Torrance House Golf Club 50th anniversary plans in full swing

Three generations of members are ready for the 50th celebrations. Steven McKinnon, former captain Willie Houston and junior champion/captain Connor Galloway

Torrance House Golf Club will mark their 50th anniversary this year and, with preparations in full swing, current members have recalled the challenges and triumphs over the years.

Tucked away in the grounds of Calderglen Country Park, members of the private club play on a municipal course and have come a long way since their first meeting at the Ballerup Hall five decades ago.

And the memories and achievements will all come flooding back when members past and present attend an anniversary dinner later in the year.

From John Dunlop to Craig Ronald, Torrance House has been home to some talented professionals.

But it took a lot of hard graft to make the dream a reality.

A decision to construct the course was taken at a meeting of the Town Council on December 6, 1965 and work by course architects, Hawtree and Son, started in May the following year.

However, when the course was handed over by the contractor to the council’s parks department in October 1967, vast drainage and bunker improvements were required and it wasn’t until July 1969 that the course welcomed its first players.

Current club captain Steven McKinnon said: “One of our founding members Willie Houston was a taxi driver at the time and when the course was being built he drove up and saw the work on the 9th and 10th holes, wondering if it was going to be any good or not.

Torrance House Golf Club

“At first, the starter’s office wasn’t there and John Dunlop, who was our club professional, worked out of a small shack.

“At the first meeting there was 200 guys that turned up and they all paid £25, but at that point the £25 only paid for a golf pro shop there.

“There was no computers at the time of course, so we had a big list of members on the wall.

You were drawn on a Friday and word got about. You would turn up and you could be waiting two hours for a game because there was 200 guys.

“Things weren’t well developed at that stage.

“Within two years we went to 450 members and we had a great course, so there was incredible growth.”

Provost Bill Niven was joined by John Dunlop, Police Judge John Wright and special guest Jenny McLean to declare the course open in July 1969.

Torrance House Golf Club official opening, July 1969. Bill Niven, Jenny McLean, John Wright and John Dunlop

Only in the December did the course officially welcome Torrance House Golf Club members under first captain Campbell MacCulloch.

Temporary clubhouses served the members in its infancy before the building that stands on site today was eventually erected in the late 1970s, thanks to the intervention and talents of Iain Bonomy.

A founding member who would go on to become a high court judge, Lord Bonomy also presided over war crime trials in The Hague involving former Yugoslavian president Slobodan Miloševic.

The 73-year-old, from St Leonards, was general secretary at Torrance House and registration of players took place in his flat in Loch Striven during the early days.

He helped take the local valuation appeals committee to the Valuation Appeal Court over rates and they had to repay £100,000 to THGC because it operated in a country park, meaning no rates were due.

Lord Bonomy said: “The result of our court victory was that we were to be repaid the rates we’d been paying for a number of years and that brought in around £100,000.

“That supported various developments at the club during that time.

“In the early days, mainly over getting a clubhouse, we had various battles with the council, but I worked for the council previously and knew how things worked.”

Torrance House proved hugely popular and Lord Bonomy recalled just what players were prepared to do for the perfect tee-off time.

“It was an active, thriving club and it became so difficult to get a time on a Saturday and Sunday that people would sleep in their cars overnight to be first in the queue the next morning,” he revealed.

“Folk went to extraordinary lengths to be at the front of the queue and get the time they wanted. It’s always been a well laid out course and at this point in time it’s in excellent shape.

“The council can be very proud of their efforts. They deserve a lot of credit for the standard of the course and the club professional they brought in at the time.”

First captain Campbell McCulloch points to his picture in the clubhouse

Money was tight in the fledgling years, though, and the club couldn’t afford to buy some silverware for their inaugural competition, the Portsoy Trophy.

It is now known as the Brown Trophy and, as Steven explained, it’s the oddest ‘trophy’ you are likely to see.

“The prize money for our first competition was donated by Brian Sutherland, who is still alive. He was a founder member who came from the Highlands, near Portsoy.

“However, we had no money of our own for a trophy, so they cut a leg off one of the tables and stuck a plaque on – and they all played for the Portsoy Trophy, which I think is a brilliant story.

“We still play for it now, this big old bit of wood.”

The Portsoy Trophy

In 1994 Ronald played at the Open Championship at Turnberry and even led the field at one point. He became Scottish champion in 2004 and won over 70 events on the Tartan Tour – and it’s all thanks to his formative years at Torrance House.

Ronald, now the PGA professional at Carluke Golf Club, said: “I have really fond memories of my time at Torrance House.

“That is where I learned all my golf and I practiced there all my days growing up.

“It’s a place I’ll never forget.

“The course in the mid-80s, early 90s was as good, if not better, than a lot of the private courses around at the time.

“It’s certainly the best municipal course I’ve ever played.

The par 72 course, now standing at 6746 yards long, boasts a picturesque signature hole at the 18th.

