Rick Cressman has issues, and not just from this year thanks to the COVID 19 crisis hitting the hospitality trade hard. The owner of Nailcote Hall and Midlands Golfer have always been close and we’ve watched at close hand and often been a confidant of his business concerns as local and national government red tape have often frustrated his plans for growth to this beautifully quaint and historic corner of Warwickshire.
But he’s one determined fella and thankfully there’s a happier side too, a balancing of the scales that fully motivates him to continue to drive things forward. As we all know too, Nailcote Hall has a very well known further string to its bow.
Sit Rick down and listen to him eulogise all about what goes on in his hotel’s back garden every August, the personal pride he’s achieved in bringing it to the masses since 1998, and the great golfers he’s attracted too and it’s a very rewarding experience to hear it all come out.
MG editor Phil Nicholas sat down with Rick in August on what would have been the final day of this year’s championship week, turned on the voice recorder and off he went.
The Farmfoods British Par 3 Championship was re-invented by Rick with the help of Sid and Mark Mouland in 1998. The tiny Cromwell course at Nailcote played host and has done ever since.
Rick’s back garden has produced many fantastic and memorable times, sadly not in 2020 as it became one of the many cancelled events due to the pandemic.
“Obviously it’s been very, very sad to not be able to host the Farmfoods British Par 3 Championship this year.”
“The atmosphere is special – this event originated in 1933, known then as the Professional Short Course Championship, an end of season garden party at the Palace Hotel in Torquay for the some of the leading professionals of the day and their families.
It ran for 40 years until it dropped off the calendar after Eric Chester won it in 1973. Now we’re the guardians of the world’s only and most inclusive ‘Minor’ tournament, which makes it all the more sad for me personally that we couldn’t run it this year.”
Sid and Mark Mouland in 1998
We asked Rick how his love and success with the BP3 keeps him going and continues to motivate him during troubling times for the hotel trade and the ensuing problems. His frustrations have gone back much further than that.
“I think it gives me an extra incentive for sure; the golf course has always been my saviour in that respect as local authority difficulties with planning here at Nailcote has always been a big problem.
We’ve been stymied for many years; it was 1999-2000 I was trying to get just 10 extra bedrooms here to make the business thoroughly viable, we finally managed to get those rooms built in 2015, along with the clubhouse here.
This picture here is of myself and Mark Mouland in hard hats and spades while it was all under construction.”
“Yet to wait for so long and to be forced to hear very negative views and opinions from not just local authority politicians but in national government too, plus appeals procedures and just so much time wastage, not to mention the financial cost of the process was really, really so destructive.”
“The one thing that kept me going during that 15 years of fighting to make the business what I wanted it to be (and the banks) was being able to continue to develop the par 3 golf course, to make it prettier and prettier, to make it even more challenging too.
To gain over the last three years the nomination of The Cromwell being one of the best short courses on the planet in the World Golf Awards was recognition of all the efforts everyone involved has put in.”
GB & Europe Ryder Cup stars line up on the Nailcote lawn in 2016
BRITISH PAR 3 TIMES – TOMMY BOUNCES BACK
“Looking back in time, we re-launched the event back in 1998 and our very good local friend and past Ryder Cupper Peter Baker was the first winner here.”
“Another local star Jeremy Robinson won too and then in 2001 it was Robert Rock, the same year that we honoured Max Faulkner on his 50th anniversary of winning the Open Championship.”
“We’ve had an amazing run of great players who’ve won the tournament since 1998, and in more recent times we’ve seen our own Mark Mouland win it twice, as well as club pro Richard O’Hanlon, who also used to work very closely alongside Robert Rock. Mark and Richard are our only two time winners. In 2016 when Mark won for the second time he broke all the records! For nine holes, 7 under, for 18 holes,10 under and for 36 holes 11 under, AMAZING!”
“A few years prior to that we had the real mega moments when Tommy Fleetwood won at his second attempt in 2013 having been killed by the course the year before! The following year Eddie Pepperell won it in an amazing play-off with another local, Jak Hamblett, which was very special.”
