Martin Dempster: Paul Lawrie Match Play is Aberdeen’s loss

Archerfield Links Golf Club stepped in to host the event. Picture: Getty
Archerfield Links Golf Club stepped in to host the event. Picture: Getty
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Aberdeen’s loss; Archerfield’s gain. A short summary of the events that unfolded at the end of last week regarding the Paul Lawrie Match Play, which is now heading to a 
venue close to Gullane in August rather than one on the outskirts of the Granite City.

Other than acknowledging that it is disappointing and unfortunate, both for Lawrie and the club, that the event is not now heading back to Murcar Links after it proved popular with the players last year, there is no real point dwelling on that part of the story. It’s unfortunate, of course, that Saltire Energy has been lost as the event’s title sponsor, something that has to be linked to times being tough in Aberdeen due to oil prices falling, although that hasn’t actually been clarified. But the main thing is the tournament is still on the European Tour schedule and continues to carry a €1 million prize fund.

For that, we should be grateful for the continued commitment of Lawrie and his management company, 4Sports, to a project they could easily have been shelved on the back of financial fingers getting burned last year, coupled with a definite desire by both Archerfield Links and East Lothian Council to step in when it became apparent a new venue outwith the north-east was a possibility. The latter is something which should be applauded because, as was the case for last summer’s successful staging of the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Gullane, actions are once again backing up East 
Lothian having claimed the title of “Scotland’s Golf Coast”.

There may be an element of this particular event falling into one’s lap due to unforeseen circumstances, but that doesn’t mean to say it’s a “freebie”. Far from it, in fact, and well done to Kevin Doyle, the owner of Archerfield Links, and East Lothian Council for joining forces in a way which has enabled the golfing spotlight to be turning on the area again unexpectedly.

With the Scottish Senior Open (also at Archerfield Links), a Boys Amateur Championship (Muirfield and The Renaissance Club) and Scottish Open Stroke-Play Championship (Gullane) on the 2016 schedule, it was already shaping up to be another good year for the Edinburgh region on the tournament front, but the addition of a European Tour event takes the excitement level up a notch or two, for sure.

What we can’t expect, of course, is Rory McIlroy spearheading the 64-man field or either Phil Mickelson or Rickie Fowler to be heading
 back to East Lothian to see if it can be a happy hunting ground again after their respective victories at Muirfield and Gullane in recent years. A combination of the prize-money and where the event sits – it is sandwiched between the 
USPGA Championship and the Olympics – means that it is going to be difficult once again for Lawrie to attract leading players, though he got a great winner in Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat last year and can expect someone of similar 
quality to prevail on this occasion. Fidra Links, with its excellent mix of tree-lined and unprotected holes, several of which are tailor-made for match-play due to either being short par-4s and reachable par-5s or a risk-and-reward element being involved, will surely prove every bit as popular with the players.

As a tournament venue overall, Archerfield Links was one of the favourites among Ladies European Tour players when it was the home of the Aberdeen Asset Ladies Scottish Open for five years while the European Senior Tour contingent loved it, too, for the first Scottish Senior Open there last August.

I’ll be brutally honest here and say that, in my opinion, neither of those events came close to being as well supported as they should have been, the Ladies Scottish Open in particular being a big disappointment on the attendance front given that admission was free and, moreover, Catriona Matthew was the star attraction in her own backyard.

It’s a real feather in East Lothian’s cap to be featuring on the European Tour schedule again this season – the third year in four that has now been the case if you go back to the 2013 Open Championship at Muirfield – and the golfing public in the Edinburgh area can show their gratitude for that by ensuring Lawrie gets the support he deserves from 4-7 August. The tournament may not be taking place among his loons on this occasion, but it’s Scottish golf which was in the spotlight when Lawrie became Open champion in 1999, as was the case when he returned to the Ryder Cup in 2012 after a 13-year absence and played his part in the “Miracle at Medinah”. Let’s remember that this summer!