It could have been Ganton in 1949 or perhaps Wentworth in 1953: the history books don’t quite tell us whether Scratch MacTee from St Andrews was in the running for the British golfers taking on the Yanks. But that’s probably where his spirit began to emerge.
The Ryder Cup 2014 in Scotland in September presents a host of outstanding opportunities for Scotland to show off its natural sporting assets. From 23 to 28 September, the teams from the United States and Europe will be battling it out in friendly and noisy competition over the course at Gleneagles. But it also opens doors for a wonderful cartoon character called Scratch MacTee and his creator, Stephen Tennent, who is an entrepreneur in the arena of advertising, marketing and sports management.
He was working as a golfing salesman promoting the Bobby Jones and Nicklaus sportswear brands across the UK and Europe and got to know everyone of any consequence in the golfing merchandising market.
His idea stemmed from walking around the exhibits at the PGA Show in Orlando back in 2000. On the flight home to Scotland he began to sketch out his thinking on an airline napkin, creating a craggy Scottish character who could be the heart and soul of what
golf is really all about. It might have taken 14 years to perfect, but Scratch somehow manages to encapsulate the spirit of golf in a razor-sharp strip. Now Stephen and his team intend to build a global brand around the cartoon character.
With the golf equipment market valued at £9bn, and increasing by 3.5% per annum, with more than 60 million active golfers worldwide, the market is ripe for a home-grown Scottish hero of the links. Scratch is your no-nonsense Scot, a talisman standing for the amateur ‘play-the-game’ values of golf, moulded by the likes of Old Tom Morris and Willie Auchterlonie. Scratch is a native of St Andrews and in him we can see the strengths and weaknesses of the people we admire on the golf course.
“It’s been a fascinating process,” says Stephen, sitting in the clubhouse of the Renaissance Club at Direlton, North Berwick. “But I could not have done this without the amazing creative input of three other golf-mad Scots.”
When he returned from Orlando, he knew his original scribbles required a great deal of finesse.
“I needed to find someone who would bring Scratch to life and that’s where it all came crashing down. I went to various people over the years, but in my mind’s eyes what they produced just wasn’t right.”
Several artists tried to bottle the spirit of Scratch but Stephen was never quite satisfied. He is a determined and demanding individual who was not only a former professional footballer and captain of the Scottish junior volleyball squad but completed an arduous 250km race through the Amazonian rainforest. He is not a quitter.
“It was about creating a character who appeals across the generations. It’s important that a 12-year-old looks at Scratch and finds him funny, as well as a 40-year-old club golfer. We’re creating a legend who is able to go around the Old Course with his hickory clubs and score well – so he’s got to know how to manoeuvre the ball. He’s got to have all the form and position of a good golfer.”
Stephen’s breakthrough came when he met the award-winning television director Norman Stone, the husband of television presenter and author Sally Magnusson, and this changed the journey for Scratch. Norman recalls: “My youngest son has a friend called Jason, and Stephen is his father. Our kids knock about with each other. Stephen would pick up
Jason from our house and we would chat. He saw some framed prints of Christmas cards I had drawn and was fascinated by them.”
Stone was trained at the Royal College of Art in London and has a passion for the immediacy and humour of cartoon strips. While he has picked up BAFTA and Emmys for television and film projects, Norman agreed to do some sketches. Stephen was bowled over and knew this was Scratch, yet Norman was never going to give up his illustrious film-making career for a strip cartoon, so another illustrator was required.
Meantime, Norman and Stephen knew that he also needed a proficient writer to get the words and gestures of Scratch into a pithy set of frames. They managed to interest comedy writer Phil Differ, one of Scotland’s best-known writers and a friend of Norman, and got him on board. Phil, who has written scripts for Not the Nine O’Clock News, Chewin the Fat, Only An Excuse, was reticent at first but could see that there were genuine opportunities for humour with Scratch.
“The thing that really hooked me was that Scratch was from St Andrews – I went on my holidays to St Andrews from the age of two to about 20. I knew the people who lived there and I knew the people around the golf course, so I was instantly intrigued by the St Andrews connection,” he says.
There was also inspiration from Phil’s father, who was a greenkeeper at Dullatur Golf Club, at Cumbernauld, and he knew about the often-infuriating etiquette and rules of golf.
“I suppose Scratch is loosely based around my father, especially his cynical attitude to authority which my dad developed because of the rules associated with the golf club. He found that stifling … he hated all that, although it gave him something to rail against.”
Scratch was now taking shape and the team took a trip to St Andrews, supping a pint or two at the Jigger Inn and walking through Granny Clark’s Wynd to soak up the ambience of Fife golf. They knew if they could find out what made Scratch tick, then he would be a much sharper and more believable character.
They nailed down his traits and back story. Scratch was born around the First World War at 15 Golf Place, had five siblings and his first word was ‘dram’. A lot of time was spent perfecting his grip, swing and stance. Once they had this all completed they required a real illustrator, and they approached Cam Kennedy, who for over 20 years had created the visually stunning cartoons for the likes of 2000AD, Batman and Star Wars.
He now lives in Orkney and has recently retired but he was able to recommend a young local artist with plenty of talent. This was Alex Leonard, who has a cartoon strip in the local paper, and originally agreed to take on the task of ‘finishing artist’. Now Alex is a fully-fledged member of the Scratch team bringing the old man to life on the page.
“Scratch MacTee might be a cartoon, but we want him to be accurate and real, so we want him to use the right kinds of club and have the right kind of swing. I’m like Stephen in that detail is a big part of the way I work. I always overwork things, so I don’t find it frustrating at all. It has to be just right.”
They are now all shareholders in Scratch MacTee Productions, a company set up to build the global profile.
“I would never have got this far without Norman, Phil and Alex. It’s been a lot of laughs refining our golfing character. We have a plan which includes global syndication, merchandising, publishing, licensing and digital media and even movie rights,” says Stephen.
They are even thinking about a golf tournament with Scratch as the character who oversees the play.
“The value of this business in 10-15 years could be substantial. Already the intellectual property has increased massively but the team wants to hold on to Scratch and see how far we can take it.”
It’s a lot of fun – and Scratch MacTee might well become a winner. In the meantime, BQ Scotland is pleased to showcase a special cartoon strip created for us to celebrate the Ryder Cup in September.