Born: October 18, 1931
Died: September 23, 2019
Ian Marchbank, who has died aged 87, was one of Scotland’s best known, most respected and popular golf professionals, considered a complete gentleman by all who came into contact with him and an outstanding ambassador for the game. Synonymous with Gleneagles where he was head pro for over thirty years, he also served in that capacity at Turnberry for four years but it is the former with which he is most associated.
During his tenure he dealt with royalty, high profile politicians, international businessmen, celebrities from the entertainment world, and many of the world’s top golfers as well as innumerable ‘ordinary’ club golfers of varying degrees of ability, all of whom he treated in exactly the same way, extending the same respect, courtesy and attention to all. Those characteristics which were ingrained in his personality endeared him to everyone and reflected his deep love of the game of golf.
Although a very capable player himself who competed creditably in Scottish tournaments and several times in the Open as well as pro-ams abroad, he never harboured ambitions of being a tournament pro but concentrated on becoming the consummate club pro. An excellent teacher, he enjoyed introducing people to the game and encouraging their progress.
He was immensely proud of his position at Gleneagles and although he enjoyed Turnberry, he thought Gleneagles was ‘perfection’. In an interview for the book ‘The Jewel in the Glen’ about the Ryder Cup being hosted there in 2014 he commented, “Looking out my window from the pro shop behind the 1st tee on the King’s Course I felt like the luckiest man in the world. Being pro there was something awful special.”
Indeed as far back as 1971 with considerable foresight he suggested the Ryder Cup should be held there given the hotel’s popularity with American guests but although talks were held with the P.G.A. they proved inconclusive.
Undoubtedly he was the face of golf at Gleneagles and a highly effective unofficial public relations representative for the resort. He gave lessons to and played with all manner of distinguished guests including Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, Prince Andrew, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Bruce Forsyth, Henry Cooper, Sean Connery, Mark McCormack of the IMG group and international banker Bruce Rappaport.
While at Turnberry he played with President Eisenhower and drove him round in a golf cart, having first been cleared by American security of any affiliation to communism! He thought Eisenhower “a nicer man you could not wish to meet.”
Gleneagles was a magnet for many of the world’s top golfers including Palmer, Nicklaus, Player and Trevino who came to play the famous course and enjoy the hotel with their families. He became particularly friendly with Player and Trevino as did the families and played regularly with both. He had enormous regard for Trevino’s talent remembering how on one occasion on a par 3 hole he placed 14 balls on to the green with the 14 clubs in his bag. However the player whose action most impressed him was American Byron Nelson whom he saw practicing at Gleneagles in 1953.
Ian Marchbank was born in Glasgow to John and Margaret nee Crosbie and brought up in the Croftfoot area of the city with sisters Betty and Margaret. The family house backed on to King’s Park 9 hole golf course where his father took him to play as a youngster, planting the seeds of his lifelong love of the game. He soon developed as an excellent player and later captained his school golf team at Allan Glen’s. Called up to the R.A.F. for National Service, he spent most of it near Manchester, his ability at golf earning him privileges, including regular matches with officers.
His mind was set on making a career in golf and once demobbed he became assistant pro to Jimmy McLeod at Hayston for about a year prior to joining Gleneagles as assistant to Jack McLean in 1952. In 1958 he moved to Turnberry as head pro, both courses then belonging to British Transport Hotels and after four years returned to Gleneagles as head pro after McLean’s untimely death, thereby becoming its third professional following him and Gordon Lockhart.
In 1956 in Auchterarder he married Ella Robertson whom he had met at a dance in the town’s Aytoun Hall and during a long and happy marriage they had three sons, Brian, Billy and Graeme. They were a wonderful partnership, harmoniously sharing work and family responsibilities, and her death in 2013 was a big blow. All sons became involved in golf, Brian, a Walker Cup player and tournament pro out of Gleneagles, Billy who succeeded his father as pro at Gleneagles and Graeme who was Director of Golf there.
After hotel ownership changes, Mr Marchbank ‘retired’ in 1993 but continued as Golf Professional Emeritus till 1996 when retirement became obligatory at age 65.
Then he continued to play several times a week and enjoyed family life, especially with his grandchildren. A handyman, he enjoyed spending time fixing and building things in his workshop. His death has prompted many warm tributes on social media from a wide cross section of people all of whose lives he impacted very positively.
He is survived by his sister Betty, sons and grandchildren Diane, Mark, Lauren, Cheryl, Jacob and Josh.