Rory McIlroy set for 'different' Renaissance Club course to the 'easy' one

On the one hand, Jerry Sarvadi is tearing his hair out. “Our revenues are dismal due to the lack of international travel,” groaned the CEO of The Renaissance Club of the ongoing Covid-19 impact on the East Lothian venue.

Rory McIlroy play his second shot on the fourth hole during the opening round of the 2019 Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images.
Rory McIlroy play his second shot on the fourth hole during the opening round of the 2019 Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images.

But, on the other, he’s jumping with joy over the prospect of his family’s multi-million pound creation next door to Muirfield playing host to the strongest-ever field for the Scottish Open, the first to be staged under the new abrdn branding.

Jon Rahm, the newly-crowned US Open champion and world No 1, spearheads a truly mouth-watering line up for event’s third successive visit to The Renaissance Club, where the Spaniard is being joined by four other top-10 players - Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele and Rory McIlroy

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Add the likes of Scottie Scheffler, Billy Horschel, Will Zalatoris, Sam Burns and Ryan Palmer to the US contingent, as well as Tyrrell Hatton, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Matt Wallace and Danny Willett being among those flying the English flag, and it’s one of the best fields in the European Tour’s history.

Recent US Open winner Jon Rahm is making his Scottish Open debut at The Renaissance Club. Picture: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images.

“It’s pretty good,” declared Sarvadi, the family’s man on the ground, in an understated tone before later admitting it “doesn’t get any better” than being on the brink of welcoming man of the moment Rahm, in particular, to their beloved venue on Scotland’s Golf Coast for his debut in the Rolex Series event.

McIlroy’s fairly late decision to join his Ryder Cup team-mate was an unexpected bonus. After all, it sounded as though he’d not be darkening The Renaissance Club’s door again on the back of comments about it having been “too easy” for the 2019 edition.

“I guess I have to be honest and say Rory was a surprise because of the comments he made,” said Sarvadi. “But it is what it is and he’s going to see a different golf course to the one he played in 2019.”

It had already changed visually for the 2020 edition due to a large number of trees having been removed, while the challenge on that occasion, when it was played in October, was also stiffer than the previous year on a rain-softened course.

Justin Thomas is making his second appearance in the event at The Renaissance Club, having also teed up at the East Lothian venue in 2019. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images.

“It is going to be interesting and, fingers crossed, we get some reasonable Scottish weather,” added Sarvadi. “In the two events so far, we really haven’t had the westerly breezes we normally get.

“In 2019, it was dead calm for four days and then in 2020 because it was in October it came from the east. Hopefully this year we finally get some westerly breezes that are reasonable

“There’s a bit of rain forecast for next week but, usually when I see there’s a 35-40 percent, or even 50 percent chance of rain, we don’t get it here in East Lothian. The amount of rain we’ve had in the last 100 days is negligible. We had some about 7-10 days and it really helped as we’ve been watering literally since April but April was so cold that we didn’t really get any growth.

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Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm to tee up in Scottish Open in East Lothian
Jerry Sarvadi, The Renaissance Club's CEO, is excited to be hosting the strongest-ever field for the Scottish Open. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

“The course is looking fantastic right now. The changes for last year went down really well. There was a bit more speed in the greens in 2020 than there was in 2019 and we are at that same level right now.

“The agronomist from the European Tour and our staff are coordinating and communicating with the R&A about the set up at Royal St George’s (venue for the following week’s 149th Open). The two organisations are trying to get some similar conditions, if possible. It’s difficult, though, because from what I understand Royal St George’s has had quite a bit of rain over the last 10 days.”

After being moved around the country for a spell, this will be the fourth year running that the tournament is being staged in East Lothian, with Keith Pelley, the European Tour’s chief executive, having hinted it could be set for a prolonged run at The Renaissance Club.

American Tom Doak, who designed the course, paid a recent visit and, in tandem with European Ryder Cup captain and three-time major winner Padraig Harrington, who was recently announced as the venue’s new player consultant, a plan for ongoing improvements is being worked on.

“When Tom was over, we spent seven hours on the golf course one day walking every hole looking at how we can make some changes, which is no different to a lot of places,” said Sarvadi. “Everybody is constantly tweaking here and tweaking there and we are going to be exactly the same.

“We definitely are 100 per cent interested in a long-term agreement (to stage the Scottish Open). We have been working on a number of things and, if you look at the way global golf is going right now and you look at the most prestigious events, there’s a reason they are at the same venue.

“Look at Jack’s event at Muirfield Village, Arnold’s at Bay Hill, the Players’ Championship at TPC Sawgrass, the Sentry Tournament at Kapalua. There’s a reason they are at the same venue.

“It makes a lot of sense logistically, structure-wise, as the things you have to put in place for these events are massive. And the Scottish Open is going to get bigger. It is going to be global. We all know what is happening in the world of golf right now.

“The PGA Tour and European Tour are partners now as opposed to being competitors. The Rolex Series events are going to be global and bigger. In my opinion, at some point in time I think they are going to be co-sanctioned.”

They may indeed and, not for the first time, the importance of that pre-Open slot on the European Tour schedule is being illustrated in terms of it drawing in the stars.

Even more so than the first two editions – Austrian Bernd Wiesberger won the first one then Englishman Aaron Rai triumphed on the second occasion - Sarvadi is hoping this Scottish Open can really help put The Renaissance Club on the map.

“Hopefully it is huge for us,” he said. “Because of Covid, we haven’t seen any benefit from hosting the Scottish Open because no-one has been able to come here, but that is definitely our goal.”

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