Martin Dempster: Loch Lomond reopens it doors

I have just enjoyed meeting up again with an old friend. Like thousands of others, we'd become acquainted during a 15-year spell when it hosted a European Tour event, which was latterly the Scottish Open. I'm talking, of course, about Loch Lomond Golf Club and what a joy it was to be back there on Sunday.

Rossdhu House is the opulent clubhouse at the Loch Lomond Golf Club, said to be the Augusta of Scotland. Picture: Getty

Created for exclusivity – London-based David Brench was the original developer before American Lyle Anderson took over ownership – it was a tasty annual treat for the 
Scottish golfing public to be let through the gates before, on the back of a members’ buyout, the drawbridge was suddenly pulled up. The buyout was concluded five years ago, since when hardly a word has been uttered about life at Loch Lomond after its spell in the golfing spotlight, during which time Ernie Els, Tom Lehman, Colin Montgomerie, Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell, Retief Goosen and Martin Kaymer were among those to claim victories on the magnificent Tom Weiskopf-designed layout.

To coincide with Dundonald
Links, its sister course, being announced as the host venue for the 2017 Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open, a group of journalists was invited back to Loch Lomond for the first time since 2010 and it was actually quite an emotional experience.

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The drive from the gatehouse round the bay to Rossdhu House certainly set this correspondent’s pulse racing and it was wonderful to be greeted there by familiar faces, the likes of, for example, Donald Macdonald, the director of member services, and Willie Henry, the effervescent locker-room attendant, either still being on the staff or having returned to their “spiritual home”.

For those of us who were part of the first press group to visit Loch Lomond as it was being developed by Brench, it is still jaw-dropping to step inside Rossdhu House and see how it was transformed from dereliction into opulence. They say Skibo Castle is pretty special but, having never been there, for me it’s Loch Lomond that sets the bar in terms of standard of service, with the likes of Archerfield Links and The Renaissance Club both using it, no doubt, as a template in lots of different ways.

As was always the case, it was a thrill to play what many people describe as the “Augusta of 
Scotland”. Drainage was once a major problem during the days of those European Tour events and, of course, a Solheim Cup which was played out surrounded by a sea of mud. The difference now is like night and day, with improvements continually being made as the club finds itself back on a solid financial footing under the chairmanship of Sir Nigel Rudd.

In short, Loch Lomond is thriving again. It is just 25 members short of reaching a cap set at 600. The club is confident that figure will be reached in the near future despite the joining fee about to go up to £115,000. The current membership is made up of people from 35 different countries. Saudi Arabia and Denmark were new additions to that list last year.

At a dinner on Sunday night, general manager Bill Donald talked about “exciting and vibrant times at a new Loch Lomond” and that was certainly palpable. It’s great for the club to have rekindled its 
connection with the European Tour through Dundonald Links becoming the first course on the west coast to be selected to host the Scottish Open.

The Glasgow area has been the poor relation over the last five or six years when it has come to top-level professional events, but what an exciting 12 months now lies in store what with the Open Championship returning to Royal Troon in July then a Scottish Open to come at Dundonald Links, where the ladies’ equivalent will also be staged for a second time in between.

The big question now, of course, is can we expect an event to be back at Loch Lomond one day? That will be entirely down to the membership but, based on Sunday’s visit, I get the feeling that the club staff are certainly up for it.

Since its move away, the Scottish Open, of course, has now started to be played on links courses, which is aimed at helping players prepare for the Open Championship. So maybe not that then. It would be terrific, though, if Scotland finally got the chance to stage its first World Golf Championship at some point and there wouldn’t be a better venue than the one which holds a special place in the hearts of the country’s golfing public.