Return of golf fans in Scotland creates 'good feeling', says European Tour chief

Chief executive Keith Pelley said the sight of fans on a Scottish golf course for the first time in 21 months had put a “smile” on his face and feeling confident that normality is starting to return on the European Tour.
Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy walk to a tee during the first round of the abrdn Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club. Picture: Luke Walker/Getty Images.Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy walk to a tee during the first round of the abrdn Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club. Picture: Luke Walker/Getty Images.
Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy walk to a tee during the first round of the abrdn Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club. Picture: Luke Walker/Getty Images.

A strictly-limited number of fans, believed to be around 4,000, were on site at The Renaissance Club in East Lothian for the first round of the abrdn Scottish Open, which features world No 1 Jon Rahm.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it was the first time that spectators had been in attendance at a tournament in Scotland since Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at Carnoustie, Kingsbarns and St Andrews in October 2019.

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Players spoke after their rounds about how they had enjoyed seeing fans back on British soil for the first time since the pandemic struck and that sentiment was shared by Pelley.

“Listen, I drove in today and saw the set up and it was easy to have a smile on your face as it felt for the first time, that word, normal again,” the Canadian told The Scotsman.

“I think this is the first time in almost 18 months at one of our tournaments that I have visited the village because we haven’t had villages because we haven’t had fans.

“To see people in the stands is just terrific and, when you are talking to the players, having talked to a whole bunch of them today, they said it just changes the whole atmosphere.

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“We are incredibly excited about a potential return to some type of normality and this is a good first step.”

Spectators are only being asked to wear facemasks in indoor areas at the East Lothian venue, with Pelley heaping praise on the Scottish Government for giving the green light to allow fans to enjoy the strongest-ever field for the event.

“The Scottish Government has been spectacular,” he added. “We have shown that we can create a safe environment. We are still obviously playing in a restricted bubble but, even then, we’ve made a couple of changes.

“One, for example, has allowed spouses to come back this week and that has been a big boost to the players. The combination of just a little bit of hope that fans are going to come back and grow gives people a good feeling.”

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Scottish No 1 Bob MacIntyre raised one of the biggest cheers of the day as he chipped in for birdie at his closing hole in the company of Ryder Cup star Lee Westwood for a three-under-par 68.

“It was great to see people back enjoying themselves,” said Westwood. “Robert chipped in on the last hole, so there was a nice cheer there. It’s good to see people get back to a bit of normality.

“I’ve been spoiled playing in the States as this is how it’s been since the first few tournaments this year. But it’s great for the lads on the European Tour to have people back to get that sense of a crowd and the feedback from them. It’s great for the tour. As soon as we can open up safely the better.”

The sight of spectators out watching Rahm, Rory McIlroy and a host of other world-class players on the East Lothian coast was also welcomed by Paul Bush, director of events at VisitScotland.

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“It is very welcome seeing spectators at a golf event in Scotland again and is testament to the hard work of the European Tour alongside the Scottish Government and clinical advisers to deliver as safe and secure an environment for players, officials and spectators as possible,” he said.

“I’m sure the players will enjoy the supportive atmosphere and it certainly helps to enhance the stunning images of Scotland’s scenic coastline being beamed around the world.”

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