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TEE TO GREEN, STEVE SCOTT: A new deal between the Scottish Open partners is vital

The Scottish Open has become one of golf's best brands under the current partnership.
The Scottish Open has become one of golf's best brands under the current partnership.

In normal times, you’d think it would be a no-brainer.

The deal between Aberdeen Standard Investments, the Scottish Government and the European Tour for the Scottish Open, which ended at last weekend’s 2020 championship, has been a huge winner for all the partners.

Starting in 2012, the partnership has made the Scottish Open into a headline championship in golf. Utilising the tournament’s existing advantages – having the week in the Tour schedule before the Open Championship, Scotland, Scottish courses, Scottish scenery, Scottish weather (okay, I’m pushing it a little there) they’ve made it into one of golf’s best non-major brands.

Even in these volatile times, the Scottish Open proved a massive reassurance for the tour last week. Same great field, same great prizefund, still a Rolex Series event when Ireland, Italy, Turkey and South Africa couldn’t do that this year, for one reason or another.

Pictures beamed to the US and across the world reminded everyone there that when this is finally all over, or at least under control, the pilgrimage to the Home of Golf is still on the bucket list of any golfer of any nationality.

One suspects ASI and the Tour definitely want an extension. The championship has been significant in the company’s growth into a multinational operator, and the event has delivered all the Tour could have wanted from their prime schedule slot.

Martin Gilbert the founder and retiring chief executive of ASI – and the driving force behind their involvement in golf – is now to become a director of the Tour. The connection is already being retained.

The Scottish Government would, in normal cases, want back in. It was their input that secured the partnership and the tournament anyway in 2012, when Alex Salmond stepped in and guaranteed the event when the precious prime week was about to be bought up by Sweden, of all places.

But of course, the government has other issues leaning hard on their resources right now. Can they afford a multi-million input into a golf tournament, and indeed, can it be justified?

Golf has been front and centre of VisitScotland’s promotional programme for the last eight years and has produced visible returns. One can’t imagine they’re just going to completely abandon the hard work their outstanding golf team have already done.

Discussion between the partners are “ongoing”, we are told, and the partners are “hopeful”. In normal times, it would probably have been signed off by now.

For the benefit of Scottish golf, and maintaining that image in crucial foreign markets, we must hope for something a little more concrete soon.

The R&A needs to set free the Open venues

The Renaissance did well – manfully during Saturday’s deluge – in its second time around at the Scottish, and owner Jerry Sarvadi wants it to become a permanent home for the championship.

As much as it was a pleasant weekend, I liked it better when the Scottish was moving around to different parts of the country. Royal Aberdeen and Dundonald were not huge successes, but most people who went there, players and others, would return to Castle Stuart and Inverness in a heartbeat.

And I’ve never heard a good reason why the R&A shouldn’t open up the Open venues in Scotland – The Old Course, Carnoustie, Muirfield, Troon and Turnberry – and let the Scottish play there on occasion.

Peter Dawson, the former R&A chief executive, executed that ban, but Martin Slumbers has always seemed to be a more conciliatory kind of R&A chief than Peter was.

On years when the Open is south of the border or at Portrush, a Scottish Open could easily be at one of the Open venues. As Ernie Els once remarked, Carnoustie is possibly the only place in the world that could hold a major with a week’s notice, in terms of course set-up at least.

As the R&A don’t seem to want to go to Turnberry anymore, it particularly appeals as a potential Scottish Open venue, although the Scottish Government wouldn’t agree under the current ownership.

The partners have moved away from the idea that the Ladies Scottish Open should be at the same site as the men’s. The commitment by a host is too great, and the thriving LSO deserves some decent alternative venues – for example Royal Aberdeen, Kingsbarns, maybe even inland at the Gleneagles King’s.

A diminished Wentworth

The absence of fans – and the ability of those who did attend to sample the after-hours delights of Edinburgh, North Berwick and Gullane – was all that was really missing from the Scottish Open.

You can’t say the same of the flagship this week, the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. I will personally miss the warmth of welcome at the Old Vic at Binfield terribly, but what will really be missed is the tour’s biggest annual party.

The vast hospitality pavilion and the glad-handing, the massively lavish village and the celeb pro-am, the almost endless bungs – none of it will be there.

They’re almost as big a part of the BMW PGA as the tournament. It can’t help but be diminished this week.

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