Continuing our Club Q&A features, we sat down with one of our most long-serving and respected Members, Jeff Aitken.
Jeff has lived in the village his whole life, served on the Club Committee and volunteered for our three Scottish Opens. Highlighting his love for golf here across our courses, particularly No 2 and No 3, we go down memory lane with Jeff…
Jeff, thanks for taking the time for this Q&A. Explain your history here in Gullane.
“I was born in the village 69 years ago and I’ve been lucky to live here all my life. It’s coming up 46 years now that I’ve been a full Member at Gullane. The changes I’ve seen have just been incredible, from the Visitors’ Clubhouse opening in 1993 to our Members’ Clubhouse being recently refurnished and extended. It’s a great place to play golf. I must admit I’m very biased about the three courses. I don’t think there is any better place. The value for money is outstanding if you are a member.”
How did you get into golf in the village?
“I played the Children’s Course when I was a kid. I used to go to Gullane Primary School and then North Berwick High School. As a child, in the 1950s and early 1960s, the course was 9 holes and all the kids in the village played it. Round and round we went, it was amazing, and that’s what got me into golf. The Children’s Course has six holes now and is free of charge, which is great. I take my grandchildren out on the course now.
“My grandson, Fletcher, who is eight, is also taking advantage of the golf lessons on a Sunday for a minimal amount, through Alasdair Good and his team. I like showing him the etiquette of the game and helping him learn and have fun. Children can then progress to Course No 3, which is a great layout and has great greens. The views are to die for too!”
Yes, how much do you enjoy Courses No 2 and No 3?
“I think both courses are underrated. They are great offerings and are excellent value for money, you can even play both in the same day. Golf can be expensive, but the courses are so reasonably priced. My wife, Isobel, and I play a lot of six or nine-hole golf at this time of year, playing on No 3.
“Course No 1 was shown worldwide in 2015 and 2018 for the Scottish Opens, obviously attracting visitors to come here. To me, the only difference between the courses is distance, with No 2 and No 3 a little shorter. People’s time is so precious now and No 3 is great for a quick round. No 2 and No 3 are also as good in the winter as they are in the summer, if you pick your day right!”
Can you give an insight into your roles on the Committee in the past?
“I’ve been on the Club Committee twice, first from 1993 to 1996 as Finance Convenor, and I was then asked to come back on it again in 2009 until 2012 as the Golf Convenor. We really started to look at social golf then, using all the courses and the clubhouses. These roles came from my working background, previously in banking, and obviously being local too and knowing the value of the local community.
“The Visitors’ Clubhouse was a huge step in the right direction, absolutely wonderful – some of the best money the club has spent. There are now plans to refurbish it to keep it up-to-date and remain modern to attract people into golf.”
You play off an impressive 10 handicap. Have you enjoyed any successes down the years?
“I’ve won a few medals over the years and won the Winter Foursomes a long time ago. We have a plethora of good players and I think Gullane attracts them as you can play golf here all year round. Since 2009, I think we have won eight East Lothian Winter League titles and three County Cups. It is a fabulous winter league and the team are going for seven wins in a row this year in division one. I was the non-playing manager when we won it in 2009-10, our first win in 25 years! I love watching amateur golf, a little like football and rugby, and see the endeavour and camaraderie.
“Personally, my goal is to be a single figure handicap golfer again by the time I’m 70! There is so much history here too and I just love it. I love the atmosphere in the clubhouse, as it’s so relaxing to come in for a drink and have something to eat. It’s special.”
How much did you enjoy volunteering in the men’s Scottish Opens in 2015 and 2018, and the Ladies’ Open, also in 2018?
“They were fantastic. For all three events, I was Deputy Chief Marshal to Richard Gibb. It was some of the best times I’ve ever had in golf, given the excitement. It took a lot of time, from starting early in the morning to finishing last thing at night, but we were representing the club and the club was getting showcased. We made sure we looked after everyone and gave them all a big Gullane welcome.
“In 2015, there were quite a few professionals who just put their heads round the door and said ‘thanks guys’. I remember Phil Mickelson did that, which was great. I also remember the very first day at the practice ground that year and Graeme McDowell arrived and stood and talked to us. He is a really nice guy and explained to us the shots he was hitting. The ladies in 2018 were also outstandingly polite and well-mannered. It’s been great to welcome some of the world’s best professionals here, men and women. We put our heart and soul into those events.”
Finally, Jeff, could you sum up golf at Gullane and the appeal for visitors?
“The value for money and the quality of courses here is exceptional. We have invested a lot of money in equipment and staff and I think that is shown on the courses. We have quality greenkeepers, well trained who could hold down a good job anywhere in the world. They embrace technology as well and we’re lucky to have them. For example, you won’t see a bad rivetted bunker on Gullane. Each year Stewart Duff and his team do a fantastic job in producing all-year round golf. It’s million-dollar golf here.”
Thanks for your time Jeff and happy golfing!