North Berwick is to stage the inaugural Scottish Open qualifier next summer – the latest event in a festival of golf in East Lothian.
Six spots will be up for grabs in the main Aberdeen Asset Management-sponsored event at Gullane when the historic West Links stages a 54-hole shoot-out from July 4-6.
“We are delighted to be the chosen venue for this inaugural pre-qualifying tournament,” admitted North Berwick club captain Frank Pratt.
“With the Scottish Open being held at nearby Gullane, this decision further establishes East Lothian as Scotland’s Golf Coast.”
The qualifier will be exclusively for Scottish players, the majority of whom will be home-based professionals.
It is also hoped that the likes of Paul Ferrier, who enjoyed a successful amateur career at Baberton but is now a pro based in America, will be enticed home to play in the event.
Until now, players either had to rely on their European Tour ranking or a sponsor’s invitation to secure a spot in the event, which will carry an increased prize fund of £3.25 million next year.
The event’s three partners – the European Tour, Scottish Government and Aberdeen Asset Management – reckon the introduction of a qualifier is the best way for home hopefuls to get into the tournament.
“It was an agonising choice with invitations,” declared First Minister Alex Salmond at a press conference at North Berwick yesterday.
The main purpose of that was to announce the partners had signed a Memorandum of Understanding to enter talks to extend Aberdeen Asset Management’s Scottish Open title sponsorship by another three years through to 2020.
But Salmond was equally delighted that North Berwick is hosting the event’s first qualifier, especially after hearing from David Huish, the East Lothian club’s former club pro, about its kids’ course.
“It can only be played by an adult if they are accompanying a child,” revealed Huish.
As for the qualifier itself, Salmond is pleased that rank-and-file Scottish professionals are being given the chance to earn spots in one of the European Tour’s flagship events.
He is also excited about the possibility of one of those players then qualifying for The Open through a high finish in the Scottish Open.
“It was a shame last year that James Byrne, who had played in the Walker Cup at Royal Aberdeen, couldn’t get an invitation but there were only so many spots to hand out,” said Salmond. “It’s great that six places are up for grabs in the qualifier.”
In addition to Gullane and North Berwick, Muirfield will also be in the spotlight again next summer when it stages the Scottish Amateur Championship.
One event leaving Scotland’s Golf Coast next year, though, is the Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies Scottish Open as it is moving to Dundonald Links from Archerfield Links, where the 2014 tournament takes place next week.