IN the end, we shouldn’t have been surprised about the identity of the new title sponsor for the Scottish Open. After all, Aberdeen Asset Management has supported golf and golfers in Scotland more than any other company in these difficult financial times.
From first coughing up the cash to sponsor Paul Lawrie soon after he’d become the Open champion, Martin Gilbert, the golf-mad chief executive, has gradually built up an impressive stable of players that also now includes Colin Montgomerie, Martin Laird and Catriona Matthew as well as a whole bunch of up-and-coming professionals.
The company also supports players at grass-roots level through sponsorship deals with both the Scottish Golf Union and Scottish Ladies Golfing Association, while the Scottish Open has been added to a tournament portfolio that already included the Ladies Scottish Open and the Northern Open.
Sitting alongside Lawrie at yesterday’s sponsorship announcement at Edinburgh Castle, it was no surprise to see Gilbert looking proud about AAM’s latest commitment to the Royal & Ancient game, revealing a company that now has 33 offices around the world and employs nearly 2,000 people had started almost 30 years ago with three people in a small room in Aberdeen.
It has £185 billion under management and Gilbert didn’t hide the fact the new sponsorship had a lot to do with brand building with the Scottish Open, at its spectacular new home at Castle Stuart, to be beamed into homes around the world on 12-15 July.
“While you may read about the demise of the US, it still has 50 per cent of the world’s wealth,” he said. “A very important aspect of the sponsorship for us, therefore, is the television coverage of the Scottish Open as I think the Golf Channel in the US reaches 92 million homes.”
Both Lawrie and Montgomerie acknowledged AAM’s commitment to golf as they welcomed the company as the new Scottish Open sponsor in a deal that will see them plough in £6.5 million over the next three years, during which time the Scottish Government will also inject £2 million into the event.
“On behalf of the players, I would like to thank Aberdeen Asset Management for not only coming on board with the Scottish Open but also for all the work they do for Scottish golf,” said Lawrie. “I’ve had a deal for a long time with them and they are now putting huge amounts of money into Scottish golf.” In a statement released by his management company, Montgomerie added: “The Scottish Open is a great event and I am so pleased to hear that AAM, one of my long-term sponsors, has taken the title sponsorship. I have great admiration for the event, the Tour and also for the vision of the First Minister Alex Salmond and Martin Gilbert – both of whom I have worked with for many years and have enormous respect for. I know this will be a very good thing for the tournament.”
It was a major blow to the European Tour when Barclays, who had sponsored the event since 2002, pulled the plug after last year’s tournament but, in fairness, to chief executive George O’Grady he showed a commitment to not only the event but its prized slot the week before the Open Championship by committing it to Castle Stuart for a second year with a promise that the Wentworth-based body would underwrite it.
It was well known in golfing circles, however, that negotiations were going on behind the scenes to try and secure a title sponsor, with Salmond, hailed as a driving force, explaining why the Scottish Government had been prepared to cough up £2 million over the next three years to support the event.
“The purpose of that is threefold,” he said. “One, we know from the analysis of the Scottish Open that it has a direct economic impact of £5 million a year and that means £15 million over the next three years going into the Scottish economy. It adds to an overall economic impact of £200 million in terms of the total spend we have on golf tourism in Scotland at the moment. Thirdly, we have the build-up to the 2014 Ryder Cup and our obligation is to promote the game of golf in Scotland.
“Our contribution to this [sponsorship] comes from both EventScotland and VisitScotland as well as, crucially, through cash back from the communities. That’s the scheme that takes the money off some of the criminal fraternity in Scotland. It takes money off bad people and gives it to good people, good causes and good sports.”