GIVEN that the money-soaked Scottish Open these days would make the riches of Babylon look like the paltry contents of Albert Steptoe’s piggy bank, it’s easy to forget about those years of relative hardship.

Back in 1974, for instance, the whole shebang was cancelled because organisers couldn’t agree a television contract. The championship was hoiked into the long grass and didn’t emerge again until 1986. The European Tour’s Glasgow Open at Haggs Castle was rebranded as the Scottish Open and the Dear Green Place would provide, well, the green shoots of the event’s recovery.

Compared to the shimmering opulence and regal pandering that will get lavished on the competitors at next week’s $8m showpiece at The Renaissance Club, things were a bit more modest 35 years ago. “The range was the Cartha Queens Park rugby pitch and you were hitting your own practice balls,” chuckled the well-kent Jim McAlister, who was the club pro at Haggs Castle for over two decades and made his final European Tour outing in that 1986 championship.

“As the host club pro I got an invitation. You never thought of winning, just making the cut was an achievement. And I managed it. It was nice to show the locals I could still play.”

McAlister could certainly play. Back in the swinging 60s, he was hand-picked by the entrepreneur, Ernest Butten, to join an elite squad of British talent – the Butten Boys - who would be sponsored and trained in a development programme so far ahead of its time it should’ve appeared on an episode of Tomorrow’s World.

“It was a wonderful privilege to be taken out of the pro shop and be given this opportunity, which was a chance in a million,” recalled McAlister of this visionary yet ultimately short-lived scheme which also included future Ryder Cup players like Tommy Horton and the flamboyant Brian Barnes.

“We trained, we practised, we worked on diet and fitness. We were eating bananas and raisins on the course and I thought that was crazy. But little things like that were so ahead of the times.”

McAlister left the Butten Boys after six months – “that’s the one regret I have” – and took up a post as playing professional at Crews Hill in Enfield where he became great friends with Tottenham Hotspur legends Dave MacKay and John White, who would be tragically killed by a lightning strike on the course in 1964.

In an era of golfing characters and camaraderie, McAlister revelled in the cut-and-thrust. “The competition in the 1960s was wonderful,” he said. “Alongside Tommy and Brian I was playing with the likes of Tony Jacklin, Christy O’Connor Snr, Peter Alliss. I loved the 60s.”

The 1970s, though, would be a lost decade for McAlister. “Golf was very different then, I was too sociable and had alcohol trouble for a long time,” he reflected. “I had got to know Brian (Barnes) well. We were playing in the Dutch Open once and had a right good sing song in the clubhouse before it. We didn’t realise then, of course, that we both had a problem. When I finally realised, it was too late.

“I was out of golf from 1970 to 1979. I worked in a factory, in a hotel, I drove taxis, I was an industrial painter, an agricultural salesman. It was anything to get money for alcohol. Luckily, I found sobriety. Many, many others don’t.”

McAlister’s career in the game was salvaged by the celebrated Perthshire professional and Mr Golf at Gleneagles, Ian Marchbank. “When he heard I had stopped drinking, he offered me a job in 1979,” recalled McAlister. “I thought that nobody would have me with my reputation. But I was there for a year-and-a-half and then got the Haggs Castle job. I will always thank Ian for my life. He gave me my life back.”

McAlister would become a popular perennial of Haggs Castle while his considerable coaching nous steered Stephen Dundas to Amateur Championship glory and helped Barry Hume become one of Europe’s best amateurs. “I was very proud of what they achieved,” added McAlister, who made three Open appearances himself and was a winner of the PGA Scottish Seniors title in 1995.

Now a sprightly 82, McAlister remains as fit as a freshly buffed up fiddle. “I’ll try to play six times a week,” he reported. “If you’re playing half decent, it’s still a great feeling, even after all these years.”