If it was based purely on attendance figures, the Scottish Open had its backside kicked by the Irish Open as the events were staged on consecutive weeks on links courses for the first time.
Without a shadow of doubt, the Dubai Duty Free-backed Irish event was a resounding success at the box office, with more than 90,000 turning up during the course of the week for the tournament’s first staging at Portstewart.
Compared to that, a total of just over 50,000 for the Aberdeen Asset Management-sponsored event at Dundonald Links was certainly a big disappointment, but, at the same time, certainly not a disaster as there were mitigating factors.
For starters, that figure would have been closer to 60,000 if the weather hadn’t been so nasty for the third round on Saturday. Just over 7,000 turned up for that and they deserve a pat on the back just for braving what were some of the worst conditions at a golf event on this side of the Atlantic since a brutal corresponding day for the 2011 Open Championship at Royal St George’s.
Also, the fact that Rory McIlroy didn’t make it to the weekend along with the likes of Patrick Reed, Jason Dufner, Martin Kaymer, Alex Noren and nine Scots, including Russell Knox, didn’t help either and the same goes for the fact that the three home players left standing failed to get into the mix.
Like it or not, we can be a pretty parochial bunch at times and the fact Knox was joined by the likes of Martin Laird, Marc Warren, Scott Jamieson, Scott Henry and local man Jack Doherty in suffering an early exit doesn’t help when you are asking people to cough up £45, the admission cost on Saturday and Sunday.
Is that too much? Well, it was the same price in Ireland so probably not, especially when the Scottish Open, certainly at the start, boasted the strongest field on the European Tour this season, with McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Rickie Fowler and Adam Scott the star attractions.
What we need to bear in mind as the respective events are analysed is that, unlike Scottish fans, the Irish get one chance to support golf at the top level every year and, as you’d expect, do so wholeheartedly, especially when it’s an event that has Rory McIlroy as its host.
Even without an Open Championship to look forward to, Scottish golf fans also have a Ladies Scottish Open and Ricoch Women’s British coming up in the next couple of weeks, as well, of course, as the Dunhill Links Championship later in the year. Every two or three years, the Senior Open is also thrown into the mix, leaving us spoiled in many respects when it comes to tournaments at the top level.
And, unless it ever goes back to Loch Lomond, where the attendance was as high as 85,000 in 2009, we need to accept that a figure of 50,000-60,000 is going to be the norm for the Scottish Open and lower than that if it goes back to Castle Stuart, where last year’s attendance of just under 42,000 perhaps showed that the novelty factor there had worn off a bit with fans from the Central Belt.
As a venue for the event, Castle Stuart has proved itself and the same goes for Dundonald Links. There was the odd grumble about the greens being “a bit bumpy” but it was no surprise to hear that, in general, the players were complimentary about it and, believe me, that is not a given in professional golf.
Neither is ensuring that the top-ranked players will always be the ones to the fore at the finish, especially when you get weather like Saturday, but fair play to Rafa Cabrera Bello for getting the job done in the end even if this was definitely one that got away from poor Callum Shinkwin.