Scottish Open consider Saturday finish to avoid Wimbledon

Martin Gilbert of Aberdeen Asset Management. Picture: Neil Hanna
Martin Gilbert of Aberdeen Asset Management. Picture: Neil Hanna
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A Saturday finish, which would avoid the last round clashing with the Wimbledon men’s final, is one of the things being considered for the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open as its three partners aim to make the event “bigger and better”.

Also in the melting pot is a possible first visit to Kingsbarns in Fife, returns to both Royal Aberdeen and Gullane and also the same venue, possibly Dundonald Links next year, staging the men’s and women’s Scottish Opens close together to create a unique spectacle on this side of the Atlantic.

Through a partnership involving the title sponsor, the Scottish Government and the European Tour, the event’s future has been secured through to 2020, when its coveted pre-Open Championship slot has been guaranteed but other exciting changes could be afoot.

“We’ve got all sorts of 
ideas,” said Aberdeen Asset Management chief executive Martin Gilbert, speaking at Castle Stuart. “One of the thoughts is to start the Scottish Open a day earlier, on the Wednesday, so that we are not up against Wimbledon [men’s final].

“Now that Wimbledon has moved permanently, you have to look at it, and TV would be happier because they would have something on the Wednesday as well.” That would actually be a case of turning back the clock because the event used to finish on a Saturday.

As for future venues beyond Dundonald Links next year, it looks as though one more new course could be added to the mix along with returns to Royal 
Aberdeen and Gullane, where the event was held in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

“We would obviously like to go back to Aberdeen and Gullane, which I think did really, really well,” added Gilbert. “We want to take it to good courses, and Kingsbarns [where the Women’s British Open is being held for the first time next year] would be another one we would love to go to. Being live on TV, the pictures are very important for the Scottish Government and Kingsbarns lends itself to that more than most courses.”

Next year’s European Tour schedule is set for a shake-up as Keith Pelley, the new chief executive, makes his mark on the circuit, having hinted that he is keen to see a number of events carrying u7 million prize funds similar to what the Italian Open now boasts.

With Rory McIlroy as its host and Dubai Duty Free as sponsor, the Irish Open is eyeing a prime summer slot, but Gilbert, who has been instrumental in Aberdeen Asset Management pumping more than £10 million into Scottish golf over the past few years, is adamant that won’t be the one before the Open Championship for the foreseeable future.

“I’m sure he would,” he replied to being told that McIlroy had his eye on the Scottish Open slot. “But, as Keith Pelley said, we are tied in to this date until 2020, so no matter what Rory says...and this is a better tournament than the Irish Open, I can tell you.”

When the deal securing the event’s future through to 2014 was signed just under two years ago, it was revealed the prize fund 
will rise to a minimum of £4m in 2018 and Gilbert insists that will happen despite the current challenging economic conditions after the Brexit vote.

“That clearly has an effect, but you know we made £500m last year, so if it does affect our business I hope it’s not that bad that we can’t afford the sponsorship fee of the Scottish Open,” he said. “I don’t know the percentage breakdown of the 
prize-fund, but the Scottish Government are contributing a significant amount at the moment, especially to the ladies’ game.

“The one we need to build in terms of prizemoney is the Ladies Scottish Open, that’s where we’ll concentrate our efforts over the next few years because we want to get that up to be one of the richest events on the Ladies European Tour.”

It is being held for the second year in a row at Dundonald Links next week and a third visit could be on the cards in 2017, when hopes of attracting the likes of world No 1 Lydia Ko would be high due to the Women’s British Open also being in Scotland the following week.

“We may try and host 
the two Scottish Opens at the same venue,” revealed Gilbert. “The reason for that is that the infrastructure spend would be considerably less. That then involves finding a venue that’s prepared to take two events and I think Dundonald might agree to that.”