Stephen Dundas on journey from Scotland to San Roque via Russia
After winning the 1992 Amateur Championship - the first Scot to land that coveted prize for 35 years - Cowglen's Dundas had his sights set on being a successful playing professional. One of his big targets early on after switching to the paid ranks was the 1997 Ryder Cup at Valderrama, close to where he's now ended up.
"I know this sounds crazy now, but, just the way Lee Westwood started his Ryder Cup career in that match, and Lee and I turned pro at the same time, that was a realistic goal when I sat down with my dad to discuss my future back then,” he recalled.
Dad John, his No 1 fan, and mum Netta both passed away in recent years, but not before getting the opportunity to enjoy watching Dundas overcome the disappointment of not kicking on as a player to do himself and his family proud in a different way while still being immersed in the sport.
More than a decade ago, Dundas took up a role as director of golf at the lavish Pestovo Golf and Yacht Club, which sits 20 miles north of Moscow. The 48-year-old works for a Russian-based company called Golf Estates, which, in addition to Pestovo, also manages two other courses in Russia - Forest Hills and Peterhof - as well as the most recent addition to its portfolio, San Roque.
Situated in a golf-rich area around Sotogrande, San Roque was the long-time home of the European Tour Qualifying School, where tears of both joy and sadness were witnessed year after year. With a Russian investment fund at his disposal, Dundas has been tasked with not just restoring it to its former glory but improving on what was already there.
“The place has obviously got a bit of history with the Tour Schools that have been held here over the years, the Spanish Open and the Ryder Cup teams in 1997 stayed here,” he told Scotland on Sunday. “It definitely had a very good name in the past, but not only did it need some TLC but some big investment, which has been forthcoming from the new owners.
“In my short time here, we’ve renovated the Old Course, the clubhouse, the academy, everything. We are also building a hotel, villas and apartments and then we are probably going to renovate the New Course as well, so it is a big responsibility on me to try and bring the name back to where it rightly belongs.
“We opened to the public in June last year and the comments and feedback since then has been very encouraging and very positive. And it’s only going to get better. The course has still to establish itself again and, with all the other stuff we are planning, the aim is for it to become one of the best golf resorts, if not the best, in the whole of Europe.”
Dundas, who beat Welshman Bradley Dredge 7&6 in the final as he was crowned Amateur champion at Carnoustie, only made seven appearances on the European Tour, the last of which was in the 2015 Russian Open.
“I haven’t played in a tournament at all since then,” he declared, something that he could never have imagined during an amateur career that saw the likes of Les McLaughlin and Wilson Bryson ensure his feet always remained firmly on the ground. “I played with some friends here a little while back, and for the first 14 holes I was five-under but then I shit myself to finish two-under (laughing).”
While Westwood may have gone on to great things as a player, there’s no danger of Dundas ever having a chip on his shoulder. “I’ve done different things but always in golf and what I’ve done has seen me achieve a lot more than I would have done if I had stayed playing and continued to be a playing professional,” he said.
“Fast forward 25 years from having that 1997 Ryder Cup as a goal, here I am as the president of San Roque, though I’ve never been one for titles. I still see myself as that little boy from Ibrox, to be honest. I have to pinch myself a little bit at times.
“There aren’t too many people who come from Ibrox and, through golf, play for their country, play in The Masters at Augusta National and then have a successful career in golf, even though it’s not the career I was hoping for as a player.”
He takes great pleasure from having helped people who knew nothing about golf either become PGA professionals or club managers in Russia and is now going about his business in Spain simply trying to be himself.
“My parents and family were always grounded people,” he said. “Kamilla, my partner of 20 years, would kick my arse if I ever got above any sort of station. I think that’s a great thing and you only have to look at someone like Stevie Gallacher, who has never changed over the years.
“And why would you change if you had a good family upbringing, as I did, having good values instilled in you? I’m pretty much the same guy I have always been apart from a few more gray hairs and the fact I don’t swing it as good as I once did. Other than that, I couldn’t be happier.”
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