IT’S A question I have heard asked more frequently than before. Is an over-exposure to links courses in amateur golf a reason why Scottish players struggle to make the transition into the professional ranks?
On the one hand, it could appear to be a ridiculous thing to contemplate. After all, we are blessed with some of the best seaside courses in the world and it seems only natural that most of our top events are played on them.
On the other, however, it could indeed be a perfectly valid point because, let’s face it, the courses used in professional golf these days are like night and day to a links test.
Sure, there’s been a welcome upsurge in seaside courses becoming a feature again on the European Tour schedule. The Scottish Open, for instance, has already visited both Castle Stuart and Royal Aberdeen in recent years, takes place at Gullane next summer and, in 2017, will probably head for Dundonald Links.
We’ve also seen the Irish Open at Royal Portrush, paving the way for the Open Championship’s return there, possibly in 2019, and, next May, it’s taking place at the fabulous Royal County Down, where Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler are both returning to where they locked horns in the 2007 Walker Cup.
However, the vast majority of the tests facing players week in, week out are nothing like any of the aforementioned courses and, whether we like hearing it or not, it’s something that perhaps needs to be addressed as part of the domestic fixture list shake-up I mentioned in this column a week ago.
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Take the Scottish Golf Union’s two flagships event next year, for example. The Scottish Amateur Championship is being held at Muirfield while Moray Old in Lossiemouth stages the Scottish Open Stroke-Play Championship.
Both great courses and, in the case of Muirfield, a chance for the country’s leading players to do battle on an Open Championship course.
Apart from giving players a taste of a venue where the world’s oldest major now visits once a decade, however, will competing there deliver any value in terms of preparing players for life as a professional? I can just see the reaction to that being along the lines of “Dempster has lost the plot” due to the fact I’m using Muirfield as an example, and I’ll admit that it is my favourite course on the Claret Jug rota.
The point I’m trying to make, though, is that the time has perhaps come to look at staging events like the Scottish Amateur Championship on courses that have more in common with modern-day European Tour venues.
The PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles immediately springs to mind. As far as I’m aware, the SGU hasn’t staged an event on it, though it’s obviously not due to any politics, having held the Junior Masters on the neighbouring Queen’s Course.
And then there’s the likes of Macdonald Spey Valley in Aviemore and The Roxburghe near Kelso. The former has become home for the Scottish Hydro Challenge, an established Challenge Tour event, while the latter has hosted a first stage event for the European Tour Qualifying School in recent years.
All three are “big boys” courses and, if you add in the likes of The Duke’s on the outskirts of St Andrews, as well Meldrum House and Newmachar in the Aberdeen area, perhaps even the East Course at Dalmahoy, then we certainly have tests that are more akin to those in the paid ranks.
Should the SGU be selecting venues with that in mind? Perhaps not. But, at the same time, it needs to be involved in the process that can help create a better overall system in Scottish golf than the one we have right now.
It has watched its own Order of Merit become diminished in recent years due to the changing face of the amateur game meaning the leading players don’t actually compete in all that many events on Scottish soil.
Conversely, gone are the days when we are likely to see Nick Faldo win the Craigmillar Park Open, Lee Westwood claim the Leven Gold Medal or Marc Leishman pick up the Tennant Cup, as they did as upcoming amateurs.
Is that fair on the committees that run these events? Probably not, though, as David Moir, a stalwart of the East of Scotland Open at Lundin pointed out, it has not stopped that event producing winners in recent years who have gone on to be capped the same season.
There is an argument, of course, for some of the venues on the Order of Merit to be reviewed and now perhaps is the time for that to happen so that in, say five years’ time, we are seeing our top amateurs having more rounded games. Let’s give them a better chance of hitting the ground running when they make that switch to professional golf.
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