Scottish Open to retain its prime slot in week before Open

The Scottish Open is to retain its prime slot as part of a three-event “Links Swing” on the European Tour next year after recent claims about the Irish Open moving to later in the season were played down by Keith Pelley.

South Africa's Brandon Stone after winning the Scottish Open at Gullane last year. The tournament is staying in East Lothian. Picture: SNS

In an exclusive interview with The Scotsman, the Tour’s chief executive also spoke of his delight at wins by both David Law and Stephen Gallacher this season giving their national open a massive boost ahead of its first visit to The Renaissance Club in East Lothian.

A “Links Swing” involving the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open and the Open Championship has been in place since 2017, having been introduced as part of Pelley’s shake up of the European Tour after he succeeded George O’Grady.

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Its future beyond this year was cast into doubt by Paul McGinley, who is hosting this summer’s Irish Open, as he spoke last month about facing a “very tough process” to attract top Americans to the event at Lahinch.

“It’s very difficult to sell a product like the Irish Open when the players, ultimately, are dictating,” said McGinley. “We don’t pay appearance money, so we can’t go offer them a deal and get a commitment a long time out. It might’ve happened in the past. That’s not the case now.

“We do offer a huge prize fund and a brilliant golf course, we offer a links golf course two weeks before the Open – which will be played in Ireland this year. That’s the kind of leverage I have – but I don’t have any other leverage.

“The players have a $7 million event, but the top 50 are playing for a minimum $7m throughout the season. So $7m is not a huge amount for them, and they’ve lots of options.”

He added: “We in the European Tour are going to reconsider, to have another look at this links swing, For a lot of players, three weeks in a row on a links is probably too much. Realistically, it’s fair to say we need to be considering other dates.

“It’s very difficult. You put it in the best date in the schedule and the player ultimately can say, ‘It doesn’t suit me’, or, ‘I want a week off’. The bigger the player, the more power they have because they can make or break a tournament.”

Rory McIlroy has said he won’t be playing at Lahinch, preferring, apparently, to use the Scottish Open the following week as his preparation for the Open Championship’s first visit to Royal Portrush since 1951.

However, players already confirmed for the event at the County Clare venue include defending champion Russell Knox, former Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter.

“The players always have so many choices when it comes to events,” said Pelley “Before the Irish and Scottish Opens, we now have the Andalucia Valderrama Masters and we have a big announcement for that coming up.

“We will have a great field for the Irish Open and Scotland is going to have a terrific field. It always does as it is the best week in the calendar undeniably. It is going to rival the BMW PGA Championship and the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.

“The current date for the Irish Open is also one of the best of the year. It is a terrific date. And, currently for 2020, it is on the calendar where it is at the moment.”

If McIlroy had got his way, the Irish and Scottish Opens would have swapped places on this year’s schedule, allowing the world’s top players to tee up in back-to-back tournaments in Ireland, but Pelley insisted that idea was a non-starter.

“If you are Aberdeen Standard Investments, you have the best date in the calendar. And they have a contract until 2020, so it is not even a discussion until then,” he added.

After moving around the country for a spell, the Scottish Open is being held in East Lothian for the second year in a row – it was at Gullane in 2018 – and it is rumoured that the 2020 event will also be held at The Renaissance Club through a partnership involving ASI, the European Tour and the Scottish Government.

“I can’t say the strategy for the event has really changed,” said Pelley. “I think Aberdeen Standard Investments want us to have the best golf course it can possibly get and have the best players. The Renaissance Club really wanted the event because they want to open it up and showcase it. It is obviously very close to Edinburgh and this event has a lot of positives going for it.

“For instance, it’s already been a big year for the Scots with David Law winning the Vic Open and, just recently, Stephen Gallacher winning the Hero Indian Open at the age of 44. In order for the national Opens to be successful, we need national players to come to the forefront.

“It is very easy for all of us at the European Tour to cheer for Scottish players. So we were thrilled with David and we were thrilled with Stephen. We would love to see Scottish players rise all the way to the top.”