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For aspiring pros, the tartan trail is still a good route to the top

Way back yonder, primitive man seemed to be quite happy shuffling around in the scuddy.

Craig Lee is one of a number of Scots who have used the Tartan Tour as a stepping stone. Picture: Getty Images
Craig Lee is one of a number of Scots who have used the Tartan Tour as a stepping stone. Picture: Getty Images

Then along swaggered the hip-and-happening homo erectus with his shaggy animal hide draped nonchalantly over the shoulders like a bloke in a catalogue modelling the smart casual spring range for the over-40s.

Before you could bash a rock against your cranium, everybody wanted one and would queue for hours around the decomposing corpse of a woolly mammoth just to get it. Evidence of grunting troglodytes performing a similar ritual can still be seen to this day at the Boxing Day sales.

Fashion had been born and mankind swiftly dedicated himself to following it.

In this game of golf, there are plenty of those who pursue the trends. A stint in the amateur ranks, successful or otherwise, is usually followed by a leap of faith into the professional scene and a spell spent chiselling away on a variety of developmental tours. Some make tentative strides forward, others see the hopes and dreams of a life as a touring pro wither on the vine.

Here in the cradle of golf, we are never done pondering and pontificating on just what is the best way to nurture talent.

At the grassroots, the Clubgolf scheme is broadening the scope of the game and at least giving children the chance to dip a toe in its waters.

The Scottish Golf Union and the Scottish Ladies Golfing Association have pumped considerable sums into performance in an attempt to give players the best opportunities to make the most of their skills.

In the amateur-to-pro transition zone, a complex area that appears to be as treacherous as walking through a lion's cage with a sirloin steak, the financial input of Scottish Golf Support Ltd and Team Scottish Hydro - the latter in particular has helped a clutch of players progress from the Challenge Tour to the main European circuit in recent seasons - remains a valuable resource.

There are no easy answers, but away from the more trumpeted routes of development, the domestic PGA scene still has a vital role to play. A squint at the Race to Dubai rankings on the European Tour highlights a common theme with the likes of Paul Lawrie, David Drysdale, Craig Lee, Chris Doak and Alastair Forsyth all serving an apprentice-ship on the Tartan Tour before spreading their wings.

During its golden era, the domestic circuit boasted around six or seven 72-hole championships each season and provided scope for sharpening a competitive edge and developing the tools of the professional trade. Amid the "hoovering and dusting" chores of the pro shop, Lawrie, who rose from the PGA ranks to become an Open champion, still credits those early encounters with seasoned campaigners like Russell Weir during his formative years.

"You would see the level that Russell and some of the other boys were at and you learn quickly," recalled Lawrie. "You learn what it takes to get to the top."

It may have lost some of its lustre from those halcyon days, with only the Scottish PGA Championship and the Northern Open providing the four-round opportunities, but even in the relatively fallow times of recent years, both Lee and Doak have used the Tartan Tour as a stepping stone and have now established a firm foothold on the main European circuit as they move up their 30s.

For a player like Paul O'Hara - the former Scottish amateur No.1 who ventured forth into the third-tier tours of Europe in the hope of climbing the ladder but never got off that lowly rung - the home comforts have provided something of a golfing sanctuary. Having re-assessed his options and opted for the PGA route, O'Hara has been galvanised and won the Scottish Young Professionals' Championship last year - a title Lawrie, Lee and Forsyth all have on their cvs. O'Hara is still only 27 and the exploits of late bloomers such as Lee and Doak will have given him inspiration and a sense of optimism that competition in his own backyard can still equip him with the weapons required for possible crusades on a wider front.

With Lawrie helping to inject the domestic scene with new vigour - he sponsors the Northern Open, hosts his own 54-hole Invitational and backs the Ladies Scottish Tour - there are signs the Tartan Tour is building towards something of a second coming.

In a varied professional landscape jam-packed with overseas opportunities, the Scottish PGA route may not be the most fashionable option but, as Lawrie and others have proved, there are plenty of dedicated followers who have become trend setters.

And another thing

It stood up to an American president but the one thing Augusta National's Eisenhower Tree couldn't stand was bad weather. Golf's most famous pine protrusion - Ike's Tree - is no longer standing like a sentry on the 17th after it suffered major limb damage in a recent ice storm.

President Eisenhower, an Augusta member, often scuppered his card by hitting in to it and once proposed that it be cut down. He wasn't the only one who went barking up the wrong tree, of course.

"I hit it so many times over the years that I don't care to comment on the names I called myself and the names I might have called the tree; Ike's Tree was a kind choice," recalled Jack Nicklaus fondly.

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