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The voice heard 'round the world

Renton Laidlaw has become a popular fixture on the Golf Channel.

BOB HARIG
Published March 4, 2004

Renton Laidlaw stood outside London's Paddington Station not long ago, waiting for a taxi, when suddenly a man hustled over, hoping to gain his attention.

"This fellow came running across, and it was an American who just arrived at the airport," Laidlaw said. "He had spotted me in the crowd and wanted to say hello. I thought I must have dropped something, but he just wanted to say hello and shake my hand. Amazing."

Why? Because Laidlaw's fame is derived from his role on the Golf Channel. Even though he spends a sparse amount of time on U.S. soil each year, he has become quite a presence in living rooms across the country as golf fans catch him on the 24-hour network's coverage of the PGA European Tour.

This morning Laidlaw will be part of the broadcast team at the Dubai Desert Classic, a European event in the United Arab Emirates featuring Tiger Woods and Ernie Els. The Middle East tournament is where the Golf Channel did its first live broadcast, with Laidlaw as host, in 1995.

Already this year, Laidlaw has made two stops in South Africa before two more in Australia and one in Malaysia.

"And remember, we've done all these weeks before we ever go to Europe," Laidlaw said in a recent interview from South Africa, where he was on location for the Alfred Dunhill Championship in Johannesburg. "It's very, very international. Our 2004 season actually began in Hong Kong in November. I've done a lot of miles over the years."

Laidlaw, 64, has a long history in golf, working in newspapers and television. A Scotsman, he started at the Edinburgh Evening News, where he also became an anchorman for the BBC. Eventually he moved to the London Evening Standard.

"The opportunity for a Scotsman to move to London is one you would snap up," Laidlaw explained. "It's like getting a job in New York if you lived in Idaho. All Scots want to move south. If you want to make your way, getting to London is a key point. If you can do well there, you've kind of made it."

Laidlaw, whose home in Drumoig, Scotland, is just 15 minutes from the famed birthplace of golf, St. Andrews, ended up working for the Evening Standard from 1973 to 1998 while also moonlighting in television. He covered all of the major championships each year.

For the first few years at the Golf Channel, he did double duty until retiring from his newspaper job. And in 2003, Laidlaw was honored with the PGA of America's Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism, the first European-born recipient.

"I think he does an excellent, excellent job," said Bob Greenway, the Golf Channel's senior vice president of programming and production. "He's been in some sort of sports journalism, whether it's print, radio or TV, for years and years. I'm biased with reason. He is wonderful to work with. Quite frankly, we've talked for years about trying to find ways to expand his role on the Golf Channel."

The PGA European Tour has come to be one of the Golf Channel's most popular properties. Due to the time change from Europe, broadcasts typically air live in the early morning hours in the United States, with a replay at night.

European Tour Productions produces the telecasts, with its two biggest clients being Sky Sports in Europe and the Golf Channel. Although Laidlaw works for European Tour Productions, he only appears on the Golf Channel, which pays a rights fee for the broadcasts.

Laidlaw does some 25 events a year, and estimates doing more than 200 broadcasts for the Golf Channel. The job has taken him to some interesting places.

"You have to have a cast iron stomach," he said. "Different countries, different cultures, different foods."

Laidlaw is proud of his association with the Golf Channel, and is quick to point out the difference between European telecasts and those in the United States on the PGA Tour. The pace is a bit slower, offering more time for story telling, and even some travelogue-type information about the place they are visiting that week.

"It's very satisfying," Laidlaw said. "European golfers have become far better known. It's great to know the golfers you are talking about are known to people in Kansas and North Dakota and New Mexico. You've got a lot of characters and a lot of neat places."

Among those coming up: the Qatar Masters, the Caltex Masters in Singapore, the Madeira Island Open and the Algarve Open in Portugal. Somewhere in there, Laidlaw will take a week off, then head to Augusta, Ga., for the Masters.

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