The Land Rover was tearing across the terrain out in the English countryside. Welshman Justin Jones took the brunt of the bouncing as he held on, with a pack of panting hunting dogs, in the back seat.
Jones was also responsible for the sporting equipment – in this case a cadre of shotguns and shells. Soon, once the driver of the Land Rover stopped roaming in the gloaming, he’d be assisting the driver and the other front seat passenger with a target shooting session in the great outdoors.
“I knew my place, though. So I remained content and quiet in the boot,” Jones recalled. “After all it was her Majesty at the wheel and Prince Phillip in the passenger seat.”
He held a gun with Queen Elizabeth
Jones was understated and ‘matter of fact’ when he revealed that detail.
“You mean you were being chauffeured in the backseat of a Land Rover with Queen Elizabeth driving?” I asked him.
“Many times, yes, at Sandringham. I was lucky to spend time at Balmoral and Windsor, as well. It’s rather remarkable, I suppose, looking back,” Jones admitted upon reflection. “There was an enormous protocol involved especially with security, but Her Majesty was wonderful. I have enormous respect for the Queen.”
Sandy Creek Sporting Grounds
Jones, an accomplished competitive marksman who represented Britain in Olympic trap and skeet shooting, is now director of the new Sandy Creek Sporting Grounds at Reynolds Lake Oconee Resort community and Ritz Carlton, Atlanta in Georgia, where he now guides members and hotel guests with the same royal treatment.
“In the 1990’s I was chosen by Prince Charles to take good care of his guests when they came to Sandringham and the other royal estates, so I was very fortunate to have met the Prince of Wales a number of times over the years, as well,” Jones continued, explaining that the assignment meant sensitive collaborations with other royalty as well.
“When I was with King Hussein of Jordan and Queen Noor, I had two armed Jordanian bodyguards behind me in case I did anything or made a wrong move. It was stressful but a wonderful occasion. King Hussein was one of the most wonderful men I’ve ever had the opportunity to meet and stand with.”
It turns out standing out in nature with weapons in hand – and weapons trained on you – was a bonding experience.
“King Hussein talked a lot about what was going on in the Middle East and the problems he had. It was extraordinary. I ended up going back to Jordan and spending some time with him there. Being his guest was exciting and extraordinary,” said Jones, who allowed there were some memories of his experiences, conversations and relationships with royals which must remain confidential. But some of the luminaries, Jones looked through the crosshairs with were very high-profile public figures very much in the spotlight.
Looking through the crosshairs with stars in the spotlight
“I worked for 10 years at the Jackie Stewart Shooting School at Gleneagles Resort in Scotland. Jackie was a famous race car driver and he used to bring guests and not tell me who was coming,” Jones explained.
Stewart once instructed Jones to meet a few fellows who’d flown up from London in the resort lounge and spend time guiding them on a morning shoot.
“What are their names?” Jones asked.
“You’ll recognize them when you greet them,” Stewart assured him.
Jones recalled it was a frosty Scottish Sunday morning in February when he spotted the three burly gents wearing baseball caps and drinking coffee.
“I walked up to them and recognized them as Steven Spielberg, Sean Connery and Harrison Ford. It was a real ‘Oh, my word’ moment,” Jones admitted. “They were shooting a film called ‘The Last Crusade’ and they wanted a day out, so I spent hours with them shooting and listening to their great stories. It was a real experience. Spielberg came with all his own guns. It turned out he is a huge sporting clay man.”
Connery took the sport seriously, too.
“He wanted to shoot well. After all, he had a reputation as James Bond 007, so he didn’t want to make a fool of himself.”
Music industry royalty and a “Bond girl”
Jones is originally from Chester, in Wales – just over the border from Liverpool where Britain’s music royalty, the Beatles, strummed and drummed the debut of their historic career. It was, therefore, a special treat for Jones to shoot with Beatles drummer Ringo Starr.
“He was great fun and definitely has an edge. Ringo is very competitive but his wife, the actress Barbara Bach, outshot him every time he came to shoot. The Beatles are gods in Britain, but shooting sporting clays is a great equalizer.” Jones revealed. “But she did play a dangerous Russian agent in a 007 movie, after all.”
The United States does not have a monarchy per-se, but in the business world, the generational leadership at the Ford Motor Company is akin to American royalty. Edsel Ford II is the great grandson of automobile industry inventor Henry Ford.
“Edsel and Cynthia Ford used to come over to Scotland every year with their friends and we’d take them out on the course and spend some time shooting with them. Mr. Ford is charming and a great shot, by the way. It’s nice to watch him in action,” said Jones. “Over the years we have traveled together some. They are a lovely family and I hope we will see them here at Reynolds Lake Oconee sometime soon. I think they’d love it.”
Presidents at Play
You needn’t be royalty or a celebrity to meet the affable, low-key, friendly and enthusiastic Jones and enjoy shooting sporting clays at the new, elaborate Sandy Creek Sporting Grounds at Reynolds Lake Oconee. You do need to be a Reynolds resident/member or be a guest at the Ritz Carlton Reynolds Lake Oconee, which may be offering ferry service to and from the sporting grounds by this summer.
Sandy Creek was built on an 800-acre piece of land which has been enjoyed by two noted American outdoorsmen – the 41st and 43rd U.S. Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. The resort’s previous owner, Mercer Reynolds, was finance chair of the 43rd President’s campaign, and an investor, like Bush, in the Texas Rangers Major League Baseball team.
“President George W. Bush has played our golf courses and gone onto the lake fishing,” said Bev Berardo, director of marketing at Reynolds Lake Oconee. “Near the end of one of his visits he asked if he could speak with our staff, so we gathered about 300 people together one morning and he spoke to them for half-an-hour.”
It was Reynolds who envisioned and procured what is now the warm, scenic clubhouse lodge for the Sandy Creek Sporting Grounds, according to Berardo.
“In 2006 the Reynolds family looked for a barn that had been constructed in the early part of the 19th century and found a post and beam-constructed barn in western Pennsylvania. So they bought it, had it dismantled, trucked down, and reconstructed on site. It forms the nucleus of our sporting grounds.”
Jones suggests it’s a perfect place to enjoy a warm fire and a glass of Glenlivet scotch for an “apres shoot” to celebrate after an outing. Weddings, receptions – and soon concerts – will be staged on the grounds, too. Jones is currently planning an off-road driving course, as well.
For now Jones has created a sporting adventure: a 20-station sporting clays course built to emulate the unpredictable and challenging nature of a classic British shoot, with clay targets launched at a variety of speeds, trajectories, angles, elevations, and distances.
It can be set up to challenge and entertain all kinds of shooters, novice to professional. Sandy Creek also offers a “five stand” (a compact version of the sporting clays course), air rifle and archery, an instructional/games area, fishing, canoeing and kayaking adventures, and hiking.
And though Jones himself is a celebrity, he treats everyone like royalty.
How to do it yourself
The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee is located roughly 90 miles from Atlanta’s Hartsfield–Jackson International Airport. Learn more at reynoldslakeoconee.com.
Michael Patrick Shiels is a radio host and travel writer. Follow his adventures at GoWorldTravel.com/TravelTattler. You can contact him via MShiels@aol.com.