WHILE the eyes of the golfing world will focus on Muirfield next week, owners of its nearest neighbour, The Renaissance Club, are grasping the opportunity to “showcase” a £32 million project that has put it firmly in the frame for the Scottish Open.
Having already been a contender for that tournament – it was checked out by European Tour officials after the event’s run at Loch Lomond ended four years ago but was pipped on that occasion by Castle Stuart – the East Lothian club is now the “finished article”.
Three new holes, including a breathtaking par-4 that hugs the beach and has Fidra Island as a spectacular backdrop, opened earlier this year while a temporary clubhouse has now been replaced by a three-storey permanent one that cost £9.2m, providing a standard on par with Scotland’s other five-star golf facilities.
Both this week and next, a string of high-profile names in the golfing world will, as a direct consequence of being on Scotland’s Golf Coast for the R&A’s flagship event, pay a visit to The Renaissance Club, where the membership bond costs £75,000, and see what it has to offer.
Adam Scott, for instance, is staying there for a few days later this week as the Masters champion prepares for his bid to win a second major of the season. Ernie Els, the defending Open champion and winner at Muirfield 11 years ago, has booked a room – there are now 23 on site – for next week, as has world No 5 Matt Kuchar.
Another leading American, Jim Furyk, will also be there next Monday along with Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts, a member of Europe’s Ryder Cup-winning team last year, and big-hitting Spaniard Alvaro Quiros for an event being hosted by leading equipment manufacturer Callaway.
Then, later in the week, the PGA Tour has a group, including its commissioner, Tim Finchem, and George O’Grady, the Euro-pean Tour chief executive, booked in to play golf as The Renaissance Club throws open its doors like never before since it opened just over five years ago.
“It’s the finished product now and we’re ready to showcase it to the world,” said Jerry Sarvadi, the American who first clapped eyes on the prized strip of land during a visit just before the 2002 Open next door and whose enthusiasm and passion has been the driving force behind the project.
“This type of opportunity doesn’t come around very often,” he added, talking to The Scotsman in the second-floor clubhouse restaurant, where the view in one direction is towards Arthur’s Seat and, in the other, the colossal Bass Rock near North Berwick.
“We started the course in ’06, so we didn’t know then when The Open was going to be back at Muirfield, but we knew it would return eventually and we’ve been preparing for it. We not only have the finished product with the clubhouse, which is world-class. The course is also finished now. The new holes have bedded in and the greens have been growing now for two years.
“During The Open, we’ll be opening the doors here more than we have ever done and it’s for obvious reasons. We told the members in advance that this was a big opportunity for us. We don’t normally have tee times, but we offered some for the week of The Open and, from 7am until 6pm each day, 70 per cent of them have gone.
“It’s great that the likes of Ernie Els, Adam Scott, Matt Kuchar and Vijay Singh have all booked rooms here, either in the week before or the week of The Open itself. We’re going to have some wine-tasting (there’s a cellar in the clubhouse basement cooled to the optimum temperature for such occasions) on the Tuesday night, the money from which will go to the Ernie Els Autism Foundation.”
Next week’s Open – hosting two big tournaments back-to-back in such close geographical proximity would have created logistical problems – probably played a part in The Renaissance Club losing out to Castle Stuart for the Scottish Open, especially if, as seems to have been the case, the European Tour was looking at a three-year contract at that time.
But, while insisting the East Lothian venue was ready to host such an important and prestigious event in 2011, Sarvadi now reckons it would be very difficult for it to be ignored when discussions take place about future venues after next year, when the Scottish Open is moving to Royal Aberdeen.
“I think people believe we are a future tournament venue already,” he said. “We were on the list when the Scottish Open went to Castle Stuart and I think when the European Tour came to evaluate us that the course was every bit as good as it is now and could have performed well at that point of time.
“However, it’s quite a bit different now with the new holes and the clubhouse. The golf course at the moment probably even exceeds my own expectations when I first came here in June ’02 – and that’s saying something as I always knew we had something special. And you just need to look at the reaction on faces when they see the new holes near the water to see what impact they’ve made.
“I’d like to think we are in the mix for the Scottish Open and I’d also like to think it makes sense for everybody involved in the event to bring it back to the Central Belt.
“If that happens, I’d like to think we’re a strong candidate – if not the strongest – to stage the event. It’s an inspiration and we’ve told the European and Aberdeen Asset Management that we want to do it.”
With the last pieces of the jigsaw now in place, membership enquiries have already started to pick up and Sarvadi is confident he can keep adding to a list that currently includes no less than four European Tour winners – Stephen Gallacher, Scott Jamieson, Richie Ramsay and Marc Warren.
“We had 20 new members in total last year and have nine already this year,” he said. “Through all the difficult times over the last five years, we’ve averaged 17 new members a year through 2012 and currently have slightly over 200 members. The value is there now and that’s the key.
“The current bond is £75,000 and it will stay that way for a short period of time. But, we always felt that when we got to the stage we’ve now reached with the course and the clubhouse, the bond value needs to go up. I know that’s a little difficult for maybe people in Scotland to understand but, when you are looking at the whole world and making comparisons to clubs that have the same as what we’ve got here, it costs a lot more.”