Castle Stuart critics are wide of the mark

Rory McIlroy: Castle Stuart visit? Picture: SNS
Rory McIlroy: Castle Stuart visit? Picture: SNS
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THE announcement had barely been made and you could already hear the odd comment here and there. “Why is the Scottish Open going back to Castle Stuart?”

If Phil Mickelson was making the decisions, it would probably have never moved from the Inverness venue this year and be staged there again next year rather than having to wait until 2016.

He simply “loves” the place, which is easy to see why when his win there 12 months ago gave him the confidence to go on to become the Open champion the next week.

Rightly so, that fact will forever be reeled out by Castle Stuart officials in promotional pamphlets, which will also note how both Darren Clarke and Ernie Els warmed up there as well before they also lifted the Claret Jug.

On that basis alone, Castle Stuart deserves its place on the newly-announced rota after Gullane, with a venue in west of Scotland – likely to be Dundonald Links – being looked at by the event’s three partners for 2017.

For some people, Castle Stuart’s “problem” is that it’s too easy for the world’s best golfers and their argument was fuelled when Royal Aberdeen was turned into a monster last Friday by a stiff old breeze.

Let’s not forget, though, that there’s a fine line when it comes to trying to give players the “perfect” preparation for the Open Championship.

If that wind had kept blowing in the Granite City, a fair few would have been heading for Hoylake feeling battered and bruised instead of perky and positive.

Mickelson admitted the second round had been “mentally draining” and, at that point in the tournament, more energy had been drained from his tank than he’d ideally have liked.

Fortunately, conditions weren’t quite so tough and, for the final round, it was one of those benign days when even the severest of links courses can be made to look toothless.

As a test, Gullane will be similar to Royal Aberdeen, therefore we can surely expect a stellar field to match the one that was assembled for the Aberdeen Asset Management-backed event last week.

Will that also be the case at Castle Stuart? Perhaps not but I’m with Stuart McColm, its general manager, in wishing that people wouldn’t express views unless they are based on their own opinions.

Rory McIlroy could go there in two years’ time and discover exactly where Mickelson is coming from when he talks about getting the chance to play shots, especially the ones into greens, that you need to be able to master in the Claret Jug joust.

There’s also another reason why Castle Stuart deserves the tournament back. Inverness has set the bar when it comes to the event’s host city, having embraced it and, at the same time, generated a warmth around the event. Felt by players, caddies, officials and spectators alike, that deserves to be taken into account – as does the fact that, despite it being less populated than Aberdeen, the attendance figure last year was just 300 less than last week.

Royal Aberdeen was good. Very good and, hopefully, we’ll be back. Let’s join Phil, though, in also looking forward to that return trip to the Highlands.

McArthur’s challenge

WHEN it comes to chiselling away at the coalface, few have had to wear that pit helmet longer than Andrew McArthur.

Incredibly, it is 14 years ago since he won the Scottish Amateur Championship, a success he hoped would be the springboard to success in the paid ranks.

Nine years into that professional career, McArthur is still beavering away on the Challenge Tour, where he won in Slovakia at the weekend. It came just a fortnight after he noted how the bar had been raised considerably on the second-tier circuit from when he first played on it, so credit where credit is due.

The challenge now? To kick on and become the latest player – after Craig Lee, Chris Doak, Jamie McLeary and Jack 
Doherty – to prove that the Team Scottish Hydro initiative is playing its part in the pipeline for the European Tour.