Brains, not brawn, is Scottish Open key at Dundonald

Brains, not brawn, will be the main requirement to get in the mix in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Dundonald Links, according to the man who designed the Ayrshire course.

Kyle Phillips is looking forward to seeing Dundonald Linls play host to the likes of Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson
Kyle Phillips is looking forward to seeing Dundonald Linls play host to the likes of Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson

Kyle Phillips first made his mark in the Home of Golf with his work at Kingsbarns, which opened in 2000, before adding Dundonald Links, which sits between Troon and Irvine, to his portfolio three years later.

Both those courses will be in the spotlight over the coming few weeks - Kingsbarns staging a women’s major, the Ricoh British Open, while Dundonald Links hosts a ground-breaking Scottish Open double-header.

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The men’s event pays its first visit to the venue next week before it’s the turn of the women to tackle the course for a third year running, though featuring a much stronger field due to the event now being co-sanctioned by the LPGA.

It’s an exciting time for Phillips, therefore, and the American, who worked for the legendary Robert Trent Jones jnr before branching out on his own, is particularly excited about Dundonald Links playing host to the likes of Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson and Adam Scott.

“It started out as Southern Gailes, a kind of Kingsbarns for the west coast but not one connected to a private club,” said Phillips, recalling the history of the course.

“Yaqub Ali (one of Scotland’s foremost Asian entrepreneurs) was the investor in the project, but he became ill and then terminally ill. We were nearly complete and we had to press the pause button.

“We had 14 or 15 holes completed and the photos that were distributed of the completed holes led to Lyle Anderson purchasing the course and fulfilling the idea of having a links course connected with Loch Lomond.

“Anyone who wins any event these days has to be great around the greens and, if you miss the greens at Dundonald, it rolls away, so you need to have that imagination and craftiness from some of those tight lies and that will separate winners from the top five.

“I’d say this course will suit players who are good tacticians, great around the greens and not daunted by those tight lies.”

The course will be set up at 7,055 yards and Phillips added: “I like the variety at Dundonald of short and long holes.

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“The sixth is a cute little hole while the 11th is a great little short par-3 that’s just loads of fun. “That’s going to be a big feature hole during the tournament with a lot of infrastructure around it to create a coliseum feel like the famous 16th at the Phoenix Open.

“The 14th is a par-5 that’s visually tempting the way the green sits. It’s as if it’s calling you to go for it but if you go through the back of that green there’s a lot of trouble lurking that could cost dearly.

“The 18th, another par-5, is a great finishing hole that’s going to make for some real drama if the scores are all tight at the end.

“You have a real pressure situation there with the way it sets up with the burn guarding the front and side of the green. Do I lay up or do I go for it in two with the risky long shot?

“Fifteen years on, I might have pulled the back tees back a bit more, to be honest, because of the distance they hit it these days. 280-yard bunkers are now carry bunker in a neutral wind these days.

“But it’s tough to make it long enough to shut down the ability to make birdies. We’ll know after this event how much of a challenge it is.”

Is he worried that someone might go very low, having seen Portstewart made to look pretty much defenceless in the Irish Open over the past few days.

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“The most concerned I ever was about someone going low on a course I designed was The Grove when he had the WGC there a few years ago,” said Phillips.

“It was designed as a hotel course, never to have the world’s top 50. The owners probably didn’t appreciate that at the time. It was set up for good amateur players but not the top 50 in the world. I was very concerned that someone would shoot a 59.

“If the wind is down and it’s damp, you may see low scores at Dundonald but the flip side, if it’s dry and windy, it goes the other way.

“There’s enough in the course, with contours and wrinkles, that you can drop shots. Bad shots get punished, good ones get rewarded.”

Tiger Woods headed the field for that WGC at The Grove and now Phillips is looking forward to seeing the likes of four-time major winner and world No 4 McIlroy tackling another of his courses.

“It’s great,” he said of McIlroy headlining the Rolex Series event. “He has the resume to draw the fans and those are the players we want to come and test the course.

“I’m pleased that it’s going to get the recognition it has deserved more recognition for a long time.

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“Because of the difficult birth and all the things that took place in the early years of ownership, it has always been appreciated for those who have known it but not so much on a wider scale.

“Kingsbarns, on one hand, was opened to the world of golf during Open week of 2000 so instantly - whether people loved it or hated it - they all saw it right away and embraced it.

“Dundonald really hasn’t had that kind of entry into the world of golf, but there is no time like the present to put it on the international stage - and I’m sure it will do great.

“People who don’t know and have never played it before will be pleasantly surprised by the quality of course that it is.”