Duncan Stewart has heaped praise on Turnhouse Golf Club for helping him become the first Scottish professional to taste victory above third-tier level in 2016.
The 31-year-old, who won the Challenge de Madrid last weekend, became attached to Turnhouse after moving to Edinburgh from Grantown-on-Spey.
He uses the excellent practice facilities at the Capital club whenever he’s not on his travels and says the members have made him feel at home.
“Everyone out at Turnhouse has been so friendly ever since I first started going out there,” Stewart told the Edinburgh Evening News in Belek, where he sets out today in the Turkish Airlines Challenge.
“My intention was to go down the coast and find myself a base there, but it would have meant a 45-minute journey whereas I’m just 15 minutes away from Turnhouse.
“It’s the small things that make it so good there. For instance, I get to hit my own practice balls off a bit of grass at the end of the range and can use the tractor to pick them up if it’s busy.
“I’ve also been told, ‘the key is there if you ever want to go into the sheds to wash your practice golf balls’. It’s things like that that help make you feel welcome and not worry that you are getting in the way of anyone.”
Stewart is the second Grantown-on-Spey golfer to have a connection with Turnhouse, following in the footsteps of Bobby Cruickshank, who twice finished runner-up in the US Open, including a tie with Bobby Jones in 1923.
“Since I’ve been attached to the club, I’ve played with the likes of Stevie Armstrong and also Euan McIntosh,” he added. “It’s getting to know the guys and the best place to do that is in the back bar at the club!”
Stewart has also become a familar face at East Alliance events since he moved to Edinburgh, having followed Fiona – his partner and mother of baby son Jack – down the A9 from the Highlands.
“It has been good playing in Alliance events,” he admitted. “I play a lot with (Gullane assistant pro) Keir McNicoll and that is good as we are always trying to beat each other.
“I’d rather stay competitive than beat balls on the range all the time and Keir, who has done really well since he gave up playing full-time do his PGA training, has helped me become more productive with my practising.
“Last Thursday, for example, I was up at the course in Madrid quite early on the Thursday morning to do some chipping and putting even though I wasn’t teeing off until 1pm.”
The win has catapulted Stewart up to fourth in the Challenge Tour’s Road to Oman, where he needs to be sitting inside the top 15 come the end of the season to graduate to the European Tour.
He’s played 16 events on the top circuit over the past two seasons without any real success but believes it can be a different story if he gets chances like that in the future.
“While it was good to get the experience of playing in European Tour events for the first time, I hated the way I was playing at the time,” admitted Stewart.
“But (fellow Challenge Tour player) David Law was saying to me the other day that he’s noticed something different in me this season and it was great to go out and prove that last Sunday.
“The goal now is to finish in that top 15 as you never want to be one of the guys who wins but doesn’t earn a step up to the European Tour.
“At the same time, I’ve given myself a chance of getting there even before the end of the season as three wins in the one season on the Challenge Tour earns you an automatic step up.”
Joining Stewart in the Turkish event at Gloria Golf Club this week is Craigielaw’s Grant Forrest as he enjoys the first of his amateur invitations on the Challenge Tour this season.
Does Stewart, who’s a bit longer in the tooth than the 22-year-old, have any advice for both Forrest and Bearsden’s Ewen Ferguson?
“I played as amateur in the Scottish Challenge at Cardrona in 2007, finishing 30th, and that gave me a boost,” he recalled. “So, I’d say to Grant and Ewen, ‘just go out and enjoy yourself’, as I did on that occasion.
“If they come out of these events (the pair are also playing in Italy next week) with a status for next year, then great. If not, they’ve not lost anything but will have gained some experience.”
If Stewart can get himself into contention here for the second week in a row, he’ll have his own personal fan club at the weekend.
That’s because a group of Turnhouse members are heading out to Turkey to enjoy some of the golfing treats between Belek and Antalya.
They’ll be raising a glass or two, no doubt, to celebrate Stewart’s success and hope it’s the first of many as he flies the Turnhouse flag.