Paul Lawrie hails revived Scottish Challenge as his 'most important event'

He’s done it at all, starting with a junior foundation in his native north-east then supporting Scottish golf through backing of both amateur and professional events.

Paul Lawrie, pictured during the Farmfoods European Senior Masters at Forest of Arden Marriott Hotel & Country Club earlier this year, is exited about reviving the Scottish Challenge next year. Picture: Phil Inglis/Getty Images.

His name was then attached to a European Tour event for three years while he currently hosts the Scottish Senior Open on the Legends Tour.

Oh, and let’s not forget about him launching the Tartan Pro Tour, a Scottish-based circuit to provide playing opportunities last year in the Covid world that has already gone from strength to strength.

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Taking all that into account, it really does say something when Paul Lawrie describes his latest venture as “the most important event we’ve ever done”.

Through Five Star Sports Agency, his sports management and events company, the 1999 Open champion has revived the Scottish Challenge, which will return to the Challenge Tour schedule next spring at Newmachar.

Won by Brooks Koepka in Aviemore in 2013, the event was held for 13 years in a row by Edinburgh-based Bounce Sport as the promoters before dropping off the calendar following David Law’s home success in 2018.

But, with Farmfoods as the title sponsor and the R&A also supporting it, the Scottish Challenge is back and there is no hiding Lawrie’s delight about it heading for Aberdeenshire on 26-29 May.

“I’ve been working on this for a wee while and Farmfoods have been fantastic as ever. The support from (CEO) Eric Herd has been amazing for us,” said the two-time Ryder Cup player and eight-time European Tour winner. “The previous Scottish Challenge, Bounce did an incredible job of getting players onto the main Tour by using it.

"The fact it wasn’t on the schedule for a couple of years, I think it’s important we have it on there for the progression of players from mini tours to get their opportunity to get onto the main tour. That tournament does a great job of doing that. You see a lot of players going that route.”

Koepka, of course, secured automatic promotion to the main tour as a result of his win at Spey Valley being a third of the season, with the American vindicating the giddy excitement about him that week by now being a four-time major winner.

It has also been a useful stepping stone for a posse of Scots, with Law, Bob MacIntyre and Grant Forrest all having gone on to become European Tour winners in recent years after securing valuable experience in the Scottish Challenge.

“There’s a number who have come through from the avenue that Bounce set up with the Scottish Challenge,” said Lawrie of other opportunities on the Challenge Tour that came about directly through the second-tier event. “They are now on the main tour and winning tournaments.

“I mentioned it a few years ago that we had six or seven players who were capable of winning at main Tour level and they are all doing it. That’s what it is about. It’s about getting the boys and giving them a chance to progress to show what they can do.

“We have got enough talent in this country. I have no doubt about that and the current crop on the main tour are all doing great.

“They are feeding off each other. You can read it and you can see it. They seem quite pally, but there’s a competitiveness and they all want to beat each other. That’s something you want. That’s something I always had.

“Stephen Gallacher, Marc Warren, Monty [Colin Montgomerie], all the boys were quite pally, but we wanted to win when in the tournaments.”

The Farmfoods Scottish Challenge is among 31 tournaments in 18 different countries on the 2022 Challenge Tour schedule, which will boast a prize fund surpassing the €8 million mark for the first time.

“We did enjoy having the matchplay event on the main tour for three years,” admitted Lawrie of a tournament held at Murcar Links and Archerfield Links then in Germany. “But this is the most important event that we’ve ever done.

“This event gives the chance for the boys who are trying to step up, gives them the opportunity. Without that, it’s really, really tough.

“You look at the EuroPro Tour, the standard on that, there’s only five that can progress to the Challenge Tour every year out of god knows how many guys. I’ve been at those events because Craig plays in them and the standard is off the scale. It’s tough.

“We’re just trying to make it a little easier for the boys we feel have the ability to crack on and get themselves to play at a higher level.

“We loved doing the tour event, I enjoy hosting the Seniors, but it’s not my event. I host it for them and do some work or whatever. But this is our event, this is an event we’ll be promoting and working very hard to ensure that it is a success.”

As has undoubtedly been the case with the Tartan Pro Tour, which, if Lawrie has his way, will become an avenue to the Challenge Tour in the future in the same way as the PGA EuroPro Tour, the Alps Tour and the German-based Pro Golf Tour.

‘We hope to have some exciting news soon,” he said of the possibility of cards being on offer through the Tartan Pro Tour Order of Merit. “But we’ve nothing at the moment. We’re working really hard behind the scenes to get spots. Those discussions are ongoing and we’re getting there.”

While players on the Five Star Sports Agency client list will get priority for the invitations up for grabs at Newmachar, Lawrie also intends to use the Tartan Pro Tour events in 2022 as carrots.

“They’ll also be used for other players to show us what they can do,” he said. “If they have a chance to win a Tartan ProTour event and get them a game in the Scottish Challenge at Newmachar, phew. Brilliant for them.”

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