THEY may be playing a different course – the King’s as opposed to the PGA Centenary – but competitors in this week’s Gleneagles Scottish PGA Championship are being offered a chance to taste the luxury the Ryder Cup players will enjoy later this year at the five-star Perthshire resort.
In addition to a first prize of around £9,000 plus joining the likes of Bernard Gallacher, Sam Torrance and Paul Lawrie on the roll of honour, the winner of the Tartan Tour’s flagship event tomorrow night will also earn a stay in the iconic hotel when they return as defending champion.
“It’s an absolute treat as staying here is a phenomenal experience and could be a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” declared Greig Hutcheon, the man enjoying that on-site opulence this week. “Having ditched the kids with granny, my wife, Gillian, came down last night and we had dinner in the Strathearn Restaurant. I had oysters, lobster bisque and fillet and it was beautiful.”
Not used to such rich food and perhaps having over-indulged, Hutcheon was awake in the middle of the night and couldn’t get back to sleep. In the circumstances, he was pretty pleased with an opening two-under 69 that left him just three shots behind two joint-leaders – Cawder’s Chris Kelly and Graham Fox (Clydeway Golf).
After claiming the crown two years ago, Fox has also enjoyed the “Gleneagles experience”. In fact, he has been told in no uncertain terms that his wife, for one, would like to savour it again. “You’d better win this week,” was her message to him on leaving home, and he admitted: “It’s a wee extra incentive to do well this week.”
On a course that drew all-round praise – a drainage programme has seen a huge improvement to the greens on both the King’s and Queen’s Courses – Fox was particularly pleased to birdie the par-4 third, where he “chipped” a 7-iron under the wind from 145 yards to 20 feet.
“That hole owed me a birdie,” he said with a smile.
Kelly, bidding to regain a title he won in 2003, warmed up for this event by winning the Portpatrick Pro-Am on Saturday with a seven-under 63.
“I covered the last six holes there in seven-under-par and just carried on today by hitting it close at the first,” said the 36-year-old after a round that contained six birdies.
While the event’s new early-season slot showed up rust in some games, others to make promising starts included the unattached Ross Cameron and Portpatrick’s Christopher Robinson as they nestled in behind the two joint-leaders after matching 67s.
“I’ve been putting well all year,” reported Cameron, a 35-year-old from Ellon who is focusing mainly on the PGA EuroPro Tour this season, after another good day on the greens, while Robinson, 25, enjoyed holing one from down the slope at the fifth. “It did a lap of honour before dropping,” he said.
Three players are a shot further back – Andrew Oldcorn (Kings Acre), David Orr (Mearns Castle) and Mark Kerr (Marriott Dalmahoy). Oldcorn, the 2001 PGA champion, was seven-under-par through 12 holes but had his momentum halted by a poor second from the middle of the 13th fairway. “I totally fatted it and it only went 80 yards,” he said afterwards. “I’m boiling as I feel I’ve totally wasted an opportunity to get a foothold in the tournament.”
Orr, the 2009 winner, described his effort as a “real struggle” due to the fact he was being hampered by a pulled muscle – an injury picked up in the gym – and had to take pain-killers out on the course.
“I’ll try to keep playing through the pain as I can get a wee rest after this event,” he said.