Martin Dempster: Dundonald a good fit for Scots Open

Carly Booth putts on the first green during last week's Ladies Scottish Open at Dundonald Links. Picture: Getty
Carly Booth putts on the first green during last week's Ladies Scottish Open at Dundonald Links. Picture: Getty
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THE missing piece in the men’s Scottish Open jigsaw has probably been found after Dundonald Links in Ayrshire ticked lots of boxes with the event’s title sponsor as it hosted the women’s equivalent for the first time.

Castle Stuart, where the tournament is returning next year, is certainly on the rota which is starting to take shape and it would be nice to think that Royal Aberdeen would also want it back after a first visit there last summer proved popular. The same, of course, certainly applies to Gullane, where the event earlier this month was a resounding success, leaving only a venue in the west of Scotland to complete the geographical spread being sought by its three partners – Aberdeen Asset Management, the Scottish Government and the European Tour.

It’s a crying shame that Royal Troon, presumably, can’t be considered, due to the fact the R&A doesn’t like the venues on the Open Championship rota staging European Tour events, because, quite frankly, it is under-used and deserves to be in the spotlight more frequently than every 12 years.

Turnberry, of course, has suddenly become a hot potato for golf officials due to owner Donald Trump’s recent outspoken comments about Mexican immigrants and, in any case, the changes set to be made to the Ailsa Course after this week’s Ricoh Women’s British Open would rule it out of hosting a Scottish Open in 2017, the likely year being looked at for a visit to the west.

While they are all outstanding courses, the likes of Glasgow Gailes, Kilmarnock (Barassie), Irvine Bogside and Western Gailes simply don’t have the space to handle the infrastructure of a Scottish Open, which certainly isn’t a problem at Dundonald Links. It sits on 280 acres, half of which was used by Kyle Phillips for the golf course. There’s lots of room for parking, a tented village, TV compound, etc.

Is the course good enough to host a Scottish Open? I’ve heard it said that Bob Diamond, when he was the chief executive of Barclays, was aghast at Dundonald Links being mentioned as a possible future venue when the event was held at Loch Lomond, its sister club, and perhaps that contributed to Castle Stuart being the first port of call after it left there.

I also share the concern, aired to Aberdeen Asset Management chief executive Martin Gilbert during last week’s Ladies Scottish Open, that some of its greens are a touch quirky – the same could be said about the odd surface at Kingsbarns, another Phillips creation – and it’s risky to introduce players to a new venue when you already know that they could have something to moan about without even trying to find a reason.

That apart, though, I can see no reason whatsoever why Dundonald Links shouldn’t be given the nod for a Scottish Open because it has a fabulous array of holes and would prepare players perfectly for the Open Championship in the same way as Castle Stuart, Royal Aberdeen and Gullane all have over the past five years.

According to Gilbert, it’s not the only option. “Troon alone has six courses, so you could do the equivalent of a Gullane there,” he said in reference to the composite course used at the East Lothian venue. But it does now appear to be a strong favourite. “This event has been a big test and we are delighted with AAM’s first visit to Dundonald,” he added. “It’s a great golf course and is the type of course I’m sure the men would love to come and play.”

Admittedly taking advantage of free admission, the crowds at the Ladies Scottish Open exceeded expectations, with more than 4,000 people there on Saturday. With the last staging of the men’s event in the west having been in 2010 at Loch Lomond, where it was hugely popular, its return can expect a bumper attendance. “If the crowds for this event is anything to go by, I think it could break all the records,” acknowledged Gilbert.

The Dundonald Links staff, led by director of golf Guy Redford, worked their socks off to make the ladies’ event a success. They’re ready to pull out all the stops for the men’s tournament, too. “We’ve tried hard,” said Redford. “We’re spending an awful lot of money on the agronomy side. We’ve been top dressing our fairways for three months with sand to keep it playable as a links, and we don’t want to get away from that.”

Through its Qualifying School and Senior Open qualifying, the European Tour already has a relationship with the venue. Now that it’s been tried and tested by Aberdeen Asset Management, too, that final piece in the Scottish Open jigsaw will surely be slotted into place fairly soon.

Trump should give Turnberry a wide berth

It WOULD be nice to think that people will be respectful of the fact there’s a golf tournament – a major to boot – going on at Turnberry this week.

Unfortunately, a cloud has been cast over the Ricoh Women’s British Open as it is the first high-profile event to be staged at one of Donald Trump’s properties since the American billionaire’s controversial comments about Mexicans. It was too late in the day for the Ladies Golf Union and IMG, the two organisations that run the tournament, to find an alternative venue, so please let’s not have any fingers of blame being pointed at them if you think it’s wrong that the event is being staged as planned.

Neither should any criticism be aimed at the players for teeing up because, first and foremost, this is an event that really tickles the tastebuds and, secondly, this is the first opportunity many in the new generation of stars in the women’s game have to play Turnberry.

Personally, I think it would have been sensible for Trump to steer clear because his presence can only add fuel to the fire. It seems, however, that he is heading for Ayrshire at some point this week. “From what I hear, he is going to be there and I look forward to seeing him,” said world No 7 Suzann Pettersen.

She’ll lose supporters, no doubt, for saying that but good on the Norwegian for not ducking the question put to her by this correspondent about the possibility of this week’s event being turned into a circus.

“Trump is a great friend of mine and I support him,” said Pettersen. “I think he has done a lot of great stuff for women’s golf. Obviously now he is running a different campaign [for the US presidency] and says what he says at times. But that has nothing has to do with golf and what he has done for us. So I am happy to go and play Turnberry.”

Let’s hope that view is shared by the majority.