THE Scottish Open title sponsor is keen to take the event back to Gullane after admitting that its first staging at the East Lothian venue had “exceeded expectations”.
Martin Gilbert, the chief executive of Aberdeen Asset Management, has also said that Donald Trump’s course north of Aberdeen is still “in the mix” to host the tournament despite the American billionaire causing controversy with his recent remarks about immigration.
Won by American Rickie Fowler, Gullane’s first European Tour event received a massive thumbs-up from the players as the tournament visited a third new venue in five years.
It was also well received by spectators, even though a lower last-day attendance than had been anticipated meant the crowd figure for the week was marginally below both Castle Stuart in 2013 and Royal Aberdeen 12 months ago.
“The event exceeded our expectations,” admitted Gilbert, who made the decision to take the event to Gullane rather than the neighbouring Renaissance Club along with then first minister Alex Salmond and European Tour chief executive George O’Grady.
“I must admit that I didn’t expect the course to turn out as good as it did. It was in great condition and the composite course was fantastic, I thought. It was great to have an event like this finishing down in the village and we’d certainly come back here.
“The club would obviously have to invite us back. We’ve not even talked to them yet, so I don’t want to prejudge anything. But I would hope that they’d share the general feeling that it has been a success and would want to get it back at some stage in the future.
“One of the downsides of a tournament like this is that members have to give up their course for a week or two and that can often cause inconvenience. I think the clubs we go to have to balance that but, against that, I think this will give Gullane a huge profile in the US [it is the only European Tour event screened live on NBC] and I would expect they will see their visitor numbers go up because of that.”
The event is returning next year to Castle Stuart, near Inverness, having been staged there three times in a row after its lengthy run ended at Loch Lomond. Nothing has been decided beyond that, though it was rumoured recently that a deal had been struck for it to be staged at Trump International Golf Links in 2017, 2019 and 2020. “We are definitely committed to going to the west coast,” added Gilbert. “The challenge we have is finding the right course there. We will be looking with huge interest at how Dundonald does in two weeks’ time with the Ladies Scottish Open.
“If we were going to take the event there, we would need to give them quite a bit of warning because there would have to be some infrastructure spend etc.
“We’ll also be looking to see how accessible the course is to young golfers as that is especially important to the Scottish Government, who put money into the event along with us for the economic benefit of Scotland.
“We listen to the likes of Phil Mickelson, who has become a great supporter of the event, and they would like a rota of about three or four courses so they get to know them.
“There are other courses we’d love to look at. Kingsbarns, for instance. We’d love to have a look at the Trump course in Aberdeen as well. Notwithstanding his recent comments, which none of us will ever condone, what I would say is that he has done an enormous amount for golf and Trump in Aberdeen is a stunning golf course.”
On the back of those controversial comments about Mexican immigrants following his decision to stand for the US presidency last month, Trump’s course in Los Angeles has been dumped as the venue for the PGA Grand Slam of Golf later this year.
Asked if the American had made it awkward for any golf body or sponsor to take an event to one of his courses, Gilbert added: “We haven’t made any decisions on where we want to go but it [the one at Menie
Estate] is certainly in the mix along with Castle Stuart, somewhere in the west and hopefully back at Gullane some time. We want to make up our minds in probably the next three months about where we go in 2017 and 2018.”
Whether Royal Aberdeen wants to host the event again remains to be seen and it’s been rumoured the members there are not keen on that. But, if it does go back there, it is likely that the test will be less severe than last year, when Justin Rose claimed the title.
“There’s been some comments this year that Royal Aberdeen was perhaps a bit too tough and that’s something we will take on board when we look at future venues as the players don’t want something that is going to beat them up,” said Gilbert.
“You may recall that one of the great disasters in terms of the Scottish Open being too tough for players was when it was held at Carnoustie in the mid-90s. It is one of the great golf courses, but we’ve got to be careful that we don’t have a course that is beating players up, yet it is worthy of the Scottish Open.”