Northern Ireland’s Michael Hoey pens this week’s Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, where the five-time European Tour winner tells the incredible story of the time he played golf with The 43rd President of the United States of America, George W Bush.
I won the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in 2011 and the guy I played with is personal friends with the Bush family. His name is Bill Farish Jr and when I played with him in 2011, I won the individual tournament but we came second in the team event behind Nick Dougherty and Chris Evans. He enjoyed the experience so much and is a great guy. He’s in the horse business and the Queen buys horses from him, as does Sheikh Mohammed in Dubai and lots of other people. Bill’s a really nice guy and he’s from a very well-connected family; his dad was the US Ambassador to London for quite a few years, so I was just lucky to play with him at the Dunhill for four years from 2011 to 2014. He’s a member of Augusta National, he’s a member of Seminole Golf Club and a lot of the famous clubs in America.
Bill’s family have their own golf courses and hotels down in Florida, and he invited me out during the winter. I’ve been out to do a bit of practice at his place and then last year I was in Disneyland Florida with the kids at Christmas time and he invited me down to his place, Gasparilla Golf Club in Boca Grande, South West Florida. I drove down to his place and, when I arrived, he said “The 43rd President of the United States is in town”. George W Bush spends Christmas down at his hotel in Florida and he has done for a number of years. It’s a bit of a retirement community, the average age is about 70 down there!
Bill told me if I’m lucky, we’ll get to play with the 43rd President because he’s flying in tomorrow. We started a few holes and George W was flying in on his private jet and Bill was texting him on the plane. The President told him they were due to land in 20 minutes and he was going to head straight to the golf course because he hadn’t played in a while. As promised, he came straight to the golf course and because Bill knows him so well, he doesn’t feel nervous around him at all. We played with the head pro who also knows him so well, so he didn’t feel nervous either. The only nervous person there was me!
The President’s father, George HW Bush, had just passed away a month before, so I just offered my condolences and tried not to be too nervous. It was actually quite funny, he said to me: “Michael, why are you nervous? I was only the God damn President!”. He’s a great guy and he makes you feel very comfortable around him. He’s great fun and really good company. He’s pretty good at golf; he plays off ten and is pretty competitive.
We played a match for a few holes and I was his partner, so suddenly I was partnering the President of the United States of America. I was thinking ‘what do I call him?’ because I wondered if I needed to call him Mr President as he’s a past President; I think I’ve watched too many movies. I just went for Mr President and it was really cool. I was pretty nervous and played rubbish for a few holes, then, we get around to the last hole and I had this 15-foot putt to halve the match. I’d been calling him partner for the last hour-and-a-half because that’s what he wanted me to call him while we were playing together and I’m lining up this putt and he goes ‘Come on partner, we need to hole this putt!’. I had never been so happy to hit a good putt and hole it in my life, because I’d played badly and let him down as a partner. It was great fun and I ended up feeling very comfortable around him because he’s such a good guy.
Two big black Jeeps came and parked on the first tee. They were his Secret Service transport. I was quite surprised because the ocean came right up to the golf course and boats could get within 30 yards of people playing. I thought they would stop anyone from getting in close proximity to us, but the Secret Service guys didn’t have binoculars out and weren’t scrutinising anyone that came close to us. There were two guys on a buggy that followed us around from the Secret Service, they had a great day on the golf course, it was an easy day for them.
We actually spoke about the peace process in Northern Ireland quite a lot and he was telling me about Irish politicians he knows. Golf-wise, he didn’t really talk about playing with Tiger or anyone else, we were just chatting about normal things. He was just very chilled out and enjoying his time. I didn’t want to annoy him because I knew he was just there to play golf, so I didn’t ask him too many questions.
He didn’t need too many tips on his game, so I just helped out with yardages more than anything. The penultimate hole was a par three playing downwind and it was playing really short. I was trying to figure out the yardage and he just hit too much club. He loves hitting rescue clubs and he’s hit it on this par three – it was a really good shot but just too much club and ended up in the hazard at the back of the green. But in terms of his biggest strength on the golf course, he’s good with the rescue and knows where it’s going, especially off the tee.
He arrived in Florida off the back of three weeks’ mountain biking. He was absolutely covered in cuts and bruises. He’s 72 years old and covered in cuts and bruises from mountain biking. He said to me “Not bad for a 72-year-old, hey?” He likes getting outside and getting into his sport. He’s a really active guy.
The President stayed there that night and they all went for a few drinks with him at his house. I didn’t go because I just spent a bit of time with Bill’s sons, but a lot of people did go. I could have gone but I didn’t want to annoy anyone and get in anyone’s way. It was an unbelievable experience and it’s one of those things that you never get to do. I didn’t ask him to, but he signed some golf balls with the number 43 on them for me. He gave them to me for the kids and he just did it as a nice gesture.
The good thing about golf is the people you meet and the stories you hear. I played the British Par 3 last week and people like Peter Schmeichel and Alan McInally, who played for Bayern Munich, were there and you just get to hear really good stories that you’d never normally get to hear. The people you can meet and the things you can do are two of the best things golf can provide.