Martin Dempster: Why Renaissance Club can win over ‘exclusive’ critics

Fidra Island seen from The Renaissance. Picture: Phil Inglis/Getty
Fidra Island seen from The Renaissance. Picture: Phil Inglis/Getty
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Twenty-three years ago, the Scottish golfing public was welcomed through the giant wrought iron gates at the south end of Loch Lomond Golf Club for the first time and fell in love with the place as it hosted a European Tour event under different guises for 15 consecutive years.

Latterly, of course, that event was the Scottish Open and now, as it is held this week for the first time at The Renaissance Club, another step into the unknown awaits the golfing public, this time on the east coast of the country.

Like Loch Lomond, there can be no denying that The Renaissance Club is one of the most exclusive in Scotland. The “initial investment” for membership is £75,000 for a family, including children up to 30 years old, and it currently has just over 200 families as members.

Eyebrows were certainly raised when it was announced 12 months ago that the event was heading there due to that exclusivity, especially with the Scottish Government being one of the main partners in the Rolex Series tournament along with the European Tour and Aberdeen Standard Investments.

As was the case all those years ago at Loch Lomond, though, a number of factors should be taken into account before people think about jumping on that bandwagon this week, as will no doubt happen and, in fairness, everyone is entitled to their opinion.

In an ideal world – and I say this with all due respect to everyone connected with The Renaissance Club – if we were talking about East Lothian, an event this week featuring the likes of Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar and Henrik Stenson would be staged at Muirfield, Gullane, North Berwick or Dunbar.

Muirfield, alas, is out of the reckoning as the R&A don’t like courses used for the Open Championship to stage European Tour events, a stance that means the likes of Muirfield and Royal Troon, in particular, lie redundant in terms of top-level tournament golf for too long at a time when the Claret Jug event comes calling 
every 10 years or so.

As for Gullane, it has staged the Scottish Open twice in the last four years and, as much as though it proved a hugely popular venue for both players and fans alike, it is only natural that the members probably didn’t want it back again this year. And, remember, it’s not just one week we are talking about due to the fact a Scottish Open double-header has been created, with the ladies’ equivalent set to be held at the same venue for the third year running, albeit four weeks apart on this occasion.

Seeing how well Lahinch came across as it staged the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open last week made me wish that the likes of North Berwick or Dunbar could also be given the same opportunity with the Scottish Open. Alas, neither probably has space for the infrastructure that comes with these events and the same goes for Longniddry, which, incidentally, proved a superb venue for the qualifier for the second year in a row at the weekend. A lack of necessary yardage, of course, is also a factor at these venues.

In short, there are not a lot of options and, with Aberdeen Standard Investments keen to stage the event again close to its headquarters in Edinburgh, the opportunity has therefore been taken to welcome some of the world’s top players to The Renaissance Club for the first time.

Overall, it’s not as pretty as Loch Lomond but, then again, there aren’t many places that match it when it comes to location. However, the view out across the Firth of Forth from what is being played as the fourth hole this week is stunning and definitely the place to be if that big yellow thing is in the sky.

Designed by American Tom Doak, the course will certainly prove a fitting test for one of the biggest events on the European Tour while, at the same time, help players prepare for next week’s Open Championship at Royal 
Portrush.

Getting to here, the biggest week in the club’s short history, has been a struggle at times for the owners, the Sarvadi family, but, led by Jerry, the man on the ground, their passion for the place has never wavered and what a thrill it will be for them to see the venue showcased to the golfing world.

Let another set of big wrought iron gates open to herald the start of what promises to be a cracking ASI Scottish Open.