‘Gullane road no handicap to Scottish Open’

Tournament director Mike Stewart. Picture: Getty

Tournament director Mike Stewart. Picture: Getty

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SCOTTISH Open officials are confident the main coastal road in East Lothian will not prove a major distraction to players when Gullane hosts the Aberdeen Asset Management-sponsored event for the first time in July.

The A198 runs close to the 18th green on the No 1 Course, where Englishman Justin Rose will be defending the title against a field that is also likely to include Rory McIlroy as he warms up for his bid to retain the Open Championship at St Andrews the following week.

While the road has been acknowledged as a “hindrance” as far as certain logistics are concerned, screening will be used to prevent any visual impact, and noise from traffic is not expected to cause any problems.

“It is a consistent noise from the road and it’s funny because it’s a case of more noise the better in a situation like the one we are faced with at Gullane,” said tournament director Mike Stewart. “It’s a bit like in Dubai for the Dubai Desert Classic. It is very noisy on the golf course but because it’s a consistent noise you aren’t really aware of it.

“At Gullane, it will be more of a hum than a disruptive noise.”

As well as the driving range, the players’ lounge will also be located on the other side of the road to the course as it stages a professional event for the first time since the club was established in 1882. “The road is a hindrance in many ways because we are going to have to move people across that, but one of the great features of Gullane is that it starts in the village and finishes in the village,” added Stewart, who is in charge of the European Tour’s on-course team during the event.

It was being held under the Bell’s banner at Gleneagles when Stewart, an Invernesian, joined the Tour. Since then, he has seen the tournament held at Carnoustie, Loch Lomond, Castle Stuart and Royal Aberdeen. The visit to Gullane is part of a plan to take it around the country, with a return to Castle Stuart having already been confirmed for next year, with Dundonald Links in Ayrshire then expected to stage it in 2017.

“It is much more challenging for us to take the event around the country,” admitted Stewart. “When we were at Loch Lomond (for 15 years), after the first few years we had a model that worked, so it was only a case of having to make the odd tweak here and there. Now we are going to new venues and having to start from scratch. Castle Stuart was a brand-new facility and it’s fair to say that in the three years we were there we changed quite a lot of things from the first year. The players’ lounge, for instance, felt a bit divorced so we tried to integrate that more into the clubhouse.

“When you are only there for one year, you only get one chance so if it doesn’t work then there is no second chance straight away to get it right next time. It is a big challenge when you go somewhere new when you take into account the fact you have to build up relationships, look at how you want to set the course up, how the infrastructure is going to work, dealing with the local authorities and police.

“The event has certainly been given a new impetus since it started to move around the country. Last year’s field at Royal Aberdeen was great and the way things are going we will hopefully end up with a similar field at Gullane. The feelers we have out there suggest it is going to be very good, but it’s still early days.”

In what will be the first composite course used for the event, play will start on the second hole on No 1 before following its layout to the 14th. Players will then cross over to the No 2 Course and play the seventh and eighth holes on it before returning to No 1 to finish off by playing the 15th, 16th and 18th.

“The original layout we looked at involved holes that went around the greenkeepers’ compound but, after walking the course, we found ourselves sitting back at the hotel that night wondering if that was best, partly due to the fact there might have been an impact on play due to vehicle noise later in the day,” said Stewart.

“That’s why we reverted to looking at our second option and when we went back out the next day and looked at that again we felt it was better, especially when we were able to add some length to those two holes on No 2.

“We are not aiming to beat anyone up. We are not going to bring in any fairways to make it tough. We have changed a couple of fairway lines, though partly only because of the tee set up. At the 15th, there’s a new tee so we’ve re-shaped that fairway. The other fairway change is at the 18th and it is probably much wider than it was. It has been adapted due to the fact we’ve gone 80 yards further back with the tee. I think it will be about 460 yards now.”

In Open qualifying at Gullane in 2013 – at the same time of the year as the Scottish Open is held – the winning score over two rounds was 140, two-under-par. “I think a lot will depend on how dense and thick the rough is,” said Stewart of the test that might await this summer. “The wind will also be a factor, of course. If there’s not much wind and the rough isn’t too penal, then it should be fairly straightforward as I don’t think in conditions like that it’s a design that will be overly demanding for the top players.

“We wouldn’t be aiming to do anything ridiculous as far as the course set-up is concerned but if it’s a damp spring then turns warm the rough could become quite penal.”

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