IT IS only natural that there is a nervousness among Gullane officials and members as the clock ticking down to the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open suddenly starts to sound louder with each passing week.
When it comes to welcoming golfing visitors from around the world, the East Lothian venue is a well-oiled machine, providing an all-round experience that is on par with that at St Andrews, where the benchmark is set in that respect in the game’s cradle.
It’s also no stranger in terms of tournament golf, having staged final qualifying for the Open Championship at Muirfield, as well as a host of top-class amateur events for organisations such as the R&A, Ladies Golf Union and the Scottish Golf Union.
Yet, in exactly two months’ time, it will be a first for the club founded in 1882 as it plays host to a European Tour event, one that will have the world No 1, Rory McIlroy, heading a star-studded cast that will also include Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose and Graeme McDowell.
Whereas Wentworth, the now permanent home of the Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, is tried and tested, as a record crowd will discover this week, no-one really knows what will be in store at Gullane as far as the full package is concerned and it will be fascinating to watch the infrastructure take shape in the next few weeks.
What is guaranteed, however – and this correspondent enjoyed having this confirmed during a game there last Friday – is that McIlroy & Co will get a test every bit as good as the one at Royal Aberdeen last year, when the event was held on one of the country’s traditional links for the first time since being at Carnoustie in the mid-1990s after a spell at “newbie” Castle Stuart.
Condition-wise, the course could hold the Scottish Open tomorrow and that’s despite there being very little warmth over the past few weeks. The greens are running true and, though nothing in all honesty can prepare players for the humps and bumps of those giant putting surfaces on the Old Course, players heading to Gullane can confidently expect to get good pace practice for the following week’s Open Championship at St Andrews.
What about the composite course that is being used? One colleague of mine in the Scottish golfing press in particular is not a fan of the second hole – the first for the Scottish Open – constantly saying it’s “just a means of getting up on to Gullane Hill”, where the bulk of holes on the club’s three courses are situated.
I’ll agree that it doesn’t necessarily provide a taste of what’s to come up there, but, at the same time, I actually think it will be a good opening hole. It won’t be played off the tips, either, due to the position of a new championship tee at the 18th, so it will break players in more gently than could have been the case.
From their second hole onwards both players and spectators will probably be wondering why it’s taken so long for Gullane to really find itself in the sport’s spotlight because it is a magnificent test of golf, the enjoyment of which is added to by that fact it twists and turns in direction almost every hole.
The two holes being used on the No 2 Course – the seventh and eighth – add to that, the first of those taking the composite layout back down towards the Firth of Forth after they come off the 14th – their 13th – on No 1 before heading inland again on the closing stretch. It features new championship tees at the current 15th and 18th, where the test will be stiffened considerably as players drive off from almost halfway up the hill on the 17th.
Personally, I think Castle Stuart will always be hard to beat in terms of a scenic Scottish Open, but, unlike neighbouring Muirfield, the great thing about Gullane is that it offers spectacular views over to Fife and up towards Edinburgh and that’s going to be another plus in my book in July.
What the event needs now is the full support of the sporting public in and around Edinburgh and I say that because there is no denying that the disappointing attendance at the Open Championship at Muirfield in 2013 came as a surprise and certainly shouldn’t be repeated on this occasion.
Gullane Golf Club, East Lothian Council, the European Tour and Aberdeen Asset Management are all pulling out the stops to make it a week to remember. Let’s not take this event for granted just because Scotland’s Golf Coast is the envy of many around the world.