Paul Lawrie has never been your typical tour pro. In many ways, that's the biggest compliment you can pay him.
From turning professional off five – almost unthinkable these days without a plus in front of that number – to continuing to play in domestic PGA events whilst still a competitive, card-carrying member of the European Tour, the Aberdonian has, to summon Sinatra, done it his way.
The record shows it, too. An Open Championship victory, multiple Ryder Cup appearances, eight European Tour wins, close to 50 major appearances and around €13million in on-course earnings are the outstanding achievements on a CV that most of his contemporaries would immediately and gladly trade for.
And whilst nobody is suggesting that the end of his career is near, nor that he's getting ready to face the final curtain, you can state a case, with some certainty, that history won't just remember Lawrie for the way he has played the game but for the other significant contributions he has made to it.
From his eponymous foundation, which has provided opportunities for countless young golfers to take up and excel in the sport, to his work as a course designer, golf centre proprietor, mentor, manager, sponsor, tournament promoter and even fashion guru, the 51-year-old has given back to the game with the same commitment and focus with which he famously flushed that 4-iron at Carnoustie in 1999.
This week, he provided yet another example of his dedication to paying it forward with the launch of the Tartan Pro Tour.
As the name implies, it is a Scottish-based professional golf circuit designed to provide Lawrie’s fellow professionals with a new spectrum of tournaments to contest.
Its timing couldn’t be better. With the Covid-19 pandemic having ripped established golf schedules asunder, playing opportunities for the country’s pros are at a premium. That, in turn, has thrust many careers into real jeopardy.
For Lawrie, that threat has hit much closer to home than one might expect.
“My eldest, Craig, has a EuroPro exemption and has played there the last five years,” he reveals. “As soon as the EuroPro announced it was cancelling its entire season because of the pandemic, he suddenly had nowhere to go, nowhere to play, until next March. That’s a long time for a golfer. If you’re not competing for over a year, a lot of guys will give up and go and get another job.
“Honestly, there are 25 or 30 Scots on the EuroPro Tour alone. If we didn’t lay on these tournaments, there would be nowhere for guys like Craig to play. It’s a lifeline for them.”
In its first year, the Tartan Pro Tour will comprise six events. Taking place throughout August and September, it will visit some of the most prestigious venues in the country, beginning, appropriately enough, with Carnoustie.
Staged by Lawrie’s 5-Star Sports Management & Events company, each event will be played over 36 holes and contested across two days. They are open to both male and female professionals, with a maximum of 72 players per event.
The prize money is rather eye-catching, too. Lawrie estimates that players could be playing for as much as £18,000 per tournament, of which roughly £3,000 will go to the winner. Thanks to the support of European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley – who Lawrie describes as having been “very, very supportive” of the venture – there will also be some guaranteed Challenge Tour starts for the winner of the tour’s Order of Merit.
“For a new tour just starting out, and with just six events, that’s pretty unbelievable,” says Lawrie. “I’m so proud to be able to bring this to the table. Everyone I’ve spoken to about it is just unbelievably excited that they’ve got somewhere to go and play. We’re going to proper venues, too. That was really important to me. A lot of events tend to be on courses that are not really going to make you a better golfer – but all of our events will played at places that will. You have to be able to play to get round them. It’s part of the development of a golf pro.”
That same is true of the decision to make the tournaments 36 holes. “Eighteen holes doesn’t teach you how to win,” he adds. “It teaches you how to play well for one day. For any pro’s development, I think it’s important that you learn how to sleep on a lead and deal with the pressure that brings.”
Whilst it was the devastating impact of the coronavirus that convinced Lawrie to launch the tour, it is an ambition he has harboured for several years.
“When I was coming through the PGA ranks in the late eighties and early nineties, there were a load of tournaments for us to play in,” he recalls. “Assistants’ tournaments, four-round tournaments and so on. There must have been eight or nine of them, maybe even more.
