim to fame is that I have kitted out Michael Jordan from head to toe.
“I recall him rushing back in asking for some tees. At the time we sold them and there was a 2p each sign at the bowl. When he saw that he went ‘woh’ and pulled his hand away.
“I told him he could help himself to a few. The next thing this shovel of a hand dipped in! It was hilarious.”
Andrew vividly recalls the day Bill Clinton was tempted to the Highlands to play the Championship Course.
“It was a Friday afternoon. The youngsters had come off the Struie Course and were having a little presentation upstairs,” he said.
“Local electrician Jim Campbell was our junior convener at the time. Brazenly he went up to Bill and asked if he’d be good enough to present the prizes.
“His advisors were saying they didn’t have time for that but Bill said he’d do it.
“So a former American president duly presented these wee primary school kids with their prizes. At the time I’m sure they didn’t even know who he was. Bill was a class act.”
Photo captions: Header image – Andrew Skinner is celebrating 25 years as head professional at Royal Dornoch, mirroring father Willie’s quarter century at the helm. Pic: Matthew Harris
Group photo – Gary Dingwall, Sean Fay, Andrew Skinner, Jack Nicklaus, captain George Gunn and club president Dennis Bethune pictured with (left) a college friend of the Golden Bear during a 2014 visit to Royal Dornoch.