The two main partners behind the men’s and women’s Scottish Opens are confident they can change perceptions about next year’s venue for the double-header being “too exclusive”.
It was announced recently that The Renaissance Club, which sits between Gullane and North Berwick, will host both events in 2019, though a month apart as opposed to a fortnight.
Opened in 2008, the Tom Doak-designed course is one of the very few in Scotand that is located behind an electronic gate but its owners have agreed to open that as part of their commitment to hosting the Scottish Opens.
“The Renaissance Club have been fantastic in terms of opening the course up,” said Paul Bush, VisitScotland’s director of events. “To be brutally honest, there’s been a perception that it’s not an open access course.
“But they are going to provide more tee-times to the public, more times to tour operators, special discount rates for Scottish Golf members. Importantly, they are going to open it up to young girls and women and the Scottish amateur teams.
“We are possibly getting more out of them as we have with previous hosts in some ways. We can move forward with this. This can be the catalyst for change (Renaissance opening up).
“I don’t think we are rewarding them at all. We are working together to make something better. We are opening up a great golf course to Scotland, which has never happened before. The event has turned itself on its head by providing a real positive. We discussed it for six months and we had concerns. We’ve not gone in with our eyes closed. We have gone in very openly. We want to do this and we want to make sure there is real change. We’ve achieved that.”
Martin Gilbert, co-chief executive of Aberdeen Standard Investments, the title sponsor of both events, is also confident that The Renaissance Club will prove a good venue for the double-header.
“If you look at it, there are not many courses that will take both,” he said. “It’s a tough environment. We can go back to splitting the event. That would open up maybe another four or five venues. Let’s face, it they all want the men’s event.
“But, if we are going to really push women’s golf and the Ladies Scottish Open, we have to stick to that commitment of playing it before the Women’s British and really getting the prize money up.
“The purse has just about quadrupled. We have put a lot more in to it. We are all trying to promote the ladies’ game. It’s great for both of us.”
It has been rumoured that The Renaissance Club could also stage the events in 2020, the final year of the current deal for the men’s tournament, though talks are set to open soon about extending that.
“We have spent a lot of time debating where we want to go and there are surprisingly few venues,” added Gilbert. “This area, in East Lothian, is great. We get great crowds. But to find courses prepared to do the two events is hard.
“Hosting both the men’s and women’s event really stopped a lot of courses putting themselves forward. To rule yourself out for three weeks or so is a big commitment.
“Gullane made it clear they loved doing this, but they don’t want to do it two years on the trot. The committee would all be fired!
“We’d love to go up north again but, against that, you lose a bit in crowds. Maybe 20,000 down between here and Inverness? You lose players, too.”
As part of the men’s event a fortnight ago, Edinburgh Castle staged the Hero Challenge, a televised shoot-out event won by Matt Kuchar, and it is hoped that will be repeated next summer.
“If we can get it (the castle), we would definitely do it as it was very successful,” said Gilbert while Bush added: “Unlocking that was a big breakthrough – to get a non-cultural event into there was pretty special.”