“They were everywhere, popping around posts giggling. You couldn’t go anywhere, it was quite amazing.”
Downing bought Astbury Hall in 1985 when he swapped his modest semi-detached home in Bloxwich for the 19th century mansion. Although he wasn’t bothered by people getting off the bus outside and knocking on the door to ask for an autograph, he felt it was time to move on.
“I went and did what they all damn well do when suddenly you come into a bit of money and you go mad.”
If anything, he needed somewhere to house his collection of eight cars, which included classics like a Healey 3000 and a Jensen 541R.
“The highlight when I came here was to get the keys to the house, but I was also delighted to get the keys to a barn where I could put my new Porsche Turbo,” he said.
“Suddenly I went completely mad and wanted everything I had never had,” added the guitarist who once lived in a bedsit in West Bromwich, where he shared a bathroom with five families.
“When I came here I didn’t care if it was big. I just thought I will find a use for every room, though initially it kind of felt like it wasn’t mine and was all a bit of a dream. It had an antiquated alarm system that used to keep going off in the night. I used to walk around with my pellet gun. It was a very solemn and desolate place, particularly at night time – I could hear all sorts of things.”
Because of a relentless touring Downing was rarely there so he eventually decided to move into one of the cottages on the estate.
He later acquired some additional land and the dream of developing his own golf course started to take shape.
From the outset he was only interested in creating a course that would match the world’s finest and initially a nine-hole course was created with a further nine added later.
The aim at Astbury Hall has been to create “the finest standard of playing surfaces possible,” according to Downing and cost has proved no object when it comes to either its construction or maintenance.
As a Troon golf venue it sits alongside some of the world’s leading high-end facilities such as Turnberry and The Grove.
It is not a members’ club but caters for the premium market, accommodating individual, group and corporate golf. Its platinum disc deal enables golfers to pay a one-off yearly fee for unlimited use of the course.
Downing’s only concern these days is that he is so preoccupied with the running of the course he doesn’t find much time as he would like to play himself and get back to the days when he had a swing which worked “quite well”.
Reflecting on his musical past he confesses there isn’t much he misses, apart from the chance to seek out new golf courses on tour.
“As far as I am concerned I can’t think of anything more enjoyable than go to a brand new country, jump in a car and go to the nearest golf course.”