The Scottish Open’s geographical jigsaw is complete after Dundonald Links in Ayrshire was confirmed as the host course next year, adding a venue in the west after visits already as part of the event being taken on “tour” to Castle Stuart in the north, Royal Aberdeen in the north-east and Gullane on the east coast.
“Since becoming title sponsors in 2012, it has been our ambition to complete the geographical spread of the tournament,” said Martin Gilbert, chief executive of Aberdeen Asset Management. “We are, therefore, delighted with the announcement confirming the stunning Dundonald Links as the host venue in 2017.”
In truth, it has been the favourite from the moment Gilbert, pictured, a keen golfer himself, started his search along with then first minister Alex Salmond and George O’Grady, the European Tour’s chief executive at the time but also no longer in that post.
Due to being on the R&A’s rota for the Open Championship, neither Royal Troon nor Turnberry was ever really in the frame, while the likes of Gailes Links, Western Gailes and Kilmarnock (Barassie) – all similar, you could say, to Gullane – couldn’t cope with the infrastructure of a modern-day European Tour event.
When Dundonald Links, which measures 7,100 yards long with a par of 72, staged the Ladies Scottish Open, also sponsored by Aberdeen Asset Management, for the first time last year – the event returns there in July – it was the perfect chance for the three partners in the men’s equivalent to see it tested in a tournament environment.
From a playing perspective, it was given the thumbs-up by world No 1 Lydia Ko and Norway’s Solheim Cup star Suzann Pettersen. Fom a spectator point of view, it ticked boxes, too. It’s a great viewing course, for instance, while extra car parking space was quickly provided as fans spilled into the venue, which sits between Barassie and Irvine.
Since that event, several of the greens have been increased in size. In addition, three of them have been levelled in some areas to soften the contours, which is a sensible move. These changes have been carried out by Kyle Phillips, who designed the course, and will give European Tour officials more options when setting it up for a Scottish Open.
“We are delighted to announce that the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open will be staged at Dundonald Links in 2017,” said European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley.
“Following this year’s tournament at Castle Stuart in the north, this will ensure that Scotland’s national Open is showcased as widely as possible across the country.
“Special thanks go to our two partners in the Scottish Open – the title sponsors Aberdeen Asset Management, and the Scottish Government – whose joint vision and commitment to improve and expand this great tournament has enabled us to make this announcement today. We also extend our gratitude to everyone at Dundonald Links for the work they have done at the golf club, and the work that they continue to do. I know all our members will look forward to the challenge the course will present to them next July.”
The decision to take the event to Dundonald Links rekindles a connection with Loch Lomond, where a European Tour event, which latterly became the Scottish Open, was staged for 15 successive seasons from 1996-2010, as the Ayrshire venue is its sister course.
Welcoming the news, Loch Lomond Golf Club’s general manager, Bill Donald, said: “The course changes will enhance what was already a fantastic spectator experience, with natural amphitheatres surrounding many of the holes. Crowds of 10,000 turned up for the Ladies Scottish Open last year, and we’re hoping for more of the same this year. Broadcasters around the world will be covering the final day of the tournament live, and I am sure that anyone who tunes in will be impressed with what they see.
“It will also give us a bit of a dry run ahead of hosting the Scottish Open next year, and that is a great opportunity which many host venues don’t get. So we’ll be more than ready by the time the Scottish Open comes around.”
With Royal Troon, of course, hosting the Open Championship in July for the first time since 2004, it sets up an exciting 12 months as far as top-level men’s tournament golf is concerned on the west coast. “This part of Scotland is fortunate to have so many championship golf courses capable of staging top-class events,” said Willie Gibson, leader of North Ayrshire Council. “Through our ‘Team North Ayrshire’ approach, the council has worked with our partners to bring this prestigious event here, and we look forward to delivering a first-class tournament for everyone to enjoy.”
Around a year ago, Donald Trump was talking confidently about multiple Scottish Opens being held at his Menie Links, north of Aberdeen. Like the R&A, though, the European Tour is now in no rush to be associated with the controversial American presidential candidate.
Indeed, it would be nice to see the event return to both Royal Aberdeen and Gullane immediately after its first visit to Dundonald Links.