Golf has been in my life, both as my hobby and my career, since I was 10. However, I did fall out of love with the game in 2017, when I sold my company and went to work for my team Tottenham Hotspur and put the clubs away in the cupboard, for what I thought, at the time could be for a long break
Spurs were building the new stadium and playing home games at Wembley. My role was to look after the Premium Members, getting to know them before moving across to The New Stadium. As part of the benefits to this group, the club implemented a very successful Legends programme, introducing some greats from past teams to meet the members and give their inside track on the game and the season as a whole.
Playing with a Spurs legend
One of the legends was David Howells, who played for Spurs from 1986 to 1998 which included being in the winning FA Cup side of 1991, now 30 years ago. David is a Guildford boy and we got to know each other travelling up to the games. He’s also a keen golfer and jumped at the chance to play one of the courses I had to review, West Hill, as it’s just down the road for both of us.
I hadn’t been to the club since I refereed the South Region Assistant’s Matchplay Final in 1991.Part of the three W’s – Woking, Worplesdon and West Hill, which have been known as some of the standout courses to play in the South East of England, since the early 1900’s.
David is still a very competitive sportsman and played in the legends game that was one of the test events for the new stadium, so was happy to take on the “Round with Niall Challenge” and we played flat with no shots given.
Heathland Regeneration Project
We met Patrick Dawson, the General Manager, who gave us a background to the work that had been undertaken over the past few years, including taking out 3,500 trees as part of the heathland regeneration project. The club has diligently introduced heather back into areas that had subsequently been cleared. Engaging Tim Lobb, a well-known local architect, to look at future projects such as the redesign of the dog leg 14th hole, a new reservoir and all 84 bunkers being given a new base structure.
From the first tee you could see the huge impact the heathland regeneration programme has had. Like Hindhead, which I played a few weeks earlier, it really helped with the air circulation, which in turn has helped the presentation and definition of the course. Once again, I was excited to play a Top 100 course just on my doorstep.
David, a holding midfielder in his day, told me that the best manager he played under at Spurs was Terry Venables. The training sessions were the best he ever experienced and his man management skills were second to none. He loved the cup run in 1991 and said without doubt the best game was the semi-final against Arsenal. The final was special because of the win and the celebrations, but also being introduced to Princess Diana who was part of the welcoming dignitaries that day.
I managed to get an early lead birdieing the long par 4 third and I was delighted that my game felt like it was still in good shape from Walton Heath. As we strolled to the next tee, we could see how well the course was presented. All the tee boxes are immaculate and the definition of the fairways and semi rough were all first class. I had forgotten how large the greens were and with the putting surfaces in excellent condition, you really had to concentrate on the shortest putts due to the subtle borrows.
Football and Golf Intwined
Although I was playing well, David showed why he was a dogged midfielder by nature, his short game was paying dividends and I just couldn’t get a decent lead. We got to the 12th, a short par 4, I drove the green and holed the putt for an eagle, something I haven’t done for a very long time and finally had a 2-hole lead.
Football and golf seem to be intwined at all golf clubs, Patrick, the general manager who is a Man City fan told us that Luca who runs the tee hut, was a massive Napoli fan. Over a coffee and a sausage sandwich we spoke about football and Luca asked for a picture with David who duly obliged. We tried to work out if any players had played for Spurs and Napoli. The only one, we could think of was Maradona, who played in a testimonial for Ossie Ardiles. Not a bad player to have in your side!
Standing on the 18th I was 3 up and that was the way it stayed for the “A round with Niall challenge”. We met the course superintendant, Ben Edwards and we both congratulated him and his team on what a great job they had done. The course was the best conditioned I had played this year and I can’t wait to play a course that might be in better condition, as West Hill was truly superb. What I liked about Ben’s reaction was not just the fact he was pleased with our feedback, but was excited about the future projects and continuing to improve the course, both from a condition and an architectural standpoint.
It was great to catch up with David who is looking forward to going back to work as part of the legends programme when crowds are allowed back in the magnificent new stadium. He let me know that he was attending a legends get together on behalf of Glenn Hoddle and he would get one of the new Tottenham shirts signed as a prize for the blog. In addition, Patrick Dawson, very kindly provided a fourball to play at West Hill. So please join the blog and enter the competition if you are lucky enough to win the four ball you will not be disappointed!
Until next time