It was seven years ago, at Bruntsfield Links, that Mark Hillson met James Ross in the final of the Lothians Championship.
The Craigielaw player went on to do well himself in the non-paid ranks, reaching the last eight in the 2009 Amateur Championship at Formby. But, after finding it increasingly difficult to fund his amateur career, he joined the PGA training programme. Not on his doorstep, but at Tandridge, one of the leading private members’ clubs in Surrey.
Now 30, Hillson is coming towards the end of his training and has his sights set on stepping up his playing schedule.
He’s already tasted success in the PGA South Region and last week recorded a top-20 finish in the Gleneagles Scottish PGA Championship on the Tartan Tour.
“I’d played solid through the winter and felt the course last week should suit me so I was a bit disappointed with my finish, to be honest,” he said.
“It was my first time in it, though, and it was certainly a good experience to compete against the top players on the Tartan Tour.”
Hillson, whose younger brother Gordon is doing his PGA training at Dunbar, reckons he landed lucky at Tandridge.
“I’d done my homework before applying for a job there,” he said. “I’m under a really good head pro in Chris Evans, who was a player himself at one time, winning the Welsh PGA.
“I got a good feel for the place when I went down for my interview. I told Chris that I still wanted to play as well as doing my training and he was fine with that. He’s a great guy to work for and I get to play quite a lot, so it’s the best of both worlds for me.
“Being attached to a nice private members’ club like Tandridge in a nice part of the world is fantastic.
“I’ve just done my final exams and hopefully I’ll get good news about them at the end of July. The whole point of doing the PGA training programme is to give myself various career options.”
Hillson used last week’s visit home to catch up with his family – dad David is a former Craigielaw captain – and headed to Kilspindie for a game with his grandpa.
By coincidence, the Lothians Championship was taking place at nearby Longniddry, where Duddingston’s David Miller emerged the winner.
“It was a nice memory for me,” said Hillson of his title triumph in the LGA’s flagship event. “Winning that was massive for me.
“I remember going out and competing against the likes of Stevie Armstrong and suddenly thinking that I wasn’t too bad myself.
“I’ve noticed that James has kicked on and that’s not really a surprise, to be honest, as you could see he had potential.
“It’s good to see him playing well, though the unfortunate thing for the Lothians Championship is that it loses players like him when they start to do well.”
PGA Cup player Richard Wallis (Walmer & Kingsdown) has topped the Virgin Atlantic Little Red PGA South Order of Merit for the last four years.
But according to Evans, he could have a serious challenger this season in the shape of the Scot in his staff.
“Mark’s got some serious talent, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he really starts to make his mark this year in some bigger events,” predicted the Tandridge pro.