Tommy’s Triumph 2013
“Tommy told us all how proud he was to win after being eaten alive by the Cromwell course the year before. He knew he needed to make his short game so much better if he was to compete successfully on the European Tour. To see both Tommy’s and Eddie’s careers go off the Richter Scale following their wins here has been enormously satisfying. ”
Tommy Fleetwood would go on to win his first European Tour event, just two weeks after winning the British Par 3 Championship.
“We’ve seen the number of people watching the event grow and grow each and every passing year as the word gets around about the event and the quality of the players and celebrities coming has increased. It’s been incredible and totally rewarding to see the people up close and enjoying the week, plus all of the kind comments they bestow on us.”
“The players find it a completely unique experience, even for the hardened pros, it takes a bit of getting used to, the closeness of the proximity of the crowds. The celebs just love it, they are always playing up and having a laugh and a joke with the spectators, and willingly signing lots of autographs too. I think it’s this more than anything else that makes our event so special – a real summer garden party atmosphere.”
Golf for all on the Cromwell, MG’s two annual amateur events
SKY Sport’s Alan McInally with Charley Hull in 2013
THE YOUNG BP3 STARS
“To see the youngsters develop over the years and go all the way to the European Tours, young Aaron Rai was five when he first came here in 2000 and Charley first appeared not long after, under Mark Mouland’s wing. Both of them have won the silver salver for the leading amateur here.”
Such is Charley Hull’s influence on the tournament and her achievements since Rick has named the clubhouse bar ‘Charley’s Bar’ after her.
“They both stay in touch with me; I think they appreciate what the event did for them in their younger days, the grounding it taught them and also how to deal with competition golf pressure, in front of spectators, dealing with people, TV interviews, autographs etc – a little flavour of tournament life.”
Recently Rick has developed a junior Monday qualifier to tee off the Championship week itself. All of the qualifying young competitors get to play with a leading professional, possibly a very famous one and the winner of the qualifier gets to play in the 36 hole main event themselves, with an equal chance to become the British Par 3 Champion.
“ To offer the winning boy or girl the chance to compete on a level playing field with all these stars is very rewarding and we love to see the top pros reaction to playing alongside the kids in the qualifying event, they really help them along which is fantastic.”
Just to illustrate the inclusivity even further, MG’s own Par 3 Championships which takes place every June at Nailcote Hall now offers places at the BP3 qualifier for our three leading junior players on the day, a wonderful incentive.
Many years before the leading pro and amateur feeder tours were finally inviting both gent and lady golfers to compete on the same stage together, Rick and the BP3 organisers were already trailblazing in that department, and going further too.
“It’s been thoroughly rewarding to see the growth in ladies golf represented so well here too. Watching Dame Laura, Trish Johnson, you know legends of the Ladies game taking on the Cromwell alongside the younger breed like Charley Hull, Amy Boulden and Meg Maclaren too, who got closer than any lady player to winning the championship in 2018 (right). I’m so hopeful that one day we will see our first lady champion.”
“From day one we really wanted to be a much more inclusive event, we’ve had amateur disabled players with one leg, one arm playing. Last year we saw our first professional disabled golfer, Mike Browne taking part too.”
I COULDN’T HAVE DONE IT WITHOUT……..
“My partner in the event John Hayes came on board in 2007, after playing in it for the first time a year earlier. We’ve worked so well together as a team ever since, building the tournament along with Champions UK plc – it’s been a labour of so much love and energy, to see all these fabulous players coming through.”
“Tony Jacklin, CBE played here for the first time in 2008, I actually first met him on board the old QE2 in 2000 and it took eight years of gentle cajoling to get him here. He was a teenage idol and to get him to travel to Nailcote after keeping in touch ever since that first meeting was a dream come true. He was also a hero of our title sponsor here, Eric Herd of Farmfoods, the event gained a lot of impetus following Tony’s arrival and to see him fall in love with this place too and to go on to become our host every year since was incredibly satisfying for both Eric and I.”
