Bernard Gallacher backs proposal to move Scottish Open to a new links venue

BERNARD Gallacher, the former Ryder Cup captain, has welcomed the move to look at taking the Barclays Scottish Open to a links course next year and admits it would be exciting if Castle Stuart, near Inverness, won the battle, believed to be with The Renaissance Club in East Lothian, to stage the £3 million event.

As reported in The Scotsman yesterday, European Tour representatives have visited both courses in the past few weeks to check them out as alternative venues to Loch Lomond, which is still under contract to host the 2011 event but has more important matters to address at the moment as it undergoes a members' buy-out.

It is believed that Troon had also expressed an interest in staging one of the European Tour's showcase events, but, as an Open Championship venue, a move there would have created a conflict that both the R&A and their counterparts at Wentworth are keen to avoid.

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A decision could be made as early as next week and, though it is still possible that Loch Lomond's run of having hosted the event since 1996 could continue, Gallacher said he liked the idea of it returning to a links course for the first time in 15 years.

"It would be a little bit of a gamble taking the event to a new course (like Castle Stuart or The Renaissance], but Loch Lomond has had a very good run and I think it has got out of the Scottish Open what it wanted," he remarked.

"I think Barclays feel it would be better for the Scottish Open if it was played the week before the British Open on a seaside course. I think they would get a better international field if that was the case, not just Americans but also more Far East players as well.

"I think they are probably right and both Castle Stuart and The Renaissance should be in the mix. I've played at The Renaissance and it is very good. I've also been told that Castle Stuart is fantastic. So either would be a good venue for the Scottish Open."

While East Lothian is tried and tested in terms of staging top professional events, the same can't be said of the Inverness area. Indeed, the Northern Open, once on the European Challenge Tour schedule but now just a Tartan Tour tournament, and the 1999 Walker Cup are probably the biggest events that have been staged in that neck of the woods in the past.

"I'm not favouring either of the courses here and The Renaissance have done a land swap with Muirfield, meaning (course designer] Tom Doak has been given a stunning piece of ground closer to the water to build three new holes," added Gallacher.

"However, it would be great for the North of Scotland to stage an event like the Scottish Open. It's a most wonderful part of the world, especially in July. You could see a few of the players playing at Royal Dornoch when they were up there and they'd love it there as well.It's a neglected part of Great Britain, really."

Bob Diamond, the president of Barclays, is a member at The Renaissance - as is former England and Newcastle striker Alan Shearer - and it is certain that he will have taken advice from the likes of Phil Mickelson and Darren Clarke, both of whom are sponsored by the banking company, about moving the Scottish Open to a seaside course.

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"Bob is a keen golfer and I'm sure he'll have been getting his people to carry out a lot of research. I'm sure they'll be saying there would be a better chance of then playing in the Scottish Open if it was played on a seaside course," observed Gallacher.

"Phil Mickelson, a contracted Barclays player, will be part of that think tank, no doubt, and he'll probably be saying that they would be doing him a favour in terms of the British Open if the Scottish Open was moved to a seaside course.

"I think it will delight the R&A that the likes of The Renaissance and Castle Stuart are in the mix as opposed to the likes of Carnoustie and Turnberry. They'd be unhappy if it was some of the courses on The Open Championship rota, but not these two.

"There could be a problem, of course, with Muirfield staging The Open again in 2013. However, what would be wrong with alternating the Scottish Open between Castle Stuart and The Renaissance? They are two fine courses."

Peter Adams, the Scottish Open championship director, was one of the European Tour representatives who carried out the site visits. He said a decision could be revealed next week.

"I don't want to get into situation where we are bringing other venues into the mix," he said yesterday when asked if it was true that Troon was in the mix along with Castle Stuart and The Renaissance. What has been reported is a pretty accurate reflection of the status of things. Discussions are taking place between ourselves and Barclays and we are hoping a decision will be made fairly soon.

"Loch Lomond is definitely not out of the equation. They are aware we are talking to other courses and all our discussions with them have been amicable. Whatever happens we will stay friends with them.

"We are comfortable with all three options (Castle Stuart, Loch Lomond and The Renaissance] we are looking at."

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Gallacher's nephew, Stephen, said yesterday he couldn't argue with Barclays for wanting to look at links courses if they believed it would help attract stronger fields for future Scottish Opens. However, he warned it would still not guarantee the presence of players like Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington.

"I am not convinced we will see Tiger or Padraig teeing up any time soon," said Scotland's leading player in this season's Race to Dubai. "Many of the golfers like to take the week off before The Open to work on their game on a links course. Giving them a links course to play at the week before may not be enough to entice them to take part.We will likely see more members of the PGA Tour coming over a week earlier, but whether Barclays or the European Tour will attract the major players remains to be seen."