YOU can keep The Open away from Turnberry but you can’t take the memories away.
As long as Donald Trump is involved with the storied Ayrshire venue, there’s more chance of golf’s oldest major being held at Maybole municipal than there is of it returning to the Ailsa course. The R&A made that perfectly clear earlier this week.
The Open, the high heid yins said, will not grace this neck of the woods “for the foreseeable future”. We’ll just have to take comforting, nostalgic refuge in the past, then.
In the august annals of Turnberry’s shimmering Open history, Craig Ronald making the cut in the 1994 championship is not quite as venerated a chapter as the Duel in the Sun. For the well-kent Carluke professional, though, it remains a personal jewel in his own recollections.
“I think I was three-under after about six holes of the first round and at the top of the leaderboard,” recalled the 51-year-old of his fleeting moment on this lofty global perch. “I don’t think I knew where I was sitting at the time to be honest but I watched the highlights on the TV at night. There was footage of me teeing off on the ninth and Steve Rider said in his commentary, ‘Craig Ronald driving off and he’s just dropped a shot to fall out of the lead’. The whole week was the highlight of my career, something I’ll never forget.”
It would be Nick Price who would savour the ultimate Turnberry triumph that week. Perhaps the Zimbabwean’s assault on the Claret Jug had been secretly aided by Ronald? It’s certainly a nice, fanciful thought.
“I was hitting balls on the range and David Leadbetter (Price’s world-renowned coach) stopped behind me,” added the former Tartan Tour No 1. “He stayed there for five or six shots and then I heard him mumble something like ‘uh huh’ before walking away. I never did discover what it meant. Did he like what he was seeing or did he think I was a load of absolute s***e?”
Ronald’s one and only Open outing came just a few months before he earned his place on the European Tour. His stint at the top table didn’t last long.
“Having got on to the tour, that’s when I should have put in the hard work,” he reflected. “But I’d just become a father for the first time. For the first six weeks of my daughter’s life, I was away and I became very homesick. There would be times at events I’d perhaps be two or three-over and instead of thinking ‘we can still shoot a 67 here’ I was thinking ‘well, if I miss the cut I can get the last shuttle up the road and see the family’. “I used to joke that even the dug started looking up the last flight on a Friday and saying ‘he’ll be home soon’. Family changes a lot. You do need to be selfish as a touring pro. I desperately wanted to make it but I was happier to compete on home soil to be honest. I got to see my kids grow up.”
With nearly 80 domestic wins to his name on the domestic scene, including victory in the 2004 Scottish PGA Championship, Ronald is such a part of the brickwork of the Tartan Tour he just about needs re-pointing.
Golf has given him sporting fulfilment and longevity, after a promising football career was savagely cut short in his teenage years. “I signed for Hamilton Accies at 15 and a week later I was in a car crash and never played football again,” he said. “I went through the side window. For years after, I would occasionally get a lump at the side of my forehead and it would be a wee shard of glass coming out. My legs took a big impact too. That was my football career over. It was very hard to take at that age but, thankfully, I had golf and I threw myself into that.”
A professional since 1991, Ronald, who cut his teeth at Torrance House under the popular John Dunlop, has been the club pro at Carluke for nearly 20 years. “I still love practising and playing and I’m still motivated,” said Ronald, who has not given up hope of qualifying for the European senior circuit. “I had my chance on tour when I was younger and didn’t take it but golf keeps giving you opportunities.”
It’s also given him those treasured Turnberry memories too.