STEWART’S MELVILLE College is turning into a conveyor belt for talented Scottish golfers – with the country’s two top-ranked amateurs both among its former pupils.
Grant Forrest, last year’s Scottish Amateur champion, and at 76th, the only Scot in the world’s top 100, benefited from golf trips being arranged by the Capital school during his time there.
So too did 102nd-ranked James Ross, who pipped the likes of Forrest and Jack McDonald to be named as the 2013 Scottish Golfer of the Year – he will receive that prize at the Scottish Golf Awards in Glasgow in February.
Current Stew Mel pupils making their mark include Callum Cochrane, last year’s Lothians Junior champion, and Ali Thurlow, who beat a strong field to win the Independent Schools’ Golf Association’s Scottish Championship at Kings Acre in September.
“In 2005, we first took boys golfing in Scotland in the Easter holidays for four days and we played matches against junior teams at Nairn, Nairn Dunbar, Cruden Bay Murcar and Peterhead,” said director of administration Graeme Brown.
“James Ross and Grant Forrest both participated in these early trips, but the big problem was the weather and I was persuaded by the boys to seek warmer climes.
“We have now been going to Portugal for six years and have based ourselves in Vilamoura, playing all the local courses. We have also been to Penina for the last two years, primarily for a change of scene for the boys, though essentially for the excellent practice facilities on site.”
Jonnie Cliff, the professional at Murrayfield, now accompanies staff and pupils on the trip and organises structured coaching sessions each day before players tee off.
“This has been hugely beneficial and has added real strength to the trip,” added Brown. “We run a different competition each day and at the end of the week we hold our own Ryder Cup match. Captains are appointed and team meeting and team meal is held the night before in separate restaurants!
“Boys are selected for the trip by handicap – 20 lowest get to go – though this year, not to disappoint some good promising golfers, we are taking 25.
“This year we have 11 single-figure handicap players and another 12 who are 16 or less. We will play six rounds of golf and on the day we arrive we have managed to arrange nine holes at Pineros Altos”
Thurlow, a 17-year-old S6 pupil who plays off two, carded a three-under-par 67 at Kings Acre to secure his Scottish title triumph and attributes his progress to Cliff.
“He’s very good and is undoubtedly the reason why I’ve had some success,” he said, admitting the likes of Royal Burgess star Ross and Craigielaw ace Forrest are perfect role models for the current crop of Stew-Mel golfers.
“Both James and Grant are undoubtedly inspirations for all of us,” added Thurlow, who is hoping to follow that pair by securing a golf scholarship in the United States.
“When I was playing football, golf was only really my hobby – but now I want it to be my career.”