As the song goes, behind every great man there has to be a great woman, and with Sue Cressman by his side, Rick has certainly got that. The social side of BP3 you can see pictured all over this article, the famous faces and celebrity involvement, the glittering cabaret and party nights, this is where Sue shines.
Rick too is a fabulous host but his real passion lies with tending to his special nine holes. He is never far away from his magical back garden and when you’re there hosting an event as we have done 10 times now, he’s always buzzing around taking photos and talking to the players taking part, gathering feedback on their experiences of playing the Cromwell course, we have never come across anyone as passionate.
BARNESY’S SWAN SONG
But to get Rick Cressman truly misty eyed, just ask him about the legends of golf from way, way back and the knowledge he has that he and the BP3 contributed to some special memories for them in their latter years.
“Brian Barnes, who sadly isn’t with us any more, came here after 10 years of not being able to hold a club due to his rheumatoid arthritis. The talent was still evident though, and he won our Super Seniors event. To see him lift a trophy again, and witness the joy that it brought him to be a winner one more time, I know that was a very emotional moment for him.”
“A very special player and a gentleman too, he loved nothing more at the back end of his life than playing here in the Par 3, and to be as he put it, giving something back to the younger golfers playing the game now.”
“He said to me that our course is better and more challenging than Augusta’s par three, and in its own Warwickshire way is every bit as beautiful as the environment round there too.”
Nailcote’s most famous golf shot happened with Brian Barnes in attendance, as his playing partner Matt Wheatcroft pulled off a miracle in 2015 by hitting one deliberately into a fence post and seeing it rebound perfectly on to the 6th green, settling just 18 inches from the cup. It became a YouTube sensation with over 4 million views, Rick is not sure that Brian’s sage like advice was heeded on that occasion, “I think he was impressed by the result but he would have mentioned the injury risk beforehand of playing that shot had it not turned out as well as it did!”
That sort of memory and the kind words of his golfing heroes keeps Rick’s fire burning, his own motivation to keep going, no matter what the troubling times for small businesses and the hospitality trade throw at him.
MONUMENTS TO THE LEGENDS
All around the course there are reminders of the stars who have supported the British Par 3 Championship – Barnesy’s Bridge is one of them, by the side of the ninth green. Even more poignantly, Moulie’s Bridge on the seventh pays tribute to father and son, the late Sid Mouland and Mark, the European Tour star and two time BP3 winner. If it hadn’t been for them, The Cromwell may never have been raised to the standard it reached to be able to host a major tournament back at the start.
“They were with me at the very beginning of the story,”
“helping me create this wonderful little course.”
When Rick made some changes on the second and third holes in 2015, adding a new pond and stream network to toughen things up a bit, he named one of the new bridges after not a leading legendary pro this time, but an amateur golfer who had managed to catch the attention doing something completely different at Nailcote, one who epitomised the atmosphere created by the ever growing international flavour at the event.
Tommy Horton, Rick and ‘The Singing Cowboy’ Lee Brandenburg
“I think it was in 2011, it was an amateur player by the name of Lee Brandenburg, walking up to the grandstand at the back of the ninth hole, with his black cowboy hat on, bright orange shirt, with Tommy Horton playing with him as well.”
“Lee had played a couple of times in the tournament before, but was well into his 80s by then. He loved to sing as well and that day he got inspired and had the whole crowd in the grandstand singing along with him. It was an amazing sight and we had so many people then a couple or three years later who came to the tournament when he wasn’t able to come back himself to play with us, asking me “what’s happened to the singing cowboy? Where’s the singing cowboy this year?”
“People didn’t know he was actually a very wealthy property developer from Silicon Valley and he lived in Monterrey, just across the way from another friend of his, Clint Eastwood. I did ask Lee a few times if he could bring him over one year, never quite happened that one though!”
“But Lee was a very special amateur player to have in the mix and Sue and I still stay in touch with his wife Diane to this day.”
BLACK TIE MAYHEM
“I’ll never forget 2001 when Max Faulkner came to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his Open Championship win here. He re-presented his wonderful gold medal to the PGA captain at the time, Dave Thomas and was joined by the fabulous Norman Wisdom after the ceremony.”
