ALEX Salmond, once hailed as the “man who saved the Scottish Open”, believes Donald Trump’s hopes of hosting the event have become slim on the back of his controversial comments about Mexican immigrants.
During a visit to Scotland in June, Trump claimed his course north of Aberdeen had been earmarked for the tournament, possibly as early as 2017 after its return to Castle Stuart, near Inverness, next year. It was also reported that a deal was in the pipeline to stage it at Trump International Golf Links in 2019 and 2020 as well, with the American billionaire fuelling speculation by saying “the Scottish Open wants to be here forever, they think this is the best course they’ve ever seen”.
The European Tour’s response to that remark was lukewarm, to say the least, and it was soon afterwards that Trump, having announced he was entering the race for US president, expressed his views on immigration. They led to the PGA of America moving the Grand Slam of Golf – a 36-hole event contested by the year’s major champions – away from Trump National in Los Angeles in October while the LPGA was clearly uncomfortable about the Women’s British Open being held at Turnberry, also owned by Trump, a month ago.
While no longer involved in the decision-making for the Scottish Open – his successor as First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, now has the Scottish Government’s voice in a partnership with the event’s title sponsor, Aberdeen Asset Management, and the European Tour – Salmond is still passionate about the tournament and shared his views on the Trump talk, as well as other matters regarding it, after having a hit himself at Archerfield Links last week in the pro-am section of the Prostate Cancer UK Scottish Senior Open.
“It’s not my decision, but I would have thought Mr Trump’s odds are lengthening as far as these matters are concerned,” he replied to being asked about the American hosting the tournament before adding, jokingly: “But he might become the president of the United States of America. He might say, ‘do it or else’!” His tone becoming serious once more, Salmond continued: “Look, let’s talk positively. There’s absolutely no doubt it’s an absolutely great golf course. But there are things to consider in the fullness of time, and I’m sure Aberdeen Asset and the Tour will be considering these matters. Obviously the PGA of America made a decision, a quite understandable decision. Politics is a rough, old trade, as Mr Trump will find out. Sometimes you can say things when you’re a television star, but not necessarily when you’re a politician.”
According to Aberdeen Asset Management chief executive Martin Gilbert, Scottish golf has Salmond to thank for the country’s national championship keeping its prized slot before the Open Championship at a time when the French were lurking in the wings.
It was also Salmond, now a Westminster MP but still taking a keen interest in Scottish golf matters, who brokered the deal with Aberdeen Asset Management and the European Tour that has led to the event going from strength to strength as it has started to move around the country over the past few years, while it was his idea, too, to introduce a qualifier specifically for Scottish players for the tournament’s first visit to Gullane in July.
“I think the Gullane decision was well vindicated,” he said of that venue getting the nod ahead of one of its near-neighbours, The Renaissance Club. “I watched it avidly on television and it looked magnificent. The feedback was great. They also got a great champion in Rickie Fowler and the American television audience was a record. I think it was exactly the right decision.”
Calum Hill, an amateur who lives in the East Lothian town, was among the five players to earn spots in the event through a 54-hole qualifier at North Berwick. “I just loved that idea and I am confident it will continue,” added Salmond, who was delighted to play his part in spreading the message about prostate cancer by supporting last week’s event in East Lothian and is hoping to see more tournaments in Europe aligning themselves with charities, having seen that prove a success in America. “At Royal Aberdeen (in 2014), I think we had only five invites, and they had to be done in Tour order, which was the only way to do it. But there were folk like James Byrne, in the Walker Cup team at Royal Aberdeen and from Aberdeen, and we couldn’t get him a place. So I think having a qualifier is a great system.”
Salmond said he felt “very confident” about Sturgeon, Gilbert and Keith Pelley, the new European Tour chief executive, making the “right decisions” for the Scottish Open, the next one likely to be the announcement of a venue in the west of Scotland. “Everybody is happy the way it has turned out,” he said of the three-way partnership, heaping praise on Gilbert for having the “guts and gumption” to bring Aberdeen Asset Management on board. “Martin was the man with the money,” stressed Salmond. “I had good thoughts, but he had good money.”