The best yet. That’s my verdict on last week’s Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open at Gullane – the event’s second visit to the East Lothian venue in the past four years.
It was in 2011 that the tournament started to move around the country after its lengthy stint ended at Loch Lomond, with stagings at Castle Stuart, in particular, and also Royal Aberdeen and Dundonald Links all having proved enjoyable.
However, there was something about this year’s event at Gullane, where it was held for the first time in 2015, that made it stand out above the others on links courses over the past eight years.
One of the reasons for that, admittedly, was the fact the event had the fastest-running course for a Scottish Open since the final round at Carnoustie in 1995. It really was terrific to see it burnt to a crisp, similar to how Muirfield was, of course, when Phil Mickelson won the Open Championship there in 2013.
Also helped by the fact it was sunny and a bit breezy, too, Saturday in particular out on the course felt closer to an Open Championship day than any of those Scottish Opens since 2011.
That, of course, is exactly what the event’s three partners – Aberdeen Standard Investments, the Scottish Government and the European Tour – are looking to achieve with this tournament and it certainly ticked most of the boxes on this occasion.
If anything, it’s a pity the wind didn’t blow a bit more, with Saturday afternoon the only time that Mother Nature tried to give the course the sort of defence that every single links course needs to show off its true test.
It was virtually flat calm on Friday when Japan’s Hideto Tanihara and our own Connor Syme, pictured, shot 61 and 62 respectively. It was the same on Sunday when South African Brandon Stone lowered the course record again with his title-winning 60.
In a way, I’m glad that Stone missed his eight-foot putt on the last to fire the first 59 in European Tour history. That would have left people in years to come claiming that Gullane is a pushover and it doesn’t deserve to carry that tag.
The composite course used for the Scottish Open is a fabulous test of golf and don’t be surprised if we see a seventh player in the last nine years has used that event to help them become an Open champion at Carnoustie this weekend.
Another thing that stuck out in this particular Scottish Open was the quality of the field. It was set to be the strongest field in European Tour history until Tommy Fleetwood and Henrik Stenson pulled out at the beginning of last week.
Even then, it had five of the world’s top 20 and 17 of the top 50 in the global rankings. Twelve Americans teed up in East Lothian, headed by Masters champion Patrick Reed, five-time major champion Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler, the 2015 winner at Gullane.
It was the strongest-ever Stars and Stripes contingent in the event and part of the reason for that was the course having gone down so well first time around. They’d all be back in flash, you suspect, if the event was returning to Gullane in 12 months’ time.
That it’s not is perfectly understandable. It’s just not feasible for a members’ club like Gullane to give up its courses for a month, as is the case now due to the Aberdeen Standard Ladies’ Scottish Open being staged at the same venue as the men’s event.
That’s part of the reason the 2019 tournament is being staged instead just along the road from Gullane at The Renaissance Club. Only time will tell how that course goes down with the players, but let’s give it a chance before making any judgments. Those three partners are confident they can make it work and overcome concerns about it being one of the most exclusive clubs in the country.
It has to be hoped, though, that we are back at Gullane one day and an attendance for five days of 63,434 – a good total given all that’s taking place in Scotland over a three-week period – would seem to suggest that should indeed be the case.