It’s a feeling of Dundonald Links deja vu. Hot on the heels of the Ayrshire course hosting the men’s Scottish Open, another world-class field is heading there this week for the ladies’ equivalent.
In fact, it’s even stronger in terms of world rankings compared to a men’s event that featured Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Rickie Fowler and Alex Noren from the global top 10.
World No 1 So Yeon Ryu, second-ranked Ariya Jutanugarn and No 4 Lydia Ko headline the women’s tournament, which, with two others from the top 10, Shanshan Feng and Inbee Park, as well as a couple more, including Cristie Kerr, from the next five on that list, has been elevated to a new level.
That, of course, is because it is now being co-sanctioned by the LPGA, a ground-breaking agreement between the US-based circuit and the Ladies European Tour seeing the prize fund having been tripled from £428,000 to £1.2m, making it the event carrying the highest prize pot on the LET outside the majors.
“It has always been our vision to grow this event to a point where it becomes a staple on the world’s best players’ calendars,” said Martin Gilbert, CEO of title sponsor Aberdeen Asset Management, having been instrumental in the tournament being moved to the week before the Ricoh Women’s Open two years ago in mirroring the men’s event.
That was step one in the tournament’s transformation from what, in truth, was previously a low-key affair, albeit an important event on the Scottish calendar, and now it is set to be on par with the men’s event, both in appealling to a home audience and also to armchair viewers in the US.
“To have 27 of the world’s top 50 confirmed vindicates our decision to elevate the tournament to an event which benefits from the best talent on both the LET and LPGA and to one that will be beamed around the world,” added Gilbert.
Ko was flying high as world No 1 when she played in the event at the same event two years ago. The Kiwi lost that spot, having held it for 84 weeks, earlier this year but is relishing her return to Ayrshire before heading across to Kingsbarns for the Ricoh Women’s British Open, th fourth major of the season.
“I thought it worked well for me a couple of years ago,” said the Kiwi. “I had my best finish to date (tying for third in the British Open at Turnberry) after I played the event, so that’s a great start.
“During these two weeks there are so many factors affecting you and you have to play in a creative way. I enjoy playing like that and obviously playing the Scottish leading in gives me the perfect preparation to build me game.”
Asked what it would mean to her to taste victory on Scottish soil, Ko added: “I’ve been fortunate enough to win my national Open in New Zealand, so to win the national Open in Scotland would be amazing.
“There’s a lot of good golfers out there trying to stop me, so I need to work hard on my game and hopefully be able to give myself a good chance to win.”
Two-time winner Catriona Matthew spearheads a nine-strong home challenge, which has been bolstered by Michele Thomson and Sally Watson securing invitations along with England’s
Inci Mehmet and Stephanie Meadow from Northern Ireland.
For Watson, it is her fourth appeareance in the event, having finished no worse than 19th and also getting in the mix when claiming third spit in 2014, while Thomson, on the other hand, will be making her debut.
Carly Booth, another former winner, will also be aiming to give the home fans something to cheer about, as will Kylie Henry, Vikki Laing, Kelsey MacDonald, Pamela Pretswell and Gemma Dryburgh.
“It’s amazing to have the chance to play such a big tournament in my home country and It’s exciting to have the opportunity to play against some of the best players in the world,” said Dryburgh of the event’s new elevated status.
“I played my first Scottish Open at Dundonald Links last year and had three steady rounds, but I hope I can put on a good show for the locals this time around and I’m up for the challenge.”
Concurring, MacDonald said: “The fact that the event is now co-sanctioned between the LET & the LPGA is a huge boost for golf and Scottish golf. To play on home soil is a dream for most Scottish golfers and it shows the strength of our professional game that we’ve got nearly 10 players in the field.
“Hopefully we can all gain some valuable experience and inspire local fans to come out and watch. The fact that I’m also an Aberdeen Asset Management ambassador and that I get to be part of their team and represent them at such a huge event also means a lot.
“We’re basically playing two majors back-to-back with the Ladies Scottish Open being perfect preparation for the Ricoh Women’s British Open the following week. At the moment I’m not in the field at Kingsbarns, but hopefully I can qualify.”