Scotland's summer of golf: No 59s but big crowds, top-class tournaments and worldwide winners
Won by New Zealand’s Ryan Fox, the $5 million event was the culmination of the game being showcased in the sport’s cradle in an unrivalled festival of golf.
And, boy, did that deliver conclusive proof that, while links golf is not something played too often by some players, it can still produce winners from all over the world.
Americans Xander Schauffele and Sean Crocker won the Genesis Scottish Open and Hero Open at The Renaissance Club and Fairmont St Andrews respectively.
An Australian, Cameron Smith, came out on top on the Old Course at St Andrews in the 150th Open while South African Ashleigh Buhai triumphed in the first staging of the AIG Women’s Open at Muirfield.
And, over at Dundonald Links on the Ayrshire coast, the Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open fell to Japan’s Akaya Furue following a spectacular course-record 62 in the closing circuit.
Friday at the Dunhill Links was horrific weather-wise while it was a soggy end to the Senior Open, won by Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke over the King’s Course at Gleneagles, but, other than that, the sun had its hat on for most of the time.Not that the world’ top players are necessarily looking for perfect conditions when they are being tested on some of the best courses in the world.
“I get warm enough weather,” observed Rory McIlroy on Sunday at the end of his welcome appearance in the Dunhill Links. “I like getting back here. I like the climate. I like the seasons, which is something Florida doesn’t have. It’s nice to be here.”
McIlroy deserved more from his two visits, having been 30-under-par for six rounds at St Andrews only to come up short behind Smith and Fox, but, in both those events, the crowds following him confirmed his box-office status.
We shouldn’t kid ourselves by claiming that the Dunhill Links is everyone’s cup of tea and many of the top players, including McIlroy and US Open champion Matthew Fitzpatrick, were definitely there on this occasion primarily for the team event.
However, Scotland should be grateful to Johann Rupert, the chairman of Richemont, Dunhill’s parent company, and the tournament’s driving force, for what it continues to bring to the country.
Not that it necessarily needed it and certainly not in the year it had already hosted a milestone Open that attracted a record crowd of 290,000, it showcased St Andrews, as well as Carnoustie and Kingsbarns, and some of the aerial pictures over the weekend were just sensational.
It should also be noted that the event offers more invitations than any other tournament on the DP World Tour, providing a chance for no less than 26 players on this occasion and, in most cases, it was an opportunity to see their professional career take off.
Admittedly a special talent, McIlroy did exactly that when finishing third in just his second DP World Tour start in in 2007 and it will be fascinating to see if the likes of Italian Filippo Celli or Englishman Sam Bairstow can go on to become superstars as well.
Grant Forrest made his professional debut through an invitation in the 2014 Dunhill Links, returned on this occasion as a DP World Tour winner and recorded a top-10 finish along with compatriot Connor Syme.
With the likes of Bob MacIntyre, David Law, Ewen Ferguson and Craig Howie also flying the Saltire in this edition, it gave Rupert a real sense of satisfaction.
Directly through support the Dunhill Links, he’s provided support for Scottish Golf to send squads to South Africa over the past decade and loves the fact so many of those players and now making real headway in the professional game.
“These Scottish lads who are all doing well,” he observed last week. “They all came to Leopard Creek and I remember having to take sun cream to them. I said, ‘don’t you need some of this’ and they’d say ‘please, please, please’ (laughing). Now to see them as young men is so much fun for me.
"When the Scots came over for the first time, they didn’t understand kikuyu (grass) and they got beaten like a drum. But second or third time they beat us, fourth time they beat us again and, suddenly, our kids started thinking ‘we’re not as good as we think we are’. It’s a nice bond between the Scottish and South African kids.”
Heading into Scotland’s big year of golf, much had been made about St Andrews in particular potentially being brought to its knees by the new generation of big-hitters.
But, even in pretty benign conditions and with favourable pins, the best anyone could manage there in two separate events was Frenchman Romain Langasque’s record-equalling 61 in the opening round of the Dunhill Links.
Make no mistake, the Old Course can still defend itself aided by a bit of breeze and, as German Alexander Knappe can now testify after coming home in 52 in Friday’s wind and rain, it can aldo leave people with golfing nightmares.
What a fantastic year of professional golf on Scottish soil and, though, thankfully, not as full on again the height of the season, roll on the Genesis Scottish Open, the Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open, the Dunhill Links and anything else in the pipeline in 2023.
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