Gullane may have edge in bid for Scottish Open

GULLANE may be edging ahead of neighbour The Renaissance Club in the battle to become a venue for the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open.

Gullane is one of two East Lothian clubs that may be a future Scottish Open venue. Picture: Cate Gillon
Gullane is one of two East Lothian clubs that may be a future Scottish Open venue. Picture: Cate Gillon

European Tour chief executive George O’Grady met Jerry Sarvadi, joint owner of The Renaissance, under the iconic oak tree outside the Augusta National clubhouse at The Masters. However, that was simply part of an ongoing process being undertaken by the Tour along with its partners for the event, the Scottish Government and Aberdeen Asset Management.

Both The Renaissance and Gullane have been inspected by Tour officials to check their suitability to stage the tournament, probably next year if, as seems likely, its visit to Royal Aberdeen in July is a one-off.

The Renaissance was looked at when a new venue was being considered after the event’s run at Loch Lomond ended but lost out to Castle Stuart, where it was held for three years.

Since then, new holes have been built as well as a £9.2 million clubhouse and the owners used last year’s Open Championship at Muirfield to showcase the facility, which certainly impressed Jimmy Walker, the current FedEx Cup leader.

“I played The Renaissance a couple of times last year and it’s a cool spot,” he told The Scotsman at The Masters. “It was a tough track with tricky greens and I think they could hold the Scottish Open there.”

O’Grady, speaking during last year’s Turkish Airlines Open, revealed that Gullane was also in the frame and club officials have held meetings with the police and local authorities to discuss the logistics of it hosting one of the European Tour’s biggest events.

Club secretary Stephen Anthony said: “We have had European Tour officials here and the local authorities have been in touch with us. It is now in the hands of the European Tour and the other decision-makers.”

The Scotsman understands a composite course has been proposed, with the second hole on Gullane No 1 earmarked to be the first, presumably to free up more space for the infrastructure around the 18th hole.

The Scottish Government is keen to use the event to showcase the home of golf, hence a plan that is believed to involve it moving from Royal Aberdeen to East Lothian next year, back up to Castle Stuart in 2016 then the west coast, probably Dundonald Links, in 2017.

First Minister Alex Salmond has a strong voice in the selection process, as does Aberdeen Asset Management, whose head of corporate events, Douglas Connon, lives in Gullane.

But O’Grady warned that a decision may not be made until after this year’s event.

“There won’t be an announcement in the near future,” he said. “We are still having deliberations with Aberdeen Asset Management and the First Minister. They are still looking at a few places and all views are being considered, but we don’t feel in a desperate hurry to make a decision. We’re taking a lot of views, including talking to players and the representatives of certain clubs, so I don’t think we’re that close to a decision yet.

“We’re looking at areas of Scotland, to grow the country’s tourism business as well.

“We want to play the best links courses and we are all on exactly the same page. But The Open is in Scotland next year [at St Andrews] and I am man enough to admit that The Open dominates. So it’s a balancing act with that and the Ladies British Open, which is at Turnberry next year.

“So there are quite a few elements and we don’t want to crowd on other people’s feet. That’s why we are thinking it all through slowly. There are no rules, we don’t have to make the decision by any specific time and when we do, between Aberdeen Asset, the government and ourselves, we will all think exactly the same. Just now there are many imponderables.”

The move to Royal Aberdeen has resulted in Phil Mickelson, the defending champion, being joined in this year’s field by the aforementioned Walker as well as Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood and, probably, US Open champion Justin Rose.

Based on that, is there a chance the event might stay for more than one year in the Granite City?

O’Grady added: “Well Royal Aberdeen offered to take it for one year but you never know, they might like the tournament so much they might want it again. Everything is open.

“It’s a long time away – we haven’t even held the event at Aberdeen yet, so we don’t feel compelled to rush into a decision.

“I spoke to Phil Mickelson at the Masters, who has been such a great supporter of the Scottish Open. He loves the fact we play on links turf the week before the Open and his speech after he won the Open Championship attributed playing at Castle Stuart the week before as helping him win. If you’ve got Mickelson on board, it encourages a lot of the others to come on board, too. Rory McIlroy is playing now along with a lot of the other top players.”

Also heading for the Granite City is Russell Knox, the 28-year-old Scot who is enjoying a stellar season on the PGA Tour. The Invernesian has received an invitation and is looking forward to making his debut in the event.

“Playing in the Scottish Open will be the highlight of my year,” said Knox. “I would’ve loved to have played at Castle Stuart, given my Inverness roots but, unfortunately, I was unable to as I was trying to keep my card in America, so it will be great to finally get the chance to play on home soil.”