New Captain of The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews Chris Hilton shares his favourite memories from the golf course, his passion for the game, and his dream fourball picks
It’s been a busy couple of years for the new captain of The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews Chris Hilton. A member of the Club since 2000, he chaired the Rules Committee from 2011-2015 and has continued his work alongside the committee ahead of the launch of the new Rules of Golf in January 2019. A member of The Northumberland, Bamburgh, The Golf House Club at Elie and The New Golf Club St Andrews, the former lawyer has refereed at golf’s biggest events, including all four majors, and maintains a handicap of eight. Here’s more…
1 With such a packed schedule how do you fit golf in? As Chairman of the Rules Committee I played very little golf, and what I did play was often on strange courses with rental clubs. I’ve played regularly since then and I hope to continue playing regularly as Captain.
2 How did you get into golf? My father was a keen golfer and I had a club in my hands very early. My grandfather and father were members of The Northumberland and I’ve been a member for 50 years.
3 Which is your favourite course in the North East? It would have to be The Northumberland, the course is simply terrific. Bamburgh is one of the finest places to play golf I’ve ever seen and I recommend everyone experiences it.
4 And further afield? Apart from St Andrews, it has to be Prestwick. The course and club are incredible, and it has so many quirky and remarkable golf holes. Outside of the UK, I’d choose Cypress Point in California for its stunning location.
5 What’s your best ever round? I shot 74 on The Old Course at St Andrews, a score set before I was Chairman of the Rules Committee and while I was still playing some good golf.
6 Which is your favourite golfing memory? On the course, it would be my hole-in-one on the 14th at The Northumberland last year. It was my first round of golf at the club since my father passed away and I had forgotten putting his pitch mark repairer in my shoe for safe keeping. It was there the whole round and seems to have brought some good luck. Away from my own golf, I would say my final ruling at The Open, which I gave to Zach Johnson in 2015 while playing the 18th hole in the playoff. The ruling was not exceptional but the surroundings and the occasion were very special.
7 What about embarrassing moments? In 2011 at Royal St George’s, Luke Donald had to identify his ball in the face of a bunker and I gave him an immaculate ruling; the embarrassment came when I later realised I’d given a perfect ruling based on the incoming 2012 edition of the Rules.
8 Do you have any superstitions? I don’t have any, which makes travelling and playing a lot easier. I don’t take a practice swing – my father was always very hot on pace of play!
9 What are your strengths on the course? It used to be my short game, though much of that has been lost due to a lack of practice.
10 And your weaknesses? 5ft putts.
11 Which is your favourite club? A wedge, though I wish it was my driver.
12 Who is your best golfing friend? That’s a difficult one as I deliberately look to play with as broad a mix of people as possible. I’ve met some incredibly interesting people from all over the world by doing that, including one of the most memorable rounds of my life alongside Mark McCormack and Sandy Tatum – both of whom were charming.
13 Do you/have you played any other sports. Do they help your golf? Cricket has helped and hindered my golf – you have to think about hitting shots to mid-on rather than through the covers.
14 Who is your favourite tour player? Adam Scott. I walked with him at Royal Lytham & St Annes in the final round when he dropped four shots over the final four holes to finish behind Ernie Els, and he conducted himself superbly. He also has the most beautiful golf swing, which combines to produce a fantastic all-round golfer and person.
15 Which event do you enjoy attending? The Walker Cup – I love matchplay and there is something very special about amateur golf. The camaraderie is fantastic, it doesn’t have the jingoistic element of a Ryder Cup and the golf courses the event is played on are wonderful. Those elements combine to make the whole experience very special.
16 Who do you admire? I have to choose two – both of them former secretaries of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. Peter Dawson has been an important figure in my career in golf; he backed the plan to modernise the rules alongside the USGA and offered tremendous support. The other is Sir Michael Bonallack, who has done everything in golf and is a hugely enthusiastic champion of the game.
17 Which three people would join you in your dream fourball? Tom Watson for his exceptional attitude to the game and what it stands for; Annika Sörenstam for her golfing ability and her fantastic work off the golf course; and my wife, Liz.
18 What’s next for you? Following the captaincy, I’m not sure what my life looks like if I’m honest. I’d like to see golf restored to a game which is accessible to all and I will do my best to be a part of that.