AAM Scottish Open
Strong field ready for Dundonald Links test
Some of the world’s top golfers will converge on the Ayrshire coast this week to compete in a tournament that has finally come of age.
The decision to stage the Scottish Open on a links course in the week prior to The Open Championship has established the event as a key date in the diaries of the biggest names in the sport.
Although Loch Lomond managed to attract its fair share of stars during its hosting of the rebranded event from 2001 to 2010, players took a little persuading to fine-tune their skills on the Bonnie Banks in preparation for their assault on the Claret Jug.
It was thought that those competing in the Scottish Open were missing a trick compared to their fellow pros who would opt to stay and practise in Ireland, for example, and spend their time getting used to the unique challenges of links golf.
The mood began to change in 2011, however, when the tournament was moved to Castle Stuart in Inverness, and players appreciated the benefit of having competitive links golf on their schedules in the immediate build-up to The Open.
The arrival of Aberdeen Asset Management as title sponsor in 2013 was a game-changer in many ways for the Scottish Open and the European Tour, with the decision then made to take the competition around the country.
Royal Aberdeen, East Lothian’s Gullane and Castle Stuart have all since hosted what has become a popular fixture on the Tour schedule.
Five of the last six Open champions have played in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open the week before, including Phil Michelson and Henrik Stenson.
Twelve months ago, the top four finishers in the Open Championship won by Stenson at Troon all competed in the Scottish Open the previous week, underlining the benefits of having links experience in the bag.
This year sees the Scottish Open bandwagon roll into North Ayrshire for the first time, with Dundonald Links, just outside Irvine, the host venue.
The 7,242-yard, par 72 layout was designed by the acclaimed golf course architect Kyle Phillips, whose creations also include Kingsbarns in Fife, one of the three venues for the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
With the 2017 tournament having achieved elite status with its inclusion in the new eight-event Rolex Series in the Race to Dubai schedule with an enhanced prize fund of $7 million, it’s no surprise this week’s field is the strongest yet on the European Tour.
There will be 12 Major winners teeing it up tomorrow – Stewart Cink, Darren Clarke, Jason Dufner, Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington, Trevor Immelman, Martin Kaymer, Paul Lawrie, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott and Stenson.
They will be joined by US Ryder Cup stars Matt Kuchar, Dundonald Links’ Hero Challenge champion Patrick Reed and Rickie Fowler, winner of the 2015 Scottish Open.
US-based Russell Knox leads the home contingent as the highest-ranked Scot in the field, while Richie Ramsay and David Drysdale will be buoyed by their qualification for The Open at Royal Birkdale courtesy of fine finishes in last week’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.
“It’s obviously terrific to be back in Scotland,” said Knox. “I wish I came back more than I do. Every time I land here, I feel like I’m at home when I come here, so that’s obviously good.
“The course is great. It’s right in front of you. I liked it a lot.
“I don’t feel like my game is any worse than it was last year when I was playing well. It’s just a confidence thing.
“This year, I’m probably one good performance away from getting on a good run of my own. A good week can start right here hopefully.”
Welcoming the event’s inclusion in the prestigious new Rolex Series, Aberdeen Asset Management chief executive Martin Gilbert said: “To be part of the newly-formed Rolex Series, coupled with the fact the tournament became the first regular European Tour event to be shown live on NBC, further positions the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open as one of the jewels in the crown of the world’s golfing calendar.”
Organisers will be hoping the Scottish golfing public are equally enthusiastic.
There was a disappointing turn out at Castle Stuart in 2016, with spectator numbers down more than 20,000 on previous years.
But with a variety of entertainment options for spectators to enjoy outside the ropes this year, including live bands on Friday and Saturday evenings and a host of family fun events, hopes are high that the tournament proves a hit with the fans as well as the players.