Scotts hold key schedule advantage to attract stars

Bernie McGuire

Our Celtic cousins’ motto should be: “Och, aye, the noo….what we have we hold.”
Or something to that effect. At least, that’s how it seems when it comes to the Scottish Open, the latest in the European Tour’s Rolex Series featuring a $7 million prize fund, the same as the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open which finished in dramatic style with Russell Knox’s victory at the first playoff hole last Sunday.

Hats off to Knoxy. He goes to Gullane this week a hero in his own land after second place in the French Open and first place at Ballyliffin. And hey – there’s another $7 million on offer in Scotland. What a lovely time to be a European Tour golfer, playing in the peak summertime with gazillions of euro in prize money up for grabs.

All of which brings me to a tiny, teeny, weeny, touch of exasperation. Maybe a smattering of the green-eyed monster is there too, as I cast my envious eyes across the channel at the golfing devotees of bonny Scotland.


Why? Because the Jocks are preening themselves at the quality of the field pitching up at Gullane, laden as it is with major winners and box-office stars. Justin Rose, Phil Mickleson, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Matt Kuchar, Hideki Matsuyama, Ian Poulter, Louis Oosthuizen, Ernie Els, Trevor Immelman, Martin Kaymer, Ian Poulter, to name a few.

What have they got in common? None of them came to Ireland to tune up for the Open in Carnoustie at Ballyliffin. In fact, I wonder if Jon Rahm would have played at the mercurial Donegal links if he wasn’t defending champion.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking the DDF-sponsored Irish Open. Ballyliffin looked superb and gave the players a fair examination of their skills and asked questions about their ability to handle a true links test.

I’m thrilled that the super summer weather enabled the course and surrounding areas to be displayed to the world in their full magnificence. And I feel that the courageous, determined ambition of men such as Ballyliffin’s John Farren was finally realised to put the course and Donegal into the living rooms of multi-millions of potential visitors.

Sponsors Dubai Duty Free and the Rory Foundation have been wonderful in elevating the status of the Irish Open to the top level. The top Irish players have been tremendous supporters, as was evident in the galleries for Padraig Harrington, Shane Lowry, Paul Dunne, Darren Clarke, and Rory, particularly on the first two days. We are blessed to have them, and for them to be so prominent on the international golfing scene.

So, yes, Ballyliffin was a success, but could the event have been better? Well, the presence of Fowler, Els, Mickelson, and/or Rose would have added just that little extra excitement to an already strong field. Instead, they’ve chosen Scotland. For anyone who wants to play competitively the week before the Open, it’s a no-brainer, particularly with the $7 million squids available.

I wonder if the Scottish Open prize fund was a ‘mere’ €1.5 or €2 million how much difference would it make? Would it change a few plans for at least some of the big kahunas, as in “play Ireland, then just practice the following week” as Rory McIlroy is doing?

Maybe. But we don’t know, and we won’t know as long as the Jocks maintain their grip on that ‘week before the Open’ date and can bask in the $7 million prize money equality with the Irish Open.

The Irish Open as an event needs to keep driving forward in a very competitive and challenging environment. The top golfers have no particular allegiance or indeed, curiosity about playing different courses in different countries.

If it totally suits them, if the money is good enough – and it really is at this time of year in Europe – they can pick and choose whatever option they please.

It would be great if Paul McGinley, the tournament host for 2019 in Lahinch, can use his renowned powers of persuasion to attract the cream of the world golfing crop to stop off and check out the advantages of playing the Irish Open next year.

Let’s give the Scots a run for their money!

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