A tour pro for a day: Taking on the Scottish Open pro-am experience

The Scoop

NCG's Tom Irwin was invited to play in the Scottish Open pro-am as a guest of Hilton Honors. But, as he found out, it's not like any other golf day you'll ever play

England are in the semi-finals of the World Cup, and I am in Scotland.

This is my all-consuming thought concern as I take the train north from York to Edinburgh late on Tuesday evening, for another once – alright, twice – in a lifetime experience. I am playing in the Scottish Open Pro-Am as a guest of Hilton Honors.

I am so concerned with where we are going to watch the football as I check into the stylish Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh, part of Hilton’s Waldorf collection, that I barely notice it is gone midnight and I am setting my alarm for 5am to catch the transfer to Gullane.

The last thing I think as I doze off if is would it be really stupid to get a train to Berwick-upon-Tweed to watch it south of the border?

It is now Pro–Am morning and we are on the rather swish transfer from downtown Edinburgh to Gullane. Also on the bus are my playing partners, Geoff from California who has racked up so many Hilton Honors points that he has bought himself a spot in the Pro-Am, and Warren Hegg, the Ashes-winning former England wicket keeper. So a nice normal collection of people.

We are united by two things: where we are going to watch the football and a fear of hitting golf shots in front of galleries and tour pros. Apart from Geoff.

We are allowed to take breakfast in the players’ lounge. Or to express it as my brain registered this news: WE ARE ALLOWED TO TAKE BREAKFAST IN THE PLAYERS’ LOUNGE. This is genuinely exciting.

Here is what I can tell you: There is a crèche in the Players’ Lounge (Tour Humour: Are they not one and the same thing? That quip from an ageing tour coach); breakfast is similar to a five-star hotel, buffet-style and something for everyone. (Padraig Harrington seemed to be on a macro-nutrient diet of balanced carbs, fats and proteins, Matt Fitzpatrick was eating some kind of fruity breakfast, and Rafa Cabrera Bello was having wholemeal toast with an egg on.)

It was all too much for me to digest, so I digested nothing and went to the toilet, where I literally ran into Pete Cowen and attempted an ill-advised piece of euphemistic humour about technique while we washed our hands. We left the bathroom together, Pete setting a brisk pace just ahead, and made our way out of the Players’ Lounge. I tried to ask him where he was watching the match but I don’t think he could hear.

We head to the range. Or, as my brain processed the information: WE ARE ALLOWED TO USE THE RANGE!

There was plenty of space, but not next to my new friends Pete and Padraig so I waited patiently and eventually just about squeezed in between the three-time major champion and Matt Wallace. I did a full round of stretching, and some drill swings. During this section I am happy to admit that I did close my eyes for a few seconds and tried to pretend that this was my actual life and in a minute Pete was going to leave Padraig and start working on us getting a bit crisper from 100 yards in. This happy daydream was rudely disturbed by Wallace who was worried about hitting me on his follow through.

So I picked up my things and we wandered off to catch the bus to the 2nd tee discussing where we are going to watch the football to meet our playing partner ‘Woody’ or, as my brain processed meeting him on the bus: WE ARE PLAYING GOLF WITH CHRIS WOOD!

Chris Wood is really tall. I am quite pleased about this. The fact he is taller than everyone seems appropriate. He: teutonic, giant-of-planet tour pro; Us: diminished, smaller earthlings.

I think it would have been weird if he was shorter than everyone else. But then McIlroy is quite short, I was musing, when ‘Woody’ rudely interrupted my thoughts to ask where we are going to watch the football.

We are playing a modified scramble. I am still not sure what the format actually was but you can only make birdies. I think that and the fact that I am so concerned about where we are going to watch the football means I am very relaxed about the golf.

Warren Hegg isn’t. He has kept wicket for England in an Ashes match at the MCG in front of 80,000 baying Australian fans but says he is more nervous today that he ever was playing cricket.

Despite Warren’s nerves, golf goes incredibly well. We walk down the fairways together chatting: me, a tour player, a tour caddy, an ex-England cricketer and Geoff. We exchange stories, by which I mean we fire a relentless stream of questions in Woody’s direction.

We wave at Robert Rock on an adjacent fairway. Or as my brain processed at the time: WE ARE WAVING AT ROBERT ROCK ON AN ADJACENT FAIRWAY!

Woody is the most normal man I have ever met in my life. He humours our nonsense and despite having no sleep thanks to his 18-month-old toddler keeping him up he stays for lunch with us afterwards, where we discover we have just missed out on the prizes by a trifling 15 points. Over lunch, Chris lets us know we are the best pro-am team he has ever had, and the nicest guys to boot. Which was lovely.

I am so convinced by now that I actually belong here that I almost forget we are supposed where we are going to watch the football.

We end up in North Berwick where after all that planning I end up having my sixth ‘I can’t believe I am here moment’ of the day.

After the England match I wake up with a a headache thinking about Woody. Despite being a very normal man, he is not a normal golfer. His iron play is out of this world. I have never seen anyone hit it higher, with more control, more flush, every single time. It was bonkers. So my enduring memory of the day in among all the incredible hospitality, all of the ‘I can’t believe I am here moments’ was Woody’s normalness and his ability to hit irons.

I was worried about doing this event – I hate not being the centre of attention – but playing at being part of the scene for a day was a seriously good experience.

If you ever get chance to do it, take it, or go and watch. The players are super-relaxed and the crowds are pretty sparse, just don’t let your day be ruined by worrying about where you are going to watch the football.

Hilton are the partner of the European Tour and the official hotel of the BMW PGA Championship, Italian Open, BMW International Open and Scottish Open, where they activated in the spectator village and put a bed out on the course for fans to win a holiday if a pro got a hole in one. More information can be found on the Hilton website.

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