Three Scots will be teeing up when The Masters begins today, Bob MacIntyre, Oban’s debutant, Sandy Lyle, 1988 winner and the only Scot with a Green Jacket, and US-based Martin Laird, making his fourth appearance.
In 1934, when the inaugural Masters was held, three former Edinburgh schoolboys whose formative golf years were spent on the city’s municipal course at Braid Hills were invited to take part, having settled in North America.
Two were former pupils of Daniel Stewart’s College (now Stewart’s Melville), Bobby Cruickshank and
A L (Lex]) Robson and the third a former pupil of Boroughmuir High School, Tommy Armour.
Armour and Cruickshank are well-known, the former being Scotland’s only triple Major winner, while the latter was twice runner-up in the US Open and a multiple winner in America.
Although Robson is known only to keen students of golf history here, he had a first class pedigree, clearly justifying the coveted Masters invitation. His CV included winning the 1932 Canadian PGA Championship, finishing second in the 1933 Canadian Open, and in 1935 playing for Canadian professionals against the British Ryder Cup team he defeated Percy Alliss, third in the 1931 Open.
Unfortunately Robson was unable to attend while Armour’s pre arranged South American tour prevented his appearance that year although he did play in 1935 and later.
Strictly speaking the tournament did not become known as The Masters until 1939, its title initially being the “Augusta National Invitation Tournament”, the brainchild of the iconic Bobby Jones and colleague Clifford Roberts. The aim, according to Jones, was to invite the world’s best players to compete over their new Augusta National course which had been painstakingly developed on the disused site of an old indigo plantation and commercial nursery known as “Fruitlands”.
Key to its design over nearly two years was the celebrated Scottish golf course architect, Dr Alister MacKenzie, whose other masterpieces include Cypress Point and Royal Melbourne.
Cruickshank fortunately was able to renew rivalry with Jones in the 1934 tournament, the pair having memorably tied for the US Open in 1923 when Jones inched the title on the last green of the 18-hole play-off.
In 1930, the Scot probably forgave Jones, having won the considerable sum of $5,000 with a bet on the American achieving his famous Grand Slam.
Some years earlier, before the first World War, the shared golfing heritage of Cruickshank, Robson and Armour began over the Braid Hills. Although Cruickshank was four years older than Robson, both featured in the same school golf team, with their matches often played over the “Braids”, as were Armour’s. Through that connection the pair became friendly as Armour recalled.
“In our school days we played golf, we’d start in the morning and play until dark. We counted the hours, many times 10 hours.”
For his part Cruickshank remembered playing 70 or 80 holes a day at times. All three had shown considerable promise prior to the outbreak of war, especially Cruickshank who aged 16 had equalled the Braids record of 76.
During the war, all served with distinction in France, enduring dreadful experiences. Robson was in a heavy artillery unit while the others were wounded, Armour seriously, suffering the loss of sight in his right eye and head injuries.
When golf resumed they began to make their mark, with the “Braids” featuring prominently. Opening in 1893, it was one of the country’s oldest and best municipal courses, offering a fine test, as it still does. One of its important competitions was the Evening Dispatch Trophy, a double foursomes format still played today, in which all played in winning teams, Armour in 1919 as member of Edinburgh Western, Cruickshank in 1920 as part of the Stewart’s FP team and Robson in 1923 and 1924, again with Stewart’s FP. The Coronation Cup, then Edinburgh’s most important amateur tournament was also played there, with Cruickshank winning in 1919 and 1920, while Robson succeeded in 1925, followed by 600 spectators.
By the early 1920s, Armour and Cruickshank had departed to America to play professionally while Robson remained here. A member of Bruntsfield Links Golfing Society where he played off scratch, he was a multiple winner of club competitions and set several course records. Following the course being re- designed in 1922 by Dr MacKenzie, Robson was reputed to have recorded 59 in a friendly match.
Possibly with one eye on the success of his Braids confreres, in 1926 Robson moved to Canada to begin his professional career at the Weston club in Ontario. Success soon followed with second place in the Ontario Open in 1927 as he combined club professional’s duties with tournaments.
In the 1930s, he cemented his position as one of the country’s leading professionals. In addition to successes already mentioned, he won numerous Ontario competitions including a record six triumphs in the Millar Cup, in effect the Canadian match-play championship. He also finished four times in the top 10 in the Canadian Open.
The Braid Hills connection resurfaced there as Armour took part several times notching the last of three wins in 1934. And again it featured in 1944 when Cruickshank travelled to Ontario to play in a Kawartha Pro-Am war fundraiser, arranged by Robson, then club professional there.
Robson was a well regarded and popular player who was unfortunate not to play in the Masters. Then the majority of professionals were essentially club “pros”, who played tournaments periodically, with leave of absence from their clubs. As Robson was not able to justify the time required and expense involved in attending Augusta, he had to decline his invitation.
Such issues will not affect the Scots playing this week. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see MacIntyre or Laird adding to Lyle’s success?