European Open on course for Turnberry

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THE Ailsa links at Turnberry is set to emerge as a regular tournament home on the European Tour as well as hosting the Open Championship 2009, according to the resort's new owners, Leisurecorp, the investment firm which launched the Race to Dubai – a replacement for the Order of Merit – at the complex in Ayrshire yesterday.

David Spencer, the golf chief executive for the Dubai-owned company which bought Turnberry earlier this year for 55million, indicated serious consideration was being given to staging the European Open on the links, though not before the 2010 season.

"From our point of view, the more often Turnberry can be exposed to the golfing public outside of Scotland in Europe, Asia and the US, the better for golf in Scotland," he said. "There are amazing views here everyone wants to see; it's probably the prettiest seaside links in the world.

"We want to have more regular events at Turnberry. The more we test the course, the more it will develop as a championship venue. I think the European Open is a transportable event, but it could also have a (permanent] home. And Turnberry would be a likely candidate for a home venue.

"When you look at the investment we're making, after doing all that work (on the Ailsa], if we decide to bring the European Open here, a lot of that would be driven by the players, because they love playing here."

Bearing in mind there are already three regular events as well as the Open in Scotland on the 140 million schedule announced by the European Tour for 2009 – the Scottish Open from 9-12 July, the Johnnie Walker from 27-30 August and the Alfred Dunhill from 1-4 October – Spencer acknowledged he was aware of the risks of adding another tournament at the home of golf.

"To a certain degree, this jewel in the south Ayrshire crown has been an under-utilised asset both for Scotland and for golf. This is an unbelievably unique setting for golf," he observed. "The first phase of (the re-development] will see the hotel close on 1 November and so will the Ailsa. We will re-open just before the Open.

"There's a new equipment programme in place for the golf course and between now and the Open there will only be 800 rounds played on the links. Most of those will be for members and R&A sponsors. We won't be touching the lay-out, just improving the agronomic condition and making any tweaks required.

"We plan to increase the number of holes at Turnberry from 45 to 54 and to build a new golf academy with Taylor Made, which will still be supported by Colin Montgomerie. Our relationship with Greg Norman, an Open winner at Turnberry, is fairly well publicised.

"Several weeks ago, Greg, Peter Dawson, the chief executive of the R&A, and myself, walked the course. But Greg will not be doing any design changes to the Ailsa. Any tweaks are in the hands of the R&A. But as far as the Kintyre and the Arran are concerned, we would like to see Greg Norman involved."

As well as injecting over 30million into the re-development of Turnberry and pumping 11.2million into the Race to Dubai and Dubai World Championship, Leisurecorp has also made $40million available to the European Tour over the next five years to underwrite various other tournaments, including the South African Open, which will start the campaign in 2010.

Little wonder George O'Grady, the chief executive of the European Tour, expressed his delight at having sponsors with deep pockets on board during a time of such financial instability.

All told there are 53 events, including five new ones, on the 2009 schedule which will visit 26 countries and run for 13 months.

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