By David Birtill
WALTER Slaven still rues the day he couldn’t resist tinkering with a driver given to him by Jack Nicklaus at Royal Troon 45 years ago.
“I was in my first job as an assistant and I introduced myself as I watched him hit a few shots on the practice ground while he warmed up for the Sean Connery Pro-Am,” he recalled.
“He later popped into the shop and handed me the club, designed by Ben Hogan, because he said he’d fallen out with it.
“I decided to adapt it so I could elevate the ball further and, among other tweaks, drilled a hole in the back and inserted a spring. I messed around with it quite a bit so it’s probably lost its value by now.”
Slaven has retired after 30 years as head PGA professional at Blackburn club Wilpshire – and relished every one of them.
“You’d think being so long in one place would have given me a few hiccups but I can’t recall any. The members have been great, the club have looked after me and I’ve enjoyed teaching. In a nutshell it’s been wonderful,” he recounted.
But he also revealed how a road accident potentially threatened his career just a week before joining Wilpshire.
“I was on my way to meet a friend when my car was hit by a fire engine which pushed me straight into a wall. I was taken to hospital but was told I was fine to go home because the doctors could find nothing wrong with me.
“Over the next few years I noticed a gradual deterioration in my back and I had to accept my playing days were effectively over.”
Slaven, 65, originally from Moffat in Dumfries and Galloway, left Troon and moved to Bedford and County Golf Club and spent a season on tour, finishing seventh in the Viyella PGA Championship at Wentworth.
But he admitted he didn’t enjoy travelling.
“Everywhere you went was by car,” he explained. “One week you might be in Italy and the next Switzerland or France then back in this country. That’s when I decided to take a club job and went to Ellesmere but I found it a bit of a rat race because there were so many courses in the Manchester area.
“But while I was there I was runner-up to Ryder Cup player Howard Clark in the Greater Manchester Open. I then spent seven years at Darwen and was the first person to win back-to-back Lancashire PGA Strokeplay Championships.”
Slaven’s wife Hilary is a solicitor and his son Ben and daughter Francis who have both produced a grandchild, is determined to keep active during retirement.
“I’ve launched a website and most mornings go out on to the course with an eight iron and a couple of balls which my dog chases after and brings them back,” he added.
“I also have an electric bike which helps me to get around more easily because I have had circulation problems with my legs.”
Meanwhile, Slaven has handed over the reins to Scott Connor who was assistant to his dad Brian at Manchester Golf Club for 10 years and has worked with renowned coaches such as Butch Harmon.