LET’S not beat about the bush. The Dunhill Links Championship, with its pro-am format, cast of thousands and a shocking pace of play, isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
From a personal perspective, it’s a case of falling into the same trap every year when the modern-day version of Pro-Celebrity Golf comes around at the end of a long season on the road.
The prospect of one last hurrah on the east of Scotland ignites renewed energy and enthusiasm on the drive towards St Andrews, the event’s HQ, only for that to be drained the moment the first ball is struck in anger on the Old Course, Carnoustie or Kingsbarns.
For the opening two days, it’s difficult to tell what the story is, unless someone goes really low at Carnoustie, the toughest of the three venues, or, as was the case last Friday, someone – Peter Uihlein at Kingsbarns in this instance – created a bit of excitement by threatening to become the first player to shoot 59 on the European Tour.
It is not until the third round that a clear picture begins to appear and, as has happened more often than not, we headed into the final day again with a pretty tasty leaderboard then ended up with another good winner in David Howell.
The whole shebang, with its £3.1 million prize fund, fancy functions for competitors and all the infrastructure associated with an event of its stature, must cost a fortune, which is why the small gripes about why it isn’t necessarily to everyone’s liking carry little or no weight.
Since 1985, the Dunhill brand, with South African Johann Rupert as its driving force, has been attached to an event in Scotland around September/October time and, while some people would love to see the old Dunhill Cup being resuscitated, there’s a reason the format was changed.
If it had stayed as it was, it would probably have fallen by the wayside by now, leaving the European Tour with a considerable gap to plug on its schedule. Rupert’s vision was to replicate the Bob Hope Classic, now the Humana Challenge, held in California’s Coachella Valley, and Scotland should thank its lucky stars that, since 2001, it has played host to one of the European Tour’s premier stroke-play events.
Does it have a sustainable future beyond the two years now left on the current deal? That remains to be seen – and, if I were in Rupert’s shoes, I’d be reminding Rory McIlroy, in particular, that this event was the launching pad for his professional career in 2007 – but let’s hope so.
The more top events that are staged in Scotland the
better as we only have to
look south of the Border for a warning signal about how difficult it is to replace tournaments once one or two drop off the schedule. Having once been the European Tour’s main stronghold – admittedly before the Wentworth-based body started extending its boundaries – it is almost shameful
the circuit currently only has one stop in England, for its flagship BMW PGA Championship.
Even without the likes of Justin Rose, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter – all in the world’s top 20 – last week alone served as a reminder that England still provides more players challenging on a regular basis on European Tour leaderboards than any other country yet, sadly, they are being deprived of the chance to show off their skills on home turf.
With three regular Tour events – the Scottish Open, Johnnie Walker Championship and the Dunhill – Scotland’s Tour professionals are in a more privileged position in that respect than most of their peers other than, probably, the South Africans, and it’s a scenario no-one should take for granted.
With all due respect to the European Tour bosses, many of their events aren’t played on top courses, yet that certainly isn’t the case with St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns. Admittedly, in benign conditions, they were all made to look easy last week yet, in years to come no doubt, you just know those three courses will eke out their revenge.
Rupert, a well-travelled man, knows there is probably nowhere better to stage an event of its nature and when you hear someone like Ernie Els, who probably would not have been there last week if it had been any other tournament after being drained by majors, WGCs and FedEx Cup events, talking about how much pleasure he got from partnering his father, Neels, at his place of work, then let’s all forget about its shortcomings and look forward to the next Dunhill Links in 12 months’ time.
We must let Bradley walk before he can run
If any 17-year-old Scottish amateur was going to be thrust into the golfing limelight by receiving a late invitation to play in the Dunhill Links Championship and take it in his stride, then it was undoubtedly going to be Blairgowrie’s Bradley Neil.
What a tremendous thrill for him to partner eventual runner-up Peter Uihlein, watch at close quarters as the American almost earned a place in the European Tour record books and also be in the same group as a two-times Open champion, Ernie Els, in one of the rounds.
The important thing now for Neil is to use the experience to prepare for the day he hopes to be sharing the same stage as these players as professionals rather than let the occasion, enjoyable and rewarding though it was, go to his head.
Having watched Neil give a good account of himself on such a stage, there will be people who probably hadn’t even heard of him until last week now looking for him to become the next big thing in Scottish golf before too long. He is talented and has bags
of confidence, too, which certainly gives him a chance of going on to achieve his career goals in the paid ranks, but let’s see him walk a bit more before expecting him to run.
Neil, the current Scottish Boys’ champion, has only started playing in men’s amateur events and we should surely be looking to see if he can make his presence felt in the next season before allowing him to get ahead of himself.