“It all ended up with the two of them running this crazy random race together around the top table, and Norman being Norman would just play up, even though he was in his mid 80s at the time. It was like something from the Keystone Cops, doing his slapstick routine and having everybody in stitches. Max was just doing his best to not get caught and grinning from ear to ear while they dashed around all of these PGA dignitaries who were wondering what was going on during this very formal occasion! It was hysterical, absolutely brought the house down.”
Clowning around – Max Faulkner, Norman Wisdom, Charlie Ward
Rick’s most treasured memory of his time running the Championship really did see a little bit of eye watering as he related it to me.
“Charlie Ward (pictured above) was the pro at Little Aston for what must have been the best part of 30 years, he gets forgotten too much and anything I can do to still foster his memory, I will. He was one of the originals, playing in the Professional Short Course Championship in Torquay in 1933 and he must have been about 87 when he came over to help us re-launch the event along with another original, Bert Gadd in 1998.”
“Sadly because of his failing eyesight and a bit of leg trouble as well, Bert couldn’t play but he was a joy to talk to and both Charlie and Max Faulkner mentioned what a great player Bert was. According to them, the only reason he didn’t become more of a household name was that he was also a very good looking guy, “booze and birds stopped him winning more than he should have done,” was Max’s quote!”
“Charlie and his wife Gwyneth were living back in Torquay again at the time, across the road from the Palace Hotel where the tournament began in 1933. Gwyneth sadly was nearly blind when they came here, but they both fell in love with Nailcote and Charlie would say they were being treated like royalty.”
“Gwyneth had mentioned to me on the second day they were here what a lovely time they were enjoying and asked if they could stay longer. I said Gwyneth, after what you’ve both done for us here; stay right till the end of the weekend if you want to. Sunday night we’d all arranged to meet for a bite to eat in the Oak Room and we sat in a corner seat looking over the front lawn, hardly anyone about.”
“Gwyneth had been drinking copious amounts of whisky with some ice in a little cut glass and enjoying that no end, and peering at me because she couldn’t see very well at all. After dessert she took another drink and peered at me again and said, “Rick, do you know what you’ve done to us?” I said “No, Gwyneth, what have I done to you?” She replied, “You’ve brought us back to life.”
“I still think to this day, that’s the most emotional moment I’ve experienced with this event, and there have been so many of those.”
BACK TO NORMAL IN 2021?
“I just hope we can see everything come back together again in the way that we’d like, to see all the people here again in this garden atmosphere of ours, to see them get close enough to the players again August 3rd-6th next year.”
“Tournament golf, in fact all sport is all about some sort of proximity to your crowd or audience, enjoyment for the people.”
“Whilst everyone talks at the moment about this new norm of ours and living with it, I think we still need our leaders in governments all around the world, and the top medical brains to come together to drive us towards a better place. Let’s all ensure that this isn’t a new normal but just a temporary one.”
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN
Rick took a picture in 2019 of all of the pros who Mark Mouland organised to play in the first BP3 at Nailcote in 1998, they are all still here 21 years later, still competing every year.
“Peter Baker, Mark Mouland, David J Russell, Gary Emerson, Andrew Sherbourne, Philip Golding and Carl Mason (not pictured). I got them out on the course and took that photo, you can never say enough thanks to them – and especially to Mark and his hugely missed father Sid for their inspiration that they’ve given over the years and for sharing my dream and making it a reality.”
“It’s so important for all of their sakes and many others, that we can battle through this crisis and we can get the tournament on the golfing calendar again, August 3rd-6th next year.”
“I’m praying we can see Tony flying over safely to host once again, and hopefully we can see a big crowd again and be as normal as we can possibly be.”
Midlands Golfer hosted our Matchplay Masters at Nailcote Hall again on Sept 13th, a month after this interview. Rick Cressman was there again, buzzing around photographing, videoing and talking to each and every player as ever. Some things will never change, here’s our review of the event.