Martin Dempster: Time to test Gullane’s rave reviews

THIS is it for Gullane, the week it has been building up to for more than a year. It may have been 12 months ago that the announcement was made official – on the final day of last year’s event in Aberdeen – but the East Lothian club knew a good bit before then that the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open was coming to town for the first time. It was simply sworn to secrecy.
North Berwick Law stands out in the distance against the backdrop of the tented village at Gullane. Picture: Jane BarlowNorth Berwick Law stands out in the distance against the backdrop of the tented village at Gullane. Picture: Jane Barlow
North Berwick Law stands out in the distance against the backdrop of the tented village at Gullane. Picture: Jane Barlow

Bit by bit over the past few weeks, the infrastructure that comes with one of the European Tour’s biggest events has been starting to take shape, with the final pieces of the jigsaw now in place. The main tented village – there’s another one out on the course – sits well on what is normally the first hole on the No 1 layout, and the screening to block out the main road at the right-hand side of the 18th close to the green is probably as tasteful as it gets for screening.

It’s from now until Sunday, of course, that Gullane will be judged as a European Tour venue, both by players and spectators, and, like any new venue, it is going to be fascinating to watch things unfold. The early indications are that the course – the most important thing of all – is going to be a hit.

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Mark Fulcher, who caddies for defending champion Justin Rose, was one of the first to pay a visit over the past few days and start his meticulous preparation. From what I believe, he was raving about the place.

Also putting in some groundwork – in his case for commentary duties with Sky Sports – Andrew Coltart walked the course on Sunday and described the greens as “pure”.

I’m surprised he didn’t comment on the rough because it is certainly on the juicy side. Not necessarily planned, though. It was actually quite light until a mixture of wet and warm weather in the past week or so changed its appearance. It’s almost waist-high in bits, in fact, though not in the areas where these boys will be hitting it.

“The rough has stiffened up over the last couple of weeks, but it looks denser than it actually is,” said tournament director Mike Stewart. “You’ve got the tall fescues, and that gives the impression of it being 
really thick. Once you are in it, though, it is more wispy than dense until you get further out into the long stuff. If you miss the fairway and are in the second cut, apart from the odd pocket here and there it’s not too bad.”

By the sounds of things, the locals will be happy that the course is going to be a tad tougher than was perhaps planned, bearing in mind that the European Tour – rightly so – don’t want players feeling as though they are being hammered into submission the week before the Open Championship.

I say that because most people I talked to at North Berwick during the qualifier at the weekend seem to be fearing that Gullane could be ripped apart by some of the world’s top players. If it’s flat calm, then, yes, it’s likely that someone will go very low. Just bear in mind, though, that exactly the same thing could happen at St Andrews next week before anyone makes a knee-jerk reaction to events later in the week. Also remember that the majority of people heading to East Lothian over the next few days want to see the world’s top players making eagles and birdies, not trying to save par all the time from the rough.

The area’s first Scottish Open got off to a great start as the aforementioned qualifier proved an outstanding success, the event having a real buzz to it and, in many cases, the chance to play North Berwick reminding players what a fabulous golf course it is. What it needs now is for the public in and around Edinburgh to give the main tournament the support it deserves because it has attracted what is truly a world-class field.

That being the case, this is the chance to prove that the disappointing attendance at the 2013 Open Championship at Muirfield was, indeed, a blip. There can be no excuses on this occasion. Of course, losing Rory McIlroy, the world No 1, to his football injury is a blow. But he wasn’t the only big name in the field. Far from it.

Let’s not take for granted the fact that Edinburgh and the Lothians is steeped in golfing history. People need to get off their backsides this week and savour a top-class event at a top-class venue.