“Obviously, I then went away and joined the European Tour but I continued to play in the odd PGA event back home when I could. After a while, I realised there were hardly four-round or even 54-hole tournaments left. The pro-am circuit was decimated, too.
“That was about seven or eight years ago. I remembering thinking right then that something had to be done, that these golfers needed somewhere to play.”
It was around the same time that Lawrie’s fellow Scottish pro, Alan Tait, tried to fill the void with the launch of the excellent but short-lived Optical Express Pro Golf Tour. By coincidence, that coincided with an improvement in Lawrie’s own game. Victory at the Qatar Masters in February 2012 propelled him towards the world’s top-30, bringing the 2012 Ryder Cup Cup in full and realistic view. Rightly, he decided to concentrate all of his energy on making the European team for Medinah.
“It wasn’t a good time to be starting anything else as I already had lots going on,” he admits.
Now, though, the timing is perfect.
“When the EuroPro Tour came out and said that they were scrapping their schedule for this year, that's what made us go, ‘Right, there’s never been a better time to do this’.
“It’s important we can build on it and make it into something bigger. There have been a few people who have tried to do something similar in recent years but, through no lack of trying, haven’t succeeded. Getting it off the ground is good but it’s no good if it’s not a success. So, we’ll be looking to make a bigger schedule next year but we’ll see how we get on with the six that we’ve set up this year first.”
For Lawrie, this isn’t about competing with other tours or undercutting 'rival' circuits. On the contrary, he hopes and expects the EuroPro Tour to return next year and, when it does, he says the Tartan Pro Tour will look to work around it so as to avoid potential date clashes.
“There’s no point in doing it any other way. I want Scottish players to play in EuroPro events because there are full Challenge Tour exemptions available on that tour. We’re not doing this tour to go up against anybody. We’re just trying to create more opportunities for male and female professionals.
“What this year gives us us a clean slate. It’s a great opportunity for us to let people see what we are, the courses we’re going to play on, the money we’re going to play for.”
Lawrie will be ably assisted in the running of the tournaments by his foundation manager, Michael Macdougall. As a fully qualified referee and a former head of the PGA in Scotland, Macdougall has significant event management experience. That, in theory, should allow Lawrie to concentrate on other matters, not least trying to win the tournaments himself.
“I’m going to play in them all,” he says. “That wasn’t actually planned but it’s just the way it has all worked out.”
By his own admission, playing and practicing is something that Lawrie has started to do significantly less of. Back problems mean he is unable to practice for more than an hour a day. “I probably hit about 100 balls a day now,” he says. “Any more than that and I’m in real trouble the next day, so I have to be careful and manage what I do. But an hour is plenty anyway. I can still play. I can still compete. My swing’s not going to change. I know what I’m doing. I don’t need to bash balls for seven or eight hours every day like I had to do in the past.”
The extra time he has at his disposal is now being invested in other projects, such as the Tartan Pro Tour.
“The fact I’ve got this project to keep me occupied is great,” he says. “And Marion’s delighted. It keeps me out of her hair!”
All of which is great for continued wedded bliss but, at 51, isn’t he tempted to wind down? Isn’t it a gamble to embellish his already successful and established brand with something as big as a brand new tour, with all of the risk and none of the guarantees such a venture invariably entails?
“No, I don’t think so,” says Lawrie. “I’ve never been scared of trying things, or starting things, or being the first to do things. You know, look, not everything that we do is a success but I’ve never been scared of having a go. I think that’s important.
“And don’t forget, we’ve had incredible support over the years from a lot of different people and a lot of different companies. It’s not just me. I mean, okay, I’m the one who has the ideas, and who wants to do it and who goes and sells it, but there’s a pile of people involved in everything that we do. We couldn’t do it without them.
“Out of all the things I’ve done, this is right up there [in terms of satisfaction]. I’m honestly so excited about it.”
“Yeah,” he adds with a nod. “It’s pretty cool.”
The professionals to whom he has just thrown a lifebuoy would surely echo that sentiment.