Wentworth Club has always been a special place for me, having worked at the club from 1992 – 95. As I sat in the lounge waiting for my host, I reflected on some of the old school training I had been given there as a young club manager and the foundations it provided me with throughout my career.
Strictly Come Dancing fans
My wife and I are big Strictly Come Dancing fans and Saturday nights between September and Christmas are often booked out for Strictly and a takeaway curry, so I was thrilled to be playing with Anton Du Beke, one of the main stars of a show that attracts over 10 million viewers every week.
I have known his agent Mel Chappell for a many years and she had always told me that he loved his golf and was a great guy. I’ve been lucky to have met a number of celebrities over the year at the various clubs I have worked at, resulting in some good and not so good experiences. Straight away however, Anton put me at ease, as he apologised for being slightly late and told the bar staff to put the coffee I had enjoyed on his members account – a nice start from a nice man.
As we got to the first tee of the West Course, which has seen so many Championships over the years I mentioned “The Round with Niall Challenge”. Being very competitive, Anton was quick to accept, giving me 7 shots as he plays off 2!! The weather was hot, the course looked in amazing condition and for something to do on a Wednesday afternoon, this was pretty cool. Mel was right, Anton does love his golf and smacked his opening drive close to 300 yards off the first tee, this was going to be another competitive game.
Anton started playing golf in Kent when he was a teenager, though born to a Hungarian father and a Spanish mother, his participation wasn’t really part of the plan for a family from a non-golfing background. In order to learn the game, Anton and his mates used to jump on the second at Lullingstone Park and nip off after the 17th , ensuring he had well and truly caught the golf bug from a young age.
The two golf championships he always watched on TV growing up were The Masters and The Suntory World Matchplay at Wentworth, which was the end of season show piece event on the European Tour. Anton set himself a goal from those early days, to one day be a member of Wentworth Club, and in 2013 that dream became a reality.
As we played the front nine of the immaculately presented West course, we discussed the competitive nature of ballroom dancing and how in the early days it was tough to make a living. Anton has been an ever present on Strictly and has enjoyed meeting all his dancing partners, although not all were great dancers, they have generally been very interesting people to get to know and have given him a great insight into the celebrity and political lifestyles. He explained that it takes a couple of weeks for the celebrities to build their trust in him, as they are way out of their comfort zone and really don’t want to be made a fool off in front of millions of people.
Improvements to all 3 courses
Talking off trust, I floated the question of the change of ownership at Wentworth which has been seen by many as very negative. Anton was the exact opposite, for someone who had always dreamt of being a member of the club, he respected the current ownership for providing exactly what they said they had set out to do.
The improvements on all three courses have been well received by the members, especially the changes to the West. In addition, the flexibility of not to having to book a start time and to have the choice of three courses are big plus points for a very busy father of two small children. He also loves the gym and the way he engages with all the staff at the club on such a friendly basis, shows he really does feel at home there.
By the time we got to the halfway house at the 9th I was 1 down, but loving the course and the company. I took the opportunity over coffee to ask him if he enjoyed being famous. Without hesitation, he told me it was what he went into dance for and why he had worked so hard to get where he was today.
Not only does Anton compete every year on Strictly, he also has a regular Sunday set at Ronnie Scott’s, has sold out the Royal Albert Hall for his Christmas shows and was just about to start rehearsals to tour the UK with fellow Strictly dancer Giovanni Pernice. He had to take a couple of calls during the round about a TV show he was appearing on the next day, in order to prep the subject he was going to be speaking on. Like any great professional, he made it all look and sound so easy.
The golf continued to be as competitive as expected and the old school grounding he received from a tough London dance teacher, came out in his game. He made me putt everything, not giving an inch and still hitting the ball miles off the tee with a power fade! Despite that, I was one up standing on 16th tee and managed to win the hole with a hard earned par four.
Another booming drive followed from my opponent on the 17th and as we waited for the green to clear to hit our second shots, Anton got into pose and showed me a couple of steps from the Waltz. If only my wife could have been there, I have two left feet and can’t sing a note. She loves dancing and like most Strictly fans, I’m sure she would have happily danced all the way up the fairway with him to the green!
Not sure if my dancing put him off, but Anton hit his second shot straight right and that closed out the game in my favour. He managed to win the 18th so for our challenge match he finished 1 down. As we walked to the clubhouse, he apologised that he had to get home, as his wife had a couple of conference calls to make and he had to get back to look after the children. Hannah, his wife, is a marketing executive and he told me they had met at Wentworth at a function, which again just highlighted what a special place the club is to him.
As you may know, I like to ask all my guests for a prize and Anton did not disappoint, as he has offered two readers the opportunity to take us both on around the West Course in the Spring of next year.
I can promise the two lucky winners, a great day around one of the most famous courses in European golf, with a top entertainment professional, who has some cracking stories to share. The downside is I have to make up the four ball! I for one can’t wait for next year.
Until next time,