TWO for the price of one. Confirmation that the 2015 Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open will be played at Gullane came with news of a spin-off tournament for East Lothian next year.
Taking place the weekend before, a new 54-hole qualifying tournament exclusively for Scottish golfers will offer six spots in the main event. A venue has still to be decided, though North Berwick would be an obvious choice.
It is a welcome development as the strength of this year’s field at Royal Aberdeen, for instance, meant the likes of Alastair Forsyth, Scott Henry and David Law all had to rely on 11th-hour invitations to make the line-up.
As exclusively revealed in The Scotsman last Tuesday, Gullane got the nod over its near neighbour, The Renaissance Club, due to the fact officials believe its turf will help attract a field every bit as strong as the one that was assembled at Royal Aberdeen.
It, of course, was headed by defending champion Phil Mickelson while a move from Castle Stuart, where the event had been played for the three previous years, encouraged the likes of Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Lee Westwood to restore the event to their schedules.
“The Renaissance is an exceptional golf course and could take any tournament as it’s got space for a tented village and car parking,” said European Tour chief executive George O’Grady. “[But] it’s still bedding in slightly and, in the week before The Open, the turf at Gullane was exactly what we are looking for.
“Players feel they need to play somewhere where they can squeeze the ball of links turf. They had that at Castle Stuart, here at Royal Aberdeen and they will definitely get that at Gullane. We see this a tribute to that venerable links.”
Denying The Renaissance Club had lost out on the basis of its exclusivity in comparison to Gullane, which has around 1,000 members, First Minister Alex Salmond said: “The decision was on the merits of Gullane and what it has to offer. It was a difficult decision and that doesn’t preclude other decisions being made in the future.”
The composite course that will be used at Gullane is only in the “draft” stage at present, though European Tour and club officials believe it will present a fitting test for some of the world’s top players. It consists of 15 holes on the No 1 Course, where the three being dropped are the first, which is both too short and would also prove problematical in terms of logistics, the par-3 fourth and the downhill 17th.
The current second on No 1 will be the opening hole, with the layout, the fourth apart, running as it is from there through to the 16th, which will be the 14th for the purposes of the Scottish Open.
The next three holes will be on the adjoining No 2 Course, namely its fourth, fifth and 16th in that order, before switching back over to No 1 for the finishing hole.
It will be the existing 18th, though lengthened quite a bit –to 436 yards – by a new tee being put in halfway up the hill on the left of the 17th fairway.
“It will be a heck of a layout,” predicted tournament director Peter Adams, who is confident that any potential obstacles from the 18th green sitting so close to the main coastal road through Gullane can be “overcome”.
After it was also confirmed yesterday that the 2016 event is returning to Castle Stuart, Rory McIlroy has been challenged to make a first visit to the Inverness venue. It follows the two-times major winner saying he had not played there in any of the three previous stagings due to the fact he didn’t feel it was a “real links test”.
Responding to that remark, Stuart McColm, the general manager at Castle Stuart, said: “The disappointing thing about it for me is that he has never been there. So why doesn’t he come up and play it to make up his own mind?”