During February in lockdown, I received a letter from the CFO of the St Andrews Links Trust notifying me that there were some changes to one of the pensions I had bought into whilst working for the Trust.
Being in lockdown I thought it would be a good time to actually go through all my pension documents as I had plenty of spare time. It turned out I needed some professional help and just by chance chose at random James Burgess of de Mellow & Co. part of St James’s Place to provide me with some assistance.
Fast forward 7 months and I wanted to review Remedy Oak for the top 100. I had heard many good things about the course and the club but never had the opportunity to visit. James knew a member who kindly arranged for both James and I to join him as his guest.
Alex Hilton – Baird had actually been James’s first boss and when I met them both for the first time outside of a zoom call the banter kicked in straight away. We were blessed with a beautiful late summers morning with the mist just rising off the large pond that protected the 18th green. It was the type of morning that made you feel good to be alive and had longed for in lockdown.
As we enjoyed a coffee and breakfast on the patio, I asked Alex if he would like to take on the “Round with Niall Challenge”. Playing off 17 Alex agreed to the challenge if a little nervously stating that he didn’t play many competitions as his golf was played mostly with clients through the week. We agreed that I would give him 8 shots.
The club was busy and having hit a few balls on the excellently presented range we headed to the first tee and my anticipation levels rose when I saw the well-defined fairway surrounded by trees on a challenging par 4.
Alex told me that he was born in St Albans but at the age of 10 months his father gave up managing a chain of garages in London to take his family to the highlands of Scotland near Dornoch and bought a croft and lobster trawler, as you do! I have heard of many people wanting to get out of the rat race but that really is taking it to extremes. Alex was born with a hole in the heart so at the age of 8 the family decided to move back to the Southampton area so he could have the necessary treatment which I am glad to say proved successful.
Alex now runs and owns Hilton–Baird Group with over 60 employees and in 2012 was voted one of Finance Monthly leading financial advisors around the world. Alex took a degree in Economics and Politics with two years studying in Marseille and he became a lover of all things French including skiing. The idea for the Hilton-Baird Group was born out of the bankruptcy of his father’s business where in order to pay the debt, he agreed to work with the bank to help others not to suffer the same fate. 10 years later and fresh out of University, Alex agreed to help his father and between them in 1997 they started the business, providing financial broking solutions, risk auditing and credit collections creating a very successful business out of diversity.
Remedy Oak was designed by John Jacobs who has cut the holes out of a beautiful piece of land with some amazing trees. Cleverly they left the most beautiful to help with the definition of the holes and subtly used water pockets to create water hazards that just catch your eye, so you are aware of them every time you play a shot. The front nine reminded me a little of Gleneagles without the hills.
The club had very kindly arranged for some drinks at the turn and as we were chatting Alex mentioned that he had met Josh Levy the son of Daniel Levy who I had worked for whilst at Spurs. Alex is not a football fan so was not really aware of Josh’s background until they met. Josh is a young CEO of a very successful finance company that has crossovers to Hilton-Baird Group. It never seems to amaze me that wherever I go football and Spurs somehow comes up in the conversation.
Despite his nervousness, Alex was using his shots well and some of my iron’s shots had found the aforementioned water hazards on what is a tricky layout, and I was one down at the turn. The back nine reminds me more of Woburn and the Marquis course. You could see that Jacobs had in mind to play professional tournaments at the course with the choice of teeing grounds and the large greens cleverly shaped to provide some interesting pin positions it is a tough test for the very best. Indeed, The Regional Open Championship qualifier has been played at the course four years ago.
You could see why Alex has been successful in business as he was competitive continuing to use his shots wisely and as we stood on the 18th, we were all square. A short par 4 dogleg requires a second shot over the pond we had admired over breakfast from the patio. I managed to navigate the hole for par just missing a birdie to win the hole and the match.
Remedy Oak met and exceeded my expectations. The clubhouse is new but charming, the staff were very welcoming and the course was a tough challenge well presented with good definition. The club even has its own brewery and I very much enjoyed a drop of its ale to celebrate the victory.
I will be seeing more of Alex on a professional basis regarding a couple of business opportunities and James assures me he is looking after my small financial pot and will feature in another blog soon.
Overall a most enjoyable day and I highly recommend you take a trip to Dorset to play Remedy Oak and enjoy the scenery with a decent pint après golf!
Until next time