Sponsor hopes to stage Open at Trump’s Menie Links
MARTIN Gilbert, the chief executive of Aberdeen Asset Management, would like to see the Scottish Open staged at the Trump International Golf Links and is hoping a “patch up” between Donald Trump and Alex Salmond can pave the way for the Menie course to become part of the event’s exciting future.
Working as partners along with the European Tour, Gilbert and Salmond saved the Scottish Open from losing its coveted pre-Open Championship slot to Sweden and recently opened talks to extend Aberdeen Asset Management’s title sponsorship by a further three years to 2020.
Having decided the event should be held on links courses to help the world’s top players prepare for the Claret Jug joust, it has already visited Castle Stuart and Royal Aberdeen and is heading for Gullane next year, with Dundonald Links another likely new venue in 2017.
Where it is staged thereafter has still to be decided, with George O’Grady, the European Tour chief executive, hinting recently that the vision of the three partners was to have a “small rota”, as suggested by Phil Mickelson, the 2013 champion.
However, Gilbert has now revealed that he’d like to see the tournament go to Trump’s course north of Aberdeen, having already looked into the possibility of taking it to Kingsbarns next year – the week before the Open Championship at St Andrews – only to be discouraged by the R&A.
Having fallen out over windfarms, Trump and Salmond are not exactly bosom buddies, but Gilbert is confident the pair can settle their differences in order to showcase the highly-acclaimed Martin Hawtree-designed course to a growing television audience for the event now that is shown live in America.
“I think we are all very proud of Royal Aberdeen,” said Gilbert in reflecting on this year’s event, which saw Justin Rose come out on top in a field that also included Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Lee Westwood, Jimmy Walker and Luke Donald.
“It’s a great course, but you’ve got to give credit to Donald Trump because he has made Aberdeen almost a destination for golf. So we would love to see it there someday at Trump’s course. Okay, people have different opinions on Trump, but I have to say I’ve never seen anything like the Trump course at Menie.”
Can it honestly host the Scottish Open with its current partnerships in place following the spat between Trump and Salmond? “Look, I’d be surprised if they don’t patch up,” added Gilbert. “Donald is a businessman and he’s aware that it would be better and much easier for everyone if we could take it there. It’s such a fabulous course and now he’s got Turnberry as well. So I suspect they’ll get over their spat. We’d love to have taken the Scottish Open to Kingsbarns in 2015, but it was pretty clear that the R&A didn’t really want it.”
Whether or not the Scottish nation wants independence will be determined on Thursday week. Asked if he thought that vote might have an effect on golf support, Gilbert said: “No, I don’t think so. Whatever the result, the Scottish Parliament is going to continue in one form or another. Alex Salmond is going to be in power to whenever the Scottish election is and he was the one who got us in to the Scottish Open. He approached us. It has been great for us and obviously for Scotland and VisitScotland and golf destinations in Scotland.”
While the Scottish Open is by far its biggest financial commitment in the game, AAM’s support of Scottish golf is the envy of many, with three-times major winner Padraig Harrington, for instance, having spoken in glowing terms in the past of the company’s backing for both events and players in the home of golf.
As well as looking as though it will be the Scottish Open title sponsor for at least another six years, it has just agreed to double the prize-money for the Ladies Scottish Open when it is held next year at Dundonald Links the week before the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry.
Individually, the company also supports no fewer than 13 Scottish professionals, namely Colin Montgomerie, Paul Lawrie, Scott Henry, Martin Laird, Ross Kellett, James Byrne, David Law, Michael Stewart and Craig Lawrie in the men’s game as well as Catriona Matthew, Kylie Walker, Carly Booth and Pamela Pretswell over on the ladies’ side.
While Gilbert described it as “petty cash” compared to the Scottish Open sponsorship, AAM is heavily involved at grass-roots level as well through support it provides to both the Scottish Golf Union and the Scottish Ladies Golfing Association.
“I think it’s really grown,” said Gilbert of the company’s widespread backing of the game in Scotland. “It’s good for us and we wouldn’t be doing it if we didn’t think we were getting a good return. We are getting a really good return with the [Scottish Open] TV audience in America.
“Alex Salmond is also mad keen on golf and he has really done a lot for the game, especially at youth level. We have taken it on from there. But, without his financial support, there is no doubt that the Scottish Open would have gone because Hugo Boss wanted it [the slot] and wanted to move it into Sweden, I think.
“Alex Salmond has done a great job in making sure that didn’t happen and George O’Grady has done a fantastic job in getting it on terrestrial TV in America. He’s also done a very good job in getting the top players to come and play, especially Phil Mickelson. He’s a regular supporter and now I think Rickie Fowler will come back next year because he really played well in The Open the following week. Justin [as defending champion] will obviously come back and I’d be really surprised if Rory didn’t come back.”
Having watched McIlroy become the fourth Open champion in a row to have played in the Scottish Open the previous week, Gilbert believes the decision to move the event to links courses following its lengthy run at Loch Lomond has been well and truly vindicated.
“We always thought the formula was wrong,” he said in reference to the event being staged on an inland course the week before the Open Championship. “At Aberdeen, we always thought the Scottish Open should be played on a links. But Loch Lomond was so successful with the players and those in the pro-am that it was really too difficult to move it away.”
While admitting there is still a “gap between our top amateurs and the professional game”, Gilbert is hoping someone like Bradley Neil, the Amateur champion from Blairgowrie, can show the qualities to become the next AAM ambassador and believes the likes of Lawrie, Laird and Montgomerie have set the bar in terms of what the company expects from players wearing its logo.
“You want players who are good with clients,” he observed. “Monty is brilliant at that. I mean Monty is just a star off the golf course and, of course, fantastic on the golf course. I won’t have a word said against Monty and it’s great to see him playing better than ever.”