The Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open won’t compromise on their policy to keep the men’s and women’s versions of their event together although it has radically shortened their venue options.
The co-sponsors, ASI and the Scottish Government through VisitScotland, have shelved plans to take the event around the country on a circuit for the time being and instead announced they would return to East Lothian again next year at Renaissance, less than two miles away from this year’s host course at Gullane.
At the same time they’re in discussions on a possible plan to extend their co-sponsorship which ends in 2020, with 2025 being mentioned.
Martin Gilbert, chief executive of ASI, admitted they were reducing the number of venues by insisting on the ability to host both championships within a month.
“It’s a tough environment, we know,” he said. “We could go back to splitting the event and that would open up 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 are all trying to promote the ladies game.”
Gilbert admitted that asking a course to close down play for three weeks in high summer was “a big commitment”.
“We looked at Royal Aberdeen but the players found it just a bit too tricky,” he said. “Cruden Bay was difficult in terms of infrastructure. We’d love to go back up north but you lose in terms of crowds, maybe 20,000 down on Inverness to (Gullane). The player numbers are down as well.”
This year’s Scottish Ladies clashes with the Senior Open at St Andrews but from next year it will go into a timeslot sandwiched between the two majors in Europe, The Evian Masters and the Women’s British Open.
“Mike Whan (commissioner of the LPGA) told us we’d never have to worry about the quality of our field ever again,” said Gilbert.
For the Scottish Government, the move to Renaissance needed the exclusive club to open up their huge iron gates a little more than they have since the club was established in 2007.
“To be brutally honest there’s been a perception that it’s not an open access course,” said Paul Bush, VisitScotland’s Director of Events.
“They are going to provide more tee-times to the public, more times to tour operators and special discount rates for Scottish Golf members. 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.”
The partnership between the government agency and the title sponsors has worked so well that no-one wants anything to change, either in terms of financial support or the prized place in the schedule prior to the Open Championship, he added.
“We are still in negotiations but our aspiration is to achieve another long-term deal,” said Bush. “The government haven’t committed at this point, but we would be very optimistic we are going to do that.”
Gilbert said that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, while not as avid a golf follower as her predecessor Alex Salmond, knew the value of the event.
“The government and Nicola understand the importance of this event to tourism in Scotland,” he said. “She has been to the event and seen the size of it.
“If you look at these two weeks of golf in Scotland – what better showcase can you have as a nation? It’s phenomenal.”