Martin Dempster: Lawrie’s ‘gem’ deserves support

IT DESERVED much better support but, all in all, the inaugural Saltire Energy Paul Lawrie Match Play was a splendid addition to both the Scottish golfing schedule and European Tour calendar.

David Howell plays his second shot on the third hole during his semi-final against Robert Karlsson of Sweden at Murcar Links. Picture: Getty Images

For starters, we saw another Scottish course that few outside of the game’s cradle had probably heard about before being showcased to the world and Murcar Links joined the likes of Castle Stuart, Royal Aberdeen and Gullane in receiving a thumbs-up from the players as they discovered another gem outwith the Open Championship rota.

At around 6,500 yards, it wouldn’t get a look in for a stroke-play event on the European Tour, but Lawrie’s belief that the risk-and-reward nature of many of the holes made it perfect for match play was certainly vindicated in 64 ties played over four days.

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It was refreshing to see players taking irons off tees as they were often faced with a test akin to feeding thread through the eye of a needle rather than just being able to blaze away with a driver, as so often seems to be the case on modern-day championship courses.

The ninth at Murcar Links measures just 323 yards, yet standing at the side of the green there for around half an hour on Saturday I saw Richie Ramsay, Chris Wood and Tyrrell Hatton all make a hash of it.

The latter, for instance, was no more than 50 yards from the green with his tee shot but still wasn’t on the putting surface after four blows. He could still smile and that’s part of the beauty of match play. You sense players are a bit more relaxed than they are with a card and pencil in their hand.

On the evidence of this event, there’s definitely scope for Keith Pelley, the new European Tour chief executive, to look at more match-play tournaments going forward, perhaps even to the extent that four per season could be staged in the different corners of the world that the ever-expanding circuit visits. The one bearing Lawrie’s name has been secured for another two years. Apart from bowing out earlier than he’d have liked, the host was delighted with year one. He praised the course for both the test it provided and its condition and also his management company 4Sports & Entertainment, for putting on a “hell of a show” as promoters.

Popular as Murcar Links undoubtedly was with the players, Lawrie will sit down with 4Sports & Entertainment and Saltire Energy chief executive Mike Loggie in due course to discuss the venue for next year, when it is believed the event will sit a week later on the schedule.

Also on that agenda will be a review of the ticket pricing. At £15 per day, the cost for an adult last week was half the walk-up rate for the Scottish Open and a fraction of the £80 it was for the Open Championship.

Yet, the attendance for the week was only 11,000. “It would have been nice to see more,” admitted Lawrie.

Could the fact his beloved Aberdeen playing two games – both away, admittedly – during the tournament been a contributing factor? Possibly, yes. Could the Open Championship being staged two hours down the east coast a fortnight before? Possibly, yes.

Not for the first time, though, I left Aberdeen feeling it difficult to stop myself thinking that the good people of the North-East take Lawrie, the man who has done more than anyone to put the area on the golfing map, for granted and, if that’s the case, then it is simply inexcusable.

Immediately before he made his Ryder Cup return at Medinah in 2012 – at a time when he was riding high on the back of winning the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles – he hosted the Paul Lawrie Invitational at Deeside, yet was lucky if he had 20 people out watching him there.

To have backed up all the excellent work that has been carried out by his foundation by having a European Tour event bearing his name being staged in the Granite City is something that deserved better than an attendance of 11,000 over five days (the figure included the pro-am).

“Mike Loggie at Saltire Energy is thrilled, for a first-year start with a million Euro prize fund the field has been phenomenal, the feedback from the players has been brilliant, and the spectators that have come have all enjoyed it,” said Lawrie in providing his summary of the week.

I sincerely hope that next year, when the number of invitations is likely to be doubled from two to four to allow a bit more flexibility to add a “wild-card” element, the loons prove me wrong and back both Lawrie and this new event with a bit more force.