Castle Stuart may be preparing the “welcome back” sign as it gears up to host the Scottish Open again this summer, but it won’t be going up alongside one that says “for sale”. That’s because rumours circulating about that being the case are wide of the mark, though new investment is being sought by Mark Parsinen, the managing partner and co-designer of the stunning course near Inverness.
“There is not a ‘for sale’ sign outside the door,” Stuart McColm, Castle Stuart’s general manager, told Scotland on Sunday, chuckling, as he sought to explain about how the speculation had come about in the countdown to it staging the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open for a fourth time.
“We recently employed Christie & Co, who are property consultants, to widen an already international global network that we’ve got in terms of trying to find the right investment partner, and the reason we’ve done that is because we all want to get the next phase of the development here moving.”
It involves a second championship course, which will be an Arnold Palmer signature layout, as well as a par-3 course and various properties being built, including two hotels, a spa and leisure facility. The 17th century castle that gives the course its name has also been earmarked for refurbishment.
“Mark can’t afford to fund it himself, so he has crossed the bridge of perhaps taking in a significant partner that might dilute everyone else. But he’s not worried about that because, at 67, he wants to get us over the line,” added McColm, who has worked at Castle Stuart since 2006, first as project manager before taking up his current post. “We all want to get things moving as we have such a great product and such a great team.
“We have a couple of seriously interested parties who want to invest in Castle Stuart, but we are leaving no stone unturned, which is why we are employing Christie & Co. It’s as a result of that, of course, that the rumours have been circulating and we’ve been trying to quash them because we are not for sale. We want to find the right person or the right company to come in and help us realise our dream. We can build it, but we just need someone to come in and provide the finance.”
It had been hoped that work on the new Palmer course would start before the Scottish Open’s return to the Highlands, but that has been scuppered by the planning process. “There’s now not a hope in hell of us starting before July, but we are expecting to get our hearing in mid-May,” said McColm.
“With that being so close to the Scottish Open, we’ll draw breath and then see where we are after that in terms of getting some stakes in the ground. The Palmer deal is all hinged on the planning.”
While Rory McIlroy definitely won’t be there and it also remains to be seen if Rickie Fowler will be defending the title he won at Gullane last July, the list of players confirmed for the Scottish Open includes Phil Mickelson, the last winner at Castle Stuart in 2013, as well as Henrik Stenson, Graeme McDowell and, of course, local hero Russell Knox.
Having heard McDowell be critical of the venue after it was first staged on the course in 2011 before he later apologised personally to Martin Gilbert, the Aberdeen Asset Management chief executive, McColm is particularly pleased that McDowell has decided to make his return. “It is fantastic, it really is, and hats off to Graeme,” he said. “I will be the first to shake his hand when he comes through the door in July.
“I know there were a few things said the first year but, hey, no-one was in a great spot after that event due to the weather. Whatever he has done, whether it’s eating humble or pie or, more likely, acknowledging his comments had been taken out of context, he has been bold enough to apologise to Martin Gilbert and I’m so delighted he’s coming back.”
Referring to McIlroy, who did not play in the event during its run at Castle Stuart from 2011 to 2013, once saying he felt it wasn’t a “true links test”, McColm added: “I’d hoped he might have been able to come here for the first time and see it with his own eyes and make his judgment from there. But hopefully that can happen at some stage in the future.”
For this year’s event, measures have been taken to toughen up the par-5s a bit. At the 12th and 18th, for instance, the rough has been “beefed up” on the right side of both holes. A couple of “nasty pot bunkers” have also been added on the sixth fairway and anyone taking those on will need to “thread the eye of a needle” to give themselves the best chance of getting home in two. “We’ve made these changes to ensure a degree of accuracy is required on these holes,” explained McColm.