Thousands of golfers visit Scotland to pay gratitude to the clubs and courses for their importance in the formation of the game but few will show such gratitude, generosity and thoughtfulness as Mr John Imlay.
Mr Imlay at North Berwick (Image Credit Mark Alexander Photography)
A self-made entrepreneur, Mr Imlay made his fortune from building and then selling his computer security company in the pioneering stage of computer technology and since then has invested in over 100 tech start-ups. Voted by Forbes as of one the World’s Top 10 Technologists, Imlay is now a proud part owner in his home town NFL team the Atlanta Falcons.
His first buddies trip to Scotland almost 30 years ago was with his Atlanta neighbour and golfing great Charlie Yates. Mentored by the famous Bobby Jones and part of the inguinal field at the Masters, Yates having previously been crowned Amateur Champion in 1978 at Troon formed strong relationships with many clubs, courses and people in Scotland which made that first trip even more compelling for Mr Imlay. It was during a return trip shortly after that Mr Imlay would be asked to become Royal Troon’s first international member which he accepted.
It was almost annual visits now and the appreciation of the special Scottish links courses started to hit home. Mr Imlay wanted to show his appreciation for Scottish golf in keeping with his modest character, something that would remain part of Scottish golf for many years, but not a statue of himself nor his own golf course. Something that would connect the people with these famous links golf courses.
It was when John walked the course with the then North Berwick captain one summer evening he commented on the potential safety risk the dilapidated bridge was and how he would like to restore this personally himself. After agreeing that the bridge was indeed dangerous not to mention an eyesore, Mr Imlay was given permission to restore the single bridge himself insisting it must be in keeping with the golf course and very importantly as unobtrusive as possible. The process is thorough and thought out, academic of Mr Imlay. An architect presents a number of designs, a stonemason selects his materials from the local quarry and a builder is then commissioned to build the bridge. The membership are unanimous in their support of Mr Imlay’s gesture and three further bridges are commissioned thereafter. Mr Imlay then talks with Peter Dawson of the Royal and Ancient and makes him aware of the bridges he has built and shares the gratitude and support he has received in doing so. John recalls during the conversation when Mr Dawson asks if he would like to replicate such gestures. From this Carnosutie almost immediately express a desire to restore two bridges which included the 10th on the Championship Course, a favourite hole of Mr Imlay’s. A further two bridges were added at Royal Troon on holes one and sixteen before larger scale bridges to combat tidal water were added to the sixteenth hole at Prestwick. It was here that Mr Imlay reminisces of the then gratitude shown by the club membership. The older members at Prestwick were now able to access the whole course by buggies facilitating again their complete love affair with the links once more. It is occasions like this Mr Imlay recalls fondly, gently smiling proudly at the knowledge that his endeavours are helping those who love the sport, at venues where golf is absolutely everything to the people and at golf courses which hold historic importance to the game of golf. Not content at ten Mr Imlay is in talks with the R&A about a further bridge at a yet unnamed course.
A trip which he now repeats several times annually inviting persons who have helped him along the way both professionally and personally. Hosted at his beautiful restored mansion decked in historic golfing art, overlooking the West Links at North Berwick. Guests that include business associates, his NFL star quarterback and even ministers. An open door which take the golfing members of the party on the ‘Imlay Death March’ which include multiple 36 hole days with rounds at all of his Scottish member courses of North Berwick, Renaissance Club, Royal Troon, Muirfield, Old Course, Carnoustie and Prestwick. Past guest of the podcast Wes Durham the play by play announcer of Mr Imlay’s Atlanta Falcons was part of a recent ‘Death March’ this year. Wes shares his experiences of the Ultimate Scotland golfing itinerary on Episode 29.
A bridge, symbolic yet understated. No brash bold shouting from the roof tops, no quantitative reminders to the world, no name in lights. Just stone cold gratitude.
Gratitude which extends far beyond the golf courses and its bridges. The Imlay Foundation donates annually 15% of their funds to Scottish charities helping with a range of causes during which time helping support over 160 Scottish based charities. The continued philanthropic gestures of Mr Imlay just a side note to the before mentioned commissioning of all ten bridges to the sum of around half a million pounds.
As Scottish golf philanthropists go, Mr John Imlay could walk on water here. A humble man who has created a legacy and a connection with both golfer and links for hundreds of years to come. So next time you walk the fairways across one of the ten beautifully crafted Imlay bridges pay homage to Mr Imlay’s endeavours and enjoy golf at its home just as John has done.
On behalf of everyone who will walk the hallowed fairways at North Berwick, Carnoustie, Troon and Prestwick Mr Imlay, thank you.
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