They have increased the prize fund for this week’s event at Dundonald Links in Ayrshire by 33 per cent from last year to $2 million, which, coupled with the $6.5 on offer in next week’s AIG Women’s Open at Muirfield, is a clear sign of progress being made in a bid to secure some sort of parity with the men’s game.
“It's great for Scottish golf and women's golf in particular,” admitted Gemma Dryburgh, the highest-placed player from the sport’s cradle in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings and spearheading a five-strong home challenge in the first leg of that double-header and part of Scotland’s sensational five-week run of big events.
As was the case with the men’s Genesis Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club earlier in the month, the tournament has attracted its strongest-ever field for a return to Dundonald Links, where it was last held in 2017.
Seven of the world’s top ten are teeing up on the Ayrshire coast, where the star-studded cast is being headlined by top-ranked Ko Jin Young and also includes Minjee Lee, Lydia Ko, Atthaya Thitikul, Nasa Hataoka, Hyo-Joo Kim and Jennifer Kupcho.
Brooke Henderson, who withdrew following her win in the Amundi Evian Championship in France last weekend, Lexi Thompson and Nelly Korda are the absentees, but, with all due respect, their decisions to keep their links powder dry for Muirfield hasn’t really detracted from this tasty appetiser for the final women’s major of the season.
Especially since it became a co-sanctioned event, winning the Women’s Scottish Open has become something to shout about, as the past two champions, American duo Stacy Lewis and Ryann O’Toole, would both freely admit.
The positioning of the event on the schedule, though, now mirrors the men’s game, where Collin Morikawa and Cameron Smith used Scottish Open appearances at The Renaissance Club to become Open champions a week later and now Jin Young is aiming to do likewise on the west coast before moving on to East Lothian.
“Yeah, next week is like the biggest tournament in this season and the last major of the year,” said the 27-year-old South Korean. “So I want to get prepared. I know this golf course is really tough, so I need to get something from this week to take into next week.”
She’s being fuelled by, wait for it, sausage rolls! “I love to eat sausage roll,” declared the two-time major winner. “Yesterday I had two. The first one I had was in 2019 at the AIG Women’s Open Pro-Am. I had one bite with the brown sauce...so good!”
In a 144-strong field that boasts 20 major winners with a collective 34 major titles, LPGA player Dryburgh is flying the Saltire along with LET card holders Michele Thomson and Kylie Henry, LET Access player Hannah McCook and Louise Duncan, who is making her professional debut in her native Ayrshire.
“Yeah, very excited for her,” said Dryburgh of Duncan. “She won her British Am just over the fence at Kilmarnock (Barassie), so she's got some good vibes around this area. When she announced it last week, I was like, ‘yeah, perfect time to do it’, just before The Open. She's in next week, as well. I'm sure she'll be feeling really comfortable and hopefully I’ll see her regularly on tour soon.”
Dryburgh herself is heading into the event in the best form of her career, having only missed two cuts on the LPGA this season and beginning to make her presence felt on leaderboards now and again.
“I’m feeling really good,” said the Aberdeen-born player, who was raised in Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire and now lives in New Orleans, having recently bought a place there after playing her college golf at Tulane University. “It's been a decent start to the season. Probably the best I've ever had really, very consistent.
“Yeah, I just felt like I've tried to improve every year, and I feel like I've done that. When I first came out, I struggled. I kind of felt a little bit out of my depth almost and didn't have confidence. I've just kind of grown into that.
“Some girls come out and they do it straightaway, but sometimes it's just a bit more of a process. Yeah, it's just kind of coming into it now, which is great.”
In the pro-am, the 29-year-old played with three Scottish amateurs - R&A Under-16 Open champion Grace Crawford, Irish Women’s Open winner and newly-crowned Scottish Girls’ champion Freya Constable.
“Yeah, I hope so,” said Dryburgh in reply to being asked if she can help play a part in inspiring the next generation of Scots on the LPGA and LET. “It's great to see them going through the ranks.
"Grace is only 15 and she's got great potential, and there's also Hannah [Darling], who has won quite a few times over in America. It's great to see Scottish golf growing and doing well. Hopefully I can play a small part in inspiring them.”
According to Dean Robertson, who is caddying for Duncan, the Kyle Phillips-designed course is in “fantastic” condition, with a par-72 testing playing at just under 6,500 yards.
In addition to that meaty prize pot - the winner will pick up $300,000 - three spots are also up for grabs in the AIG Women’s Open to the leading players not already qualified.