With bunkers either side of the green, the tricky par-3 plays downhill towards the clubhouse and the 15th century tower house, from which the club takes its name.

For Craig Ronald, it’s a course he will forever hold dear and he insists it was one of the best courses around during its heyday.

The 49-year-old, from Stewartfield, holds the original course record of 64 set in 1987 (Stephen O’Brien holds the current course record of 65, set in 2006) and has fond memories of his days in Calderglen.

Now an honorary member, Ronald first picked up a club at the age of four.

Under the tutelage of Torrance House legend and co-founder John Dunlop, he went on to play professionally.

Torrance House course original record holder Craig Ronald with his scorecard in 1987 now superseded by Steven O’Brian

“The layout of the course was fantastic and the design showed a lot of imagination.

“There is an abundance of different holes on it and it was always a joy to play.

“It will always be my home course.”

Torrance House was also the scene of memorable victories for a young Ronald, who won the junior and senior championships there.

He also enjoyed a memorable win on his home course over former Open champion Paul Lawrie in the Glenmuir Matchplay in 1993, six years before Lawrie’s triumph at Carnoustie.

Steven added: “Craig is our most successful professional golfer and we are very proud of him.”

Craig Ronald turned professional after his grounding at Torrance House under John Dunlop (Image: East Kilbride News)

Meanwhile, as the club look forward to the next 50 years, the quest to find the next Craig Ronald is gathering pace after a recent slump in junior memberships.

The club won the Lanarkshire Junior League two years ago, but were unable to field a team in defence of their title last season.

This year the club have a full junior squad and have attracted almost 50 new members, taking those playing at Torrance House back above 200.

Steven is also hosting a range of social events to drive people to the clubhouse.

“There’s some good, green shoots of progress,” he said.

We have almost 50 new members for this year and the junior team is now full, so we are really hopeful for the year ahead and beyond.

“We are actively trying to promote the junior section and are offering free memberships to those aged 12-17.

“It was a horrible thing to happen a couple of years ago, but we are in a better position now in terms of that and with the social element at the club.

“When I started in here 42 years ago, we never had any functions.

“But now we have the diary fully booked for Fridays and Saturdays for the next year.

“It’s fantastic that, in our 50th year, we are feeling so positive about the future.”

Founder member Lord Iain Bonomy, left, and first captain Campbell McCulloch with commemorative glasses

From founding Torrance House Golf Club to presiding over war crime trials in The Hague, Lord Iain Bonomy’s journey to the top of the judicial system is sure to get people talking at the club’s anniversary celebrations.

The 73-year-old, from St Leonards, helped launch the club in 1969 but from those humble beginnings he has experienced harrowing trials in The Hague involving the former Yugoslavian president Slobodan Milošević.

Dealing with murder and ethnic cleansing became his day job between 2005-2009, following several years as a high-court judge in Scotland.

Asked if it was a harrowing experience, Lord Bonomy, who was also senior counsel for the Dunblane Inquiry in 1996, said: “What you see in a murder trial in Scotland can be just as brutal as what I saw in the Hague.

Former high court judge Lord Bonomy helped found Torrance House

“You have to remember we only hear witness accounts and see photographs, so are not exposed to the reality of the brutality.

“People are always interested to hear what went on in The Hague. I was one of the judges in the trial of Slobodan Milošević and Radovan Karadžić. I also presided over six trials regarding ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, but that’s more than 10 years ago now.

“There is a stark contrast between starting this golf club and what happened later in my career, but people are interested in hearing about that side of it.

“The war crimes are something people seem to know about vaguely and like to find out more when they recall my connection to it.”

John Dunlop: The ‘backbone of the club’

John Dunlop

One man who will be in the thoughts of everyone at Torrance House as they mark their anniversary is John Dunlop.

The club’s co-founder passed away in 2014 at the age of 73, but his legacy lives on.

Dunlop made three consecutive Open championships in 1964-66 – playing at St Andrew’s, Royal Birkdale and Muirfield – before stepping back from the tour to form his local club.

Early on he became a mentor and friend to the club’s course record holder, Craig Ronald, and he has hailed the massive contribution Dunlop made to Torrance House.

“John was the backbone of the club,” said Ronald.

“He was a legend. He was my coach for years and the success I had in the early years of my life were down to him.

“I remember his pro shop was a wee shack that was down to the right of the 18th green at the time and I worked him for years.

ohn Dunlop, far right in red jacket, taught many youngsters and aspiring coaches

“I wish he was still here.

“Anytime you were struggling, John would give advice to you in the simplest way and it always worked.

“He was a great man and a great golfer.”

Dunlop left Bridge of Weir Golf Club to launch the club in 1969 and he was also the golf development manager for EK District Council between 1989-1995 and for South Lanarkshire Council between 1955-2005.

Current captain Steven McKinnon added: “I only remember seeing him when I was a young boy.

“But I know he was very committed and everyone around our club speaks so highly of him for what he did for us and golf in the area in general.

“It was his idea to start the club and he chaired our very first meeting.”

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