This week sees the 37th Scottish Open take place at The Renaissance Club. Despite Scotland being the home of golf, this is a relatively new club, being founded in 2008 and it is hosting the tournament for the first time. What are you expecting from the host venue?
Well, There’s a large question mark around it because of the fact that the Scottish Open traditionally goes to old-fashioned classic links courses. Some brilliant ones as well. I think it's going to do great, from what I understand it's a really nice layout, it’s obviously a modern style links, which might sound like a bit of an oxymoron and people think they don’t exist, but they really do.
So what exactly is a modern links course?
I think it's more manufactured. Most old Links courses are carved out of the ground, with the exception of a bit of lengthening to make it more relevant for today's golf. The modern-day links courses are already built at 7,200 yards usually.
What is nice is that the courses are manufactured to look like they aren't manufactured. Yes, of course, it’s nice to think that you’re playing on a monument that has stood for 500 years, but the fact of the matter is you want to play great golf. I’m not saying that they put giant cliffs in, but rather subtle humps and clever shaping of the holes. The greens are also a lot bigger (although obviously, you don't get any bigger than the old course St Andrews) than the traditional links greens, which were relatively dinky. You now tend to see lots more rolling terrain with different plateaus, segments and catchment areas and that's really what I think a modern style links looks like.
There are plenty of examples of modern-style links courses, Kingsbarns is one, The Castle Course is another. It's a big old piece of land and there are lots of blind shots. It feels like you're playing golf on the moon sometimes and that tends to be the style the architects are going for.
How well do you know the area around The Renaissance Club?
The Firth of Forth is pretty rich with golf courses with heritage. That area is a place I've got to know quite well. Growing up, my family holidays were often around North Berwick and some of my fondest memories as a child are staying at the Marine Hotel there. I won my very first competition out the back of the hotel on the West Links Course at North Berwick. So yeah, I've got great memories of that place. Ironically, there are a few courses I haven't played; Muirfield and Kilspindie in particular. Muirfield is near the top of my bucket list at the moment.
Even still, you’ll do well to find better than the West Links at North Berwick - I think it’s absolutely beautiful. And it’s where you can find Redan, the famous par-3 15th, which is now a term used around the world for a par-3 that forces the player to use the ground to swoop the ball over to another part of the green.
What advice would you give to the amateur golfer organising their first trip to Scotland?
Don’t try and do it in one go! Scotland is spoilt for choice, you could 36 holes a day for a week and only scratch the surface. There are probably three different trips you could do. Firstly, I’ve mentioned the Firth of Forth and the variety you have there. Then, you can go further up the coast and you’ve got Carnoustie, Gleneagles and of course the eight St. Andrews courses, all of which are worth playing. Second, visit the West Coast and you’ve got Trump Turnberry and Royal Troon. Finally, you’ve got Royal Dornoch and Castle Stuart which are further north into the highlands. We’ve got incredible links courses in England, Wales and especially in Ireland, but there’s something about playing links golf in Scotland that makes you feel like you’re part of something bigger. All the great players and all of the people that share the passion for this sport have walked these fairways before and it meant the same for them. They've looked at the same thing and felt the same feeling you can get as you walk the fairways towards the ‘Auld Grey Toon’ or up 17 and 18 on the Old Course.
You have to do that as a golfer, you have to do that for yourself, you have to say you've experienced that course. