One guest playing golf at The Grove on Saturday found his game a little more eventful than he’d anticipated.
‘I’d wanted to play The Grove for 15 years but wasn’t expecting it to be quite so memorable.’ So says Jonathan Purr, a 36-year-old project manager from London, whose Saturday-afternoon game was interrupted in a most unusual way.
But let’s rewind…
So here’s the question. You are the Leader of the Free World and you have come to London to see your ally and friend, the British Prime Minister. It’s a long way to fly for just a few days, even in the comparative luxury of Air Force One, and your schedule is packed. Is there any chance of a quick spot of recreation, you wonder – a round of golf, say?
There is, of course, an obvious solution: The Grove, a world-class course that will host the British Masters in October, is less than an hour’s drive from central London. Probably less if you have a motorcade. Moreover, Golf at The Grove requires no membership and welcomes all standards.
So it was that on Saturday afternoon, our regular players were in for a bit of a surprise. In keeping with our policy of informality, we had made the decision to let everyone play on and avoid any kind of security lockdown. Jonathan Purr, who was on the course at the time, explains what happened. ‘I was playing in a three ball. The course officials had asked us to move to the back nine, but I’d refused, as no one wants to start on the tenth, do they?’ At this stage Jonathan had no idea why he was being asked to move.
‘The officials were really polite and let us play at our tee time,’ he says. ‘I’d noticed a bit more security than normal, but it was very discreet, until Obama and Cameron turned up – then all hell broke loose! The four ball we were playing behind was a bit slow, and we were being told by the marshals that we’d have to speed up.’ Eventually, he had to give way. ‘Finally, on the 13th, we were asked very respectfully if we’d mind letting them through – so of course we said yes and the group in front stopped as well. What was amazing was that Mr Obama bounded out of the buggy and came over to us, thanked us so much and apologised for disturbing our game. He said it was great to meet us and organised a photographer to take pictures of us all together. What an experience.’
Ben Thompson from The Grove’s Golf Operations team was managing the course on Saturday and, despite having considerable experience dealing with the celebrities who often turn up at the clubhouse, appears to have been not a little star struck himself. ‘It was a great experience working with the President’s team to prepare for his visit,’ he says. ‘He’s a very cool person to meet, probably the most famous person you’ll ever get to meet! Even after the game, he was so obliging… taking the time to say hello and speak to the staff. It was a very surreal experience.’ The US President also left a team member of The Grove a money-can’t-buy memento of his visit – the official POTUS (President of the United States) golf ball. The Titleist Pro V1 ball is marked ‘POTUS’ and ’44’ to indicate that its owner is the 44th man to hold the highest office in the US. He left another behind, too – in the rough! We are currently searching for it.
Playing as a foursome, with White House aides Joe Paulsen and Marvin Nicholson making up the numbers, Barack Obama and David Cameron seemed be enjoying some spirited competition, while taking advantage of the downtime. At one point, the President displayed his perfect command of the local vernacular. ‘Did you see that?’ he yelled when a promising 12-foot putt on the third circled the hole but failed to drop. ‘Robbed.’
It turns out that this match may have been long overdue. According to a report in The Daily Telegraph, Barack Obama challenged David Cameron to an 18-hole round in 2010, before the Ryder Cup in Wales. It didn’t happen, though at the time European winning-team captain Colin Montgomerie offered the Prime Minister a lesson to get him into shape.
Though some members of the press have reported that Saturday’s encounter went the American’s way, details are sketchy. No official final score was released. We do know, however, that the President is a keen golfer. ‘By my count, this first round of golf abroad is Pres Obama’s 286th round in office,’ tweeted Mark Knoller, CBS News White House Correspondent, suggesting that the meeting at The Grove was the first time the President has played while on an official international visit. He has played Tiger Woods and, occasionally, sports stars (though rarely politicians); he is in the habit of visiting a course on Saturdays, near Washington, at Andrews Air Force Base; and when on holiday in Martha’s Vineyard in the summer he enjoys a round on most days, and also during his winter breaks in Hawaii (where he has played the prime ministers of both Malaysia and New Zealand).
‘President Obama was a left-hander and generated a really decent strike,’ says Jonathan Purr. ‘The PM had more of a textbook swing.’
It’s worth noting that David Cameron is actually more of a tennis player. According to the Daily Mail Online, Number 10 aides said of his contest on Saturday at The Grove that the Prime Minister was happy to have ‘only lost one ball’ and was thrilled to have played the first hole for par.