Hands off! Scottish Open set to retain coveted pre-Open slot for another five years

Imagine Lionel Messi and Ronaldo on the same pitch at either Tynecastle or Easter Road. And Kylian Mbappe, Harry Kane and Andy Robertson, too.

Ryder Cup team-mates Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy are the star attractions in the strongest-ever field for the abrdn Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club this week. Picture: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images.
Ryder Cup team-mates Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy are the star attractions in the strongest-ever field for the abrdn Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club this week. Picture: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images.

Yes, of course, it’s a fairly regular occurrence for Scotland to play host to that sort of scenario in golf due to The Open taking place in the sport’s cradle almost every two years.

However, this week’s abrdn Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club in East Lothian truly is something to shout about when it comes to sporting spectacles in this country.

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Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy are Messi and Ronaldo while a star-studded supporting cast includes Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele, Tyrrell Hatton, Lee Westwood, Billy Horschel and Will Zalatoris. Oh, and, of course, Bob MacIntyre is the Robertson in the field.

The projected Official World Golf Rankings rating for the Rolex Series event, which tees off on Thursday, is in the 420s, which means it is set to boast the strongest field in the tournament’s history.

The highest previous strength of field rating was 389 for the 2009 edition, which featured the likes of Adam Scott, Colin Montgomerie, Ernie Els, Angel Cabrera, Relief Goosen and Geoff Ogilvy at Loch Lomond.

As was the case back then, of course, the sheer quality of this week’s line up is down to the fact that the Scottish Open occupies the most-coveted slot on the European Tour schedule.

If it was a week earlier or a week later, you’d get two or three of those big names, but it’s jackpot time due to it once again preceding The Open, the 149th edition of which takes place at Royal St George’s in Kent next week.

It was back in 1987, when Ian Woosnam won the event under the Bell’s banner at Gleneagles, that the Scottish Open first moved into its current slot and well done to whoever it was that came up with that brilliant idea.

There would be a lengthy queue if it became available at any time, with the Scottish Government and Aberdeen Standard Investments deserving enormous credit for securing the Scottish Open’s future at the time in a partnership with the European Tour after a lengthy run with Barclays came to an end in 2011.

This week’s staging is the first under the new abrdn branding and, with Martin Gilbert no longer with the company, it remains to be seen how long that title sponsorship continues, though nothing has yet been decided.

The good news, though, is that the Scottish Open looks set to stay in its slot for at least the next five years, as will the Trust Scottish Women’s Open, which now, of course, is played the week before the AIG Women’s Open in a mirror move.

This will be the third successive staging of the men’s event at The Renaissance Club. What happened to it being moved around the country taking in visits to Castle Stuart, Royal Aberdeen, Gullane and Dundonald Links in the past decade?

That seems mainly down to the title sponsor wanting it to be held in close proximity to its Edinburgh headquarters, though, at the same time, European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley has hinted that he wouldn’t be against the tournament going back to the same situation at Loch Lomond of it having a prolonged run at the same venue.

Yes, we all know that The Renaissance Club wouldn’t be the choice of many spectators in particular if that is indeed the case, but it’s not as simple as Pelley, Nicola Sturgeon or whoever clicking fingers and the likes of Carnoustie, Troon or Muirfield becoming an option.

We should be grateful that the American owners of The Renaissance Club have opened its big iron gate in the first place and, in doing so, have provided the platform for one of the strongest fields in the European Tour’s history to assemble there this week.

Yipee! Spectators will be there, too, with a “strictly limited attendance” having been given the green light by the Scottish Government after last year’s event was played behind closed doors along with every other big tournament due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The actual figure is not being made public, but it was mentioned on the Sky Sports coverage that around 2,500 fans per day were in attendance at last week’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Mount Juliet and it could be something similar this week.

It’s bloody typical, of course, that after weeks without rain of any real significance, the heavens opened above Edinburgh on Sunday to the extent that Noah could probably have sailed along Princes Street.

The upside of that for the likes of Rahm and McIlroy, though, is that it seems as though Royal St George’s has had the sting taken out of it by a recent wet spell in the south-east of England, so this week can still be the preparation they are looking for.

Rain or shine, this has the makings of a really special abrdn Scottish Open.

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