Photo: Struan Robertson (left), Colin Allison, Tom Watson and Royal Dornoch Seniors captain David Muschamp pictured during Tom’s milestone visit
LONG-TIME Blairgowrie Golf Club and Elie member – and one-time Gleneagles starter – Tom Watson looked to Royal Dornoch to celebrate teeing-up at his 700th golf course.
The retired Perthshire dairy farmer marked the milestone with a memorable trip north, where the man with the famous golfing name added the Struie Course to the long list of golf courses he has been ticking off methodically since his schooldays.
The visit was prompted by a Seniors match between Blairgowrie and the victorious hosts, with visiting vice-captain Colin Allison presenting Tom with a crystal decanter in the clubhouse to mark the occasion.
Tom (85), who became a junior member at Blairgowrie in 1948, had feared his bid to reach the landmark would be stymied by the pandemic.
He was thrilled by his first experience of the Struie.
“When I was listed in the Seniors team to go to Dornoch I realised the Struie would be ideal to take me to the 700-mark.
“After playing Dumbarnie Links recently, I had tootled round the lovely nine-hole Westwater course at Edzell twice on a buggy to make it 699.
“I have been fortunate enough to play the Championship many times down the years but never the Struie. I was taken aback by just how good it is.
“It turned out to be a much bigger and more challenging course than I had ever imagined.
“It was a real surprise – but now I’m certainly not surprised that word is spreading of just how marvellous a course it is.
“It has had to live in the shadow of the Championship, one of the world’s great golf courses. But it is definitely a top-notch course in its own right.
“I really couldn’t have chosen a better spot to mark the milestone. It worked out perfectly and everyone at Royal Dornoch made me very welcome.”
The day before the Seniors match, he ventured out on the Struie with Colin and Royal Dornoch pair Struan Robertson and Alistair Fleming, who is a past member at Blairgowrie.
Tom, who is also a member at Elie, admits sharing a name with an eight-times Majors winner has provided amusing moments in clubhouses on either side of the Atlantic.
“Through the years there have been times when people have done a double take when I have given them my name.
“When Watson was in his heyday, I often had people in pro shops subconsciously lifting their eyes when I gave them my name.
“I did get once a chance to play with Tom at Longniddry.
“But I have always said that’s where the similarity ends, although we both rate Royal Dornoch very highly.
“I have been keeping track of the courses I’ve played since I was a 10-year-old. My first was a public course in Glasgow called Linn Park in April 1948, getting on a tram car from my grandparents’ home.”
As to a favourite on his travels, perhaps a clue lies in the name of the home he shares with wife Ena by Blairgowrie’s Lansdowne course.
“It would be wrong to say any course was better than any other so I wouldn’t really want to single any out.
“We did call our home Pinehurst. I have played the famous No2 course 12 times and, of course, it is regarded as one of the finest courses designed by Dornoch-born Donald Ross.
“You can see the influence of Dornoch in the upside-down saucer greens, which was his trademark.
“In the clubhouse at Dornoch it was lovely meeting up with a professional from the Country Club of North Carolina who was a member at Pinehurst. He was over with 14 members for a four-day visit to Royal Dornoch.
“I made many friends in my days as a starter at Gleneagles. Many of those contacts opened doors for me and I have been fortunate to have played well over 100 courses in the States, including Augusta National, Cypress Point and Pebble Beach.
“I still mean to carry on golfing so hopefully there will be scope for a few more new courses in Scotland to be added to the list.”