26 September 2013

S4M-07808 Ryder Cup 2014

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): Good afternoon. The first item of business is a debate on motion S4M-07808, in the name of Shona Robison, on one year to go until the Ryder cup.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I was slightly surprised that Neil Findlay did not claim Samuel Ryder as a working-class hero. Samuel Ryder was born in relatively humble circumstances—his father was a gardener and his mother was a dressmaker—and he built his business from his little shed at the end of the garden behind his terraced house. He was the first person to send out penny packets of seeds, which he posted on a Friday to ensure that his working-class clients, having received them on Saturday morning, could use their time off on Saturday afternoon to work in their allotments. He built his fortune, which led to his endowing the Ryder cup, from an entirely working-class background. I hope that, when Mr Findlay reads the Official Report of today’s debate, he will tak tent of that background.

Of course, perhaps one reason why Mr Findlay did not speak about Samuel Ryder is that Samuel Ryder was also a politician. I was surprised that Tavish Scott did not make reference to the fact that Samuel Ryder got elected to St Alban’s town council in 1903, became the lord mayor in 1905 and continued to serve on the council until 1916. As a Liberal, he was extremely critical of his predecessors in office, who were also Liberals, so perhaps that explains why Tavish Scott said little about him.

In our country, golf is par excellence a sport that is broadly open to all. In the 1980s, my wife had staff in Tokyo, who told her that to join a golf club cost in excess of not 1 million yen but £1 million. Furthermore, the golf clubs in Tokyo were only driving ranges. They were not golf clubs with 18 holes of grass around which it would be possible to play the game that we associate with golf.

In many other countries, golf is a sport of the elite but, in Scotland, every town and village has some engagement with it. It is a very different kind of sport for us. That is why it is important not only internationally, but for all the people of Scotland that we are host to the Ryder cup. It is a sport for the masses in a way that it may not so readily be elsewhere.

Tavish Scott also mentioned Colin Montgomerie. He was the victorious Ryder cup captain in 2010 and played in the cup on five occasions. He says on the VisitScotland website:

Scotland, for me, is home.

Like other members, my golfing experience is more limited than I would wish. However, I will make a unique claim as the only member speaking in the debate whose average score on championship courses is par.

I should explain that, in the mid 1990s, I flew my pals Laurence and Tom across to play the Machrie course on Islay. I walked round with them and we came into the 10th hole—the Machrie burn hole. It is a formidable hole with a water hazard to the left, another to the right and some standing stones that the ball could bounce off. However, it was par 3 and it was only 110m. I was handed a club, fluked the ball on to the edge of the green, fluked it within 6in of the hole, and parred that championship hole. I handed the golf club back because I did not want to compromise my average score of par on a championship course. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and I hope that, when time permits in future, I will return to golf.

Golf is an important business as well as an important recreation. The north-east of Scotland probably underperforms to some extent on tourism. However, one of the big draws that we have is our local golf courses and I hope that the Ryder cup will introduce them to a wider audience.

I will start with the Duff House royal golf course. It was redesigned in 1923 by Dr Alister Mackenzie who went on to design the world-famous Augusta national course. It is an excellent course—a classic links course—and the club has a wide social membership because the 19th hole is as famous as the other 18.

There is also Fraserburgh golf course. A well-known politician—the First Minister—plays on it from time to time. Let me give a little advice to members who have not played with the First Minister. He does not play a great deal and has no handicap but members should not be deceived. He will exploit that lack of handicap at the outset. Members should not let him con them. He is much better than many golfers who do not have a handicap.

The club itself describes the course in challenging terms as having

undulating fairways … wonderful views … spectacular holes

and being

a true links adventure from start to finish.

Peterhead has a golf course as well. Buckie has Strathlene Buckie golf course. It is not an immensely long golf course—it is some 6,000 yards—but it is a cliff-top course that may see golfers being as friendly as they can be on a golf course and to golf balls by not striking the ball very often because it goes off and makes its own way in life.

Cullen golf course is described as one of the top 100 in the world. It was designed by Tom Morris. Our connections in the north-east with golf greats are quite substantial.

Perhaps one of the reasons why I did not get terribly engaged with golf is that, although my father—like me—was essentially right-handed, for some reason unknown to me, he played golf left-handed. Therefore, his golf clubs were left-handed golf clubs, which made it rather difficult for me. If I have not been as engaged with golf as I might be, I entirely blame him.

One of my interests is aviation. I exercised that interest when I flew my pals to Islay. At Edinburgh airport, light aircraft used to fly in to their own runway. That is no longer available—the airport has got too busy and the space is needed for other things. We used to fly over Turnhouse golf course. On our approach to the runway, we would occasionally get hit by golf balls. I am not quite sure whether that alarmed the pilots more than the golfers, but at least when someone skied a drive, we were there to knock it back on to the fairway. A number of our aircraft ended up with dents.

I will leave members with one little fact. There are very few sizes of golf clubs, and there is a good reason for that. If you stand beside someone whose height is 1 foot different from yours, you will find that your knuckles are the same height off the ground as theirs are—within 3 inches. Golf is accessible to all because everyone can use the same set of golf clubs.


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