For the good golfing folk of Renfrew and its wider surroundings, a ball plucked from John Mulgrew’s Normandy Driving Range was just about as iconic as the Penfold Heart used by Sean Connery in Goldfinger.

Indeed, such was the prolific pilfering from Mulgrew’s buckets, you wouldn’t have been surprised if 007 himself was sent along to Inchinnan Road to get to the bottom of this prodigious purloining.

“We were losing so many balls I decided to have ‘stolen from John Mulgrew’ printed on them,” said Mulgrew of a tale that is so well-kent and cherished in Scottish golfing circles it should actually be housed in its own display cabinet in the British Golf Museum.

Having bagged all 282 of Scotland’s Munros, it’s remarkable that Mulgrew never found one of his old balls lurking in a clump of moss halfway up Ben Macdui or some other lofty peak.

“Funnily enough, there was a guy who once asked me ‘would you mind if I take a couple of your golf balls because when we get to the top of a Munro we like to put down a wee cairn and I wouldn’t mind putting a ball there too’,” recalled Mulgrew with a chuckle.

“I’ve never actually seen one of my balls up there. Perhaps it was a good way of someone pinching a couple of my balls without having to pay for them?”

A popular and highly respected professional of authority and great longevity, Mulgrew’s dedication and contributions to the game in his homeland were recognised over the festive period with the PGA’s John Panton Award.

At 73, Mulgrew is not winding down. He is still involved in coaching while his role in helping educate new recruits to the PGA’s training programme remains a valuable part of the association’s strategy.

“I keep on saying ‘don’t be afraid to tell me it’s time to go’ but they seemingly still want me,” he added.

Mulgrew was never going to be a touring professional – “I double hit a putt from about a foot at a tournament once and thought that didn’t augur well for a playing career” – but he dedicated his sporting life to helping others.

The Normandy facility, meanwhile, was the first full-time driving range in Scotland and would become a bustling base where Mulgrew would welcome all walks of golfing life.

“The Normandy Hotel was promoting a big event and Bruce Forsyth and Telly Savalas came to the range,” recalled Mulgrew. Rumours that one of Kojak’s famous lollipops had ‘stolen from John Mulgrew’ etched on it proved unfounded.

Opening his range in 1974, which he would run for 30 years, was something of a step into the unknown. “It was a big risk,” he reflected. “I had seen a few ranges down south but I had no idea what I was doing to begin with. It was the first one in Scotland and because it was in a prime spot, it got very busy. I was teaching, I was running the shop, I was picking up the golf balls.

“Keeping it going for 30 years was one of my biggest achievements. I remember being on a plane coming into Glasgow and the guy sitting next to me says to his wife, ‘that’s John Mulgrew’s golf range down there’. They never knew who I was. I always thought I should have got a big sign on the roof to maximise the advertising.”

While golf was his all-consuming passion, his love affair with hillwalking nearly cost Mulgrew his life in 2009.

Returning from the summit of Sgurr na Sgine in the north west highlands, he got on the wrong track and was lucky to survive a whole night in the unforgiving conditions. “I remember looking at my watch and seeing 2.30am,” he said.

“I thought if I could make it to 6.30 it would be first light and I could see what was happening. About four or five o’clock I must have passed out.”

He may have had plenty of golf balls stolen but, thankfully, the hills did not steal John Mulgrew.