Thomson calls time on 45-year spell as Erskine’s PGA Professional

Thomson calls time on 45-year spell as Erskine’s PGA Professional

03/03/2023

If things had turned out differently, Peter Thomson could’ve made a living out of being a pilot. Instead, it was a career in golf that took flight and the 69-year-old has been in it for the long haul.

Having served as the devoted, diligent PGA professional at Erskine Golf Club for 45 years, Thomson has pulled the shutters down on his shop for the last time. He’s certainly earned his retirement. “What do I do now?,” he said with a wry chuckle. “I’m actually looking forward to retirement … and I’m not if you know what I mean. I’ve got plenty to do but would I rather be doing those things or would I rather be at the golf club? It’s time to go, though.

“My wife has been retired for a few years now and she’s getting a bit fed up with me going to work. We might even have a social life now on a Friday instead of me having to be over at the shop at half six in the morning on a Saturday for the start of the medal. A club pro’s job has always been full on.”

Born and bred in Machrihanish, Thomson came from a family of redoubtable  golfing pedigree. His father, grandfather and great grandfather all held the professionals post at Machrihanish while his cousin, Hector, was a former Scottish Amateur champion and Walker Cup player who would go on to win the Scottish PGA Championship in 1953, the same year as he played alongside the great Ben Hogan when the American won The Open at Carnoustie.

Golf was in Thomson’s blood but clattering balls into the air almost played second fiddle to taking to the air.

“I wanted to be a pilot,” he reflected. “There was a lot of military aircraft flying into Machrihanish in those days and that captured my imagination and got me interested. I was in the Air Cadets, we did some flying and some aerobatics. I went for air crew selection but never made it. That was that.”

With that particular ambition grounded, Thomson turned professional at 19 and couldn’t have asked for a better place to serve his golfing apprenticeship. “I was at Glenbervie working under John Panton,” he said of the decorated, celebrated Panton who played in three Ryder Cups and dominated the domestic scene with eight Scottish PGA Championship wins during his playing pomp.

“It was a busy, busy place. Everybody came from far and wide to see John. I learned a lot just by listening to him.”

Thomson would take those pearls of wisdom with him when he left to take up the post at Erskine in 1978. His longevity underlined his sense of duty. “It was the responsibility that drove me,” said Thomson. “You had the agreement with the club to provide a service. I can count on one hand the times the shop wasn’t open on time in the morning. It was a gentleman’s way of doing business.”

By his own admission, Thomson lacked the mental fortitude to thrive as a tournament player and it was coaching and club repairs that sustained him.

“I could play golf but I always had the self-doubt,” he conceded. “A lot of the time I was hoping to hit a good shot, instead of believing I would. My short game and putting were never up to scratch. I’d be taking 37, 38 putts and you can’t compete like that. I always loved teaching, though. Seeing youngsters coming through was always fulfilling.”

Thomson’s own coaching mantra was inspired by the teachings of his grandfather. “I would comically call it the ‘Gasp’ method; grip, aim, stance and posture,” he said. “Get that right and it’s two turns and a swish. My grandfather told me that all those years ago.”

A former captain and chairman of The PGA in Scotland, Thomson qualified as a PGA rules referee in 1992. “Not long after I qualified, I got a phone call from HQ asking me to be a referee at one of The PGA events down south,” he recalled. “I was busy, both at my club and as the chairman of the Scottish PGA, and felt I couldn’t be away. They got Charles Dernie, who had passed the course with me, instead. Well, after that, Charles went on to referee all over the world, in Ryder Cups, majors, everything. I think I missed a trick there. It was a slight regret but at the time, I was just too busy.”

One other regret Thomson has is not meeting his famous namesake, Peter Thomson, the great Australian who won The Open five times. “I was supposed to meet him at The Open one year but I couldn’t get staff for the shop and had to call off at last minute,” he said.

The responsibilities of his position at Erskine always came first for the dependable and conscientious Thomson. Even as he underwent treatment for cancer some 10 years ago, his job as PGA pro was never far from his thoughts.

"As long as I could walk, I’d go in,” said Thomson, who also suffered a heart attack five years ago. “I had six weeks of chemotherapy and radiotherapy but there were only three days I never went into the club. Even if it was just for half an hour or so, I just wanted to make sure everything was ok.”

After such steadfast service, nobody will begrudge Thomson a happy and well-deserved retirement.

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