In 1995 I was appointed the head of golf at Celtic Manor, this was way before there was even a concept that Graeme McDowell would hole the winning putt on a sunny Monday afternoon to take back the Ryder Cup with millions watching around the world. In fact, the Roman Road course had not even been finished, the Ryder cup course was not even thought of and the hotel was about a 10th of the size it is today!
One of my first tasks was to appoint a top teaching professional to run the academy and the team of professionals. I chose Keith Williams who headed up the golf operation at Hawkstone Park. Keith was an excellent choice extremely professional having learnt his trade at Sunningdale under Clive Clark and was teaching some top amateurs and a couple of tour professionals when he arrived to take up the role.
One of the up-and-coming amateurs was Scott Drummond who had learnt his golf at Shrewsbury Golf Club and had been taken on by Keith as he saw great potential and at the beginning of 1995 had just made the Walker Cup squad.
Scott roomed with Lee Westwood when he was on England duty and the Walker Cup squad was packed full of future tour winners like David Howell, Stephen Gallacher, Mark Foster and a certain Padraig Harrington. Unfortunately, due to tendentiousness in both shoulders, Scott didn’t make the actual team and decided to turn professional in 1996.
I know I am biased but as a member, I think Sunningdale Heath is a real gem formally known as Sunningdale Ladies the course dates back to 1902 and although is attributed to Harry Colt, I believe Dr Alister Mackenzie who designed Augusta, had a major influence on the design as they often collaborated on many courses together.
Rather like Augusta if you get on the wrong side of the hole you are more likely to three-putt as the greens have severe and subtle slopes and when the greens are quick and smooth very hard to stop the ball rolling on and on making you look very silly.
The club was taken over by two professionals who had formally worked at Wentworth, Tom Reid and Kristian Baker and two major investors. Tom & Kristain had originally wanted to simply set up a teaching studio and teach their ex-clients from Wentworth but it soon became apparent that the club was in difficulties and so negotiations took place and in November 2019 the club changed to Sunningdale Heath.
The course sits just next door to Sunningdale Old and in many respects is a miniature version. A par 58 but don’t be fooled, this is not an easy pitch and putt par 3 in fact I will wager that you will be hard-pressed to find anyone who has broken their handicap on their first visit.
Scott knows Kristian and Tom well and we had met a couple of times at the club reminiscing about old times before suggesting he took up the “ A Round with Niall Challenge”. Feeling slightly nervous standing on the first tee with someone who had won the European Tour’s flagship event, I tried my negotiating skills regarding the number of shots I was to be given.
Scott informed me that he normally gives his opponents 4 more shots than their handicap and I jumped at the offer fancying my chances around my home course. I don’t think I have ever been given 13 shots! The wind was swirling, and it reminded me even more of the difficulties the pros face when playing the Masters.
Scott started his pro career playing on small tours eventually getting on the Challenge Tour and the Sunshine Tour in South Africa where he was high enough in their Order of Merit to warrant his first European tour event in 2001 which was the Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrew’s.
He was a long way down the list of reserves for the 2004 BMW Championship but managed to creep into the starting line-up for his first-ever appearance in the event teeing off very late on Thursday and shooting 6 under not feeling any pressure and believing it was like an afternoon round playing with his best mate Matt at Sunningdale. He was just 2 off the lead which was held by Ernie Els.
In our game, I was two down at the turn despite having hit some good shots. Scott still had that Tour pro magic and his iron play in the swirling wind was top class. Scott loves playing at Sunningdale Heath as do a number of pros in fact Stephen Dodd who won the Seniors Open at Sunningdale has the course record at 5 under and Scott believes playing at the Heath helped Dodd to his win.
I asked Scott when the pressure hit him when he was trying to win in 2004 which was also incredibly his first win on Tour! Surprisingly it wasn’t the last 9 holes on Sunday but the Friday afternoon when he was really nervous trying to hold onto a good score around the back 9 at Wentworth which can be very tricky as we have all seen on the television over the years.
Scott was paired with Angel Cabrera in the last round and said the first 9 went in a flash he never looked at a scoreboard all day. Coming up the last he laid up with his second shot and his wedge shot went long by about 12 ft. Only then did his caddie say you don’t have to hole this, two will do and he rolled it down to the hole side and knocked his second putt in for par winning the biggest event in the UK outside of The Open Championship by two shots and cementing his place on the European Tour for the next 5 years.
Scott is still competitive and was trying to head “A round with Niall Challenge “Leader board and standing on 16th tee was 3 up with 3 play. I managed to make a birdie on 16 and a par on 18 which meant Scott beat me 2 up. Not bad for someone who had to give me 13 shots around my home course!
It was a most enjoyable afternoon and loved listening to Scott’s stories of life on Tour and look forward to working with him and Ben Hortop on a few ventures with their business called Golf Partners in the future. Scott is 47 and you can see he still has thoughts about playing on the Seniors Tour especially now his friend Dodd has won a major on that tour.
I think he might do well after all he only wins the big ones!
Until next time