My Godfather was a member of the RAC club when I was growing up and when he knew I was interested in golf he arranged for me to caddie on Saturdays & Sundays. I think I was 12 at the time and for anyone still alive who I caddied for, I am truly sorry as I must have been a terrible caddie!
I grew up just down the road from the club and was always so impressed by its grand clubhouse and the fact that it hosted The Bob Hope Classic in1980 where I got my first chance to see my golfing idol Seve Ballesteros in the flesh.
Fast forward 41 years and I was back to review the Old Course as part of the top 100 courses for National Club Golfer. Neil Gray a fellow panellist had arranged a tee time along with the chance to play with an old friend Henk Potts who Neil and I got to know when working on The Barclays Scottish Open at Loch Lomond. Those of you who listened to Talk Sport will recognise the name as Henk works for Barclays providing financial information to potential investors.
I loved listening to the banter that he would have with Alan Brazil who hosts the breakfast show and so when Neil invited Henk to the media day for my first Scottish Open in 2007, I was delighted to make his acquaintance and we have enjoyed many stories since and got to meet Mr Brazil on several occasions. Yes, `Brazil really does drink that much Champagne!!
Henk took up “the Round with Niall Challenge” claiming a 20 handicap, a bad back and the fact that he only played very infrequently now that he had two small children. He then smashed his drive down the first 290 yards with me allowing him 11 shots!
I was looking forward to seeing the course again as I couldn’t remember it from my days as a 12-year-old caddie. I had heard that the club had worked hard on the condition of the course and made some excellent design changes most notably all the bunkers and a complete redesign of the 13th hole. With the country enjoying perfect conditions for growing grass the course was lush, but the definition and presentation of the course was first class. One thing both Neil and I commented on was the size of the greens they are huge and make a big difference to club selection based on the pin position.
Thankfully for me, my game had improved from my last outing and despite Henk playing some good golf, I was 4 up after 7 when we reached the halfway house which overlooks Epsom Downs racecourse and would be a perfect spot to watch The Derby.
Henk got married at the club and obviously has very special memories for him and his family and he explained that the whole ethos had changed from when he first joined when jackets and ties were enforced in nearly every area of the club.
Now the club has a real country club feel building children’s swimming pools, a superb health & fitness facility and providing really nice outdoor dining facilities where the whole family can gather together after participating in whatever activities they have chosen. Not a jacket and tie insight on our visit.
The course has some magnificent views of the clubhouse and flows very nicely through this lovely part of the Surrey countryside. As we took on the back nine Neil had taken pity on Henk and was helping him with distance, clubbing and lining up a few putts which seemed to help, and I was back to just one up as we stood on the 18th tee.
The 18th is a lovely finishing hole along par 5 dogleg sweeping back down to the imposing clubhouse. A new bunker is positioned on the turn of the dogleg and once again Mackenzie Erbert has excelled at the bunker repositioning throughout the course. Although I tugged my drive to the right having to chip out, I hit the shot of the day into the green to secure a two-up win and break my losing streak.
The three of us had a great time catching up and reminiscing about some of the courses and après golf experiences we have enjoyed over the years. Watching a very entertaining thunder & lightning storm from the clubhouse terrace at Castiglion del Bosco in Tuscany with a few bottles of sparkling Rose was one of the highlights.
As we ordered our drinks from the patio outside the Clubhouse Henk’s wife Joanne and his two young children joined us after their swimming lesson and just reinforced what Henk had highlighted about the change in ethos. With the sun shining the club was packed full of happy members on a Friday evening in early July spending money seemingly not that concerned that at the time of writing travel was still restricted due to the pandemic.
The Club has certainly changed since I first rode my bike up the road to caddie, it still has its links with the past with a magnificent car gallery and some wonderful pictures, but it was great to see that they have invested in the future improving the course and upgrading the other leisure facilities so as to welcome families.
Incredibly Henk told me that a large portion of the RAC members only uses the London Club based in Pall Mall and do not venture out to Epsom. This subsides the subs significantly and I know Henk and his family who live just 10 minutes from the club will enjoy many more happy years here.
I for one thoroughly enjoyed the course and the facilities and would recommend anyone to visit.
Until next time