Died: October 12, 2021.
RENTON Laidlaw, who has died at the age of 82, was a true voice of golf.
Through newspapers, radio and television, Laidlaw spread the word far and wide in a career of tireless industry, unquenchable enthusiasm and revered longevity.
The Herald’s former golf correspondent, John Huggan, made the very shrewd declaration recently that Laidlaw was, “like Elvis or Madonna”, a one-name person.
“You say ‘Renton’ in golf and everyone knows exactly who you mean,” suggested Huggan. “There’s only one Renton.”
The man himself would chuckle at that particular observation. At times, of course, it felt like there was actually more than one Renton.
In his pomp during the golf season, the sun would never set on his honest voice as he provided all sorts of outlets with updates while displaying the canny, multi-tasking abilities of a Swiss Army knife.
“I was once providing radio reports from three different golf events from around the world and I said to the producer, ‘Don’t say, ‘Renton Laidlaw reports from such and such’ as I’m going to be giving you updates from events in England, Australia and Spain,” he recalled in an interview on his life with this correspondent earlier this year.
“But when I went on they did say ‘Renton Laidlaw reports from Wentworth, ‘Renton Laidlaw reports from Melbourne, ‘Renton Laidlaw reports from Madrid’.
“Peter Alliss”, he added, “always did say that there were two or three Renton Laidlaws. The truth of the matter was that I was not at any of those venues. I was making these calls from a grimy phone box in Ealing and just trying to provide a service. It was like a true Ealing comedy”.
To golf enthusiasts the world over, Laidlaw’s soft, welcoming, distinctive voice brought a congenial familiarity to this great game. His was a style that was as warm, comforting and dependable as a bobbled cardigan.
“I used to be on the World Service for years and folk would recognise my voice around the globe,” he told me. “I would be talking on a plane and someone would say ‘it’s Renton Laidlaw isn’t it?’
“I’d be thinking, ‘is this some long lost cousin I don’t know?’ and they would tell me they knew my voice from the radio.”
From a foot in the door with the Edinburgh Evening News in his home city, Laidlaw would become a journalist and broadcaster of global renown before ill-health led to retirement in Drumoig, where he lived with his sister, Jennifer.
Laidlaw covered his first Open back in 1959, while he would become the first non-American reporter to reach the milestone of 40 Masters tournaments, in 2013.
In total, the Scot covered 165 majors including 58 Opens and 42 Masters, as well as golf’s other showpiece occasions, in a globe-trotting working life that spanned six decades.
His zealous lust for his profession would often draw great praise from his colleagues. The late, great doyen, Jock MacVicar, who himself sadly passed away earlier this year, would relay a tale which underlined Laidlaw’s energetic work ethic.
While doing television work for STV with the celebrated Arthur Montford, Laidlaw was also providing radio reports for BBC Scotland.
“On one remarkable occasion, while doing his stint as a commentator on STV, he was to be seen, during each commercial break, careering down the ladder from the control hut,” wrote Jock of Laidlaw’s lively display of media plate-spinning.
“In two minutes flat he would telephone a piece to Radio Scotland, career back up the ladder and be at his post again by the time the last advert faded off the screen.”
As well as a spell with the London Evening Standard, Laidlaw would serve as the BBC’s golf correspondent for 15 years while his work with the Golf Channel in the US gave him authority and acclaim on the other side of the Atlantic.
Golf was his life, and it was a life well-lived. The all-consuming nature of the job he loved meant he never had time to achieve one particular ambition, though.
“I would have loved to have been a single figure handicapper,” he said. “I never got any better than 13. But even at that level, you’d hit a shot or hole a putt that would make you feel as good as Palmer or Nicklaus. That’s what kept you playing”.
Nicklaus was bursting on to the scene just as Laidlaw was starting. In the company of the Golden Bear, it was a golden age.
“It was his magnanimity in victory and his grace in defeat that captured me,” said Laidlaw of his affection for the 18-time major winner. “If I was commentating and he was coming up the 18th, I had to stand up. I couldn’t sit down. He was like royalty to me”.
Laidlaw, too, was a regal figure in the game. The BBC’s current golf correspondent, the excellent Iain Carter, described Laidlaw as “a colossus of the golfing media and, above all, an absolute gentleman.”
He certainly was. Laidlaw’s stature was considerable but he remained an unassuming, wonderfully welcoming and generous man of engaging wit and wisdom. As the R&A has tweeted, “With his distinctive Scottish voice, Laidlaw was one of golf’s most respected broadcasters and journalists, and provided great service and dedication to the sport”.
He was, indeed, the one and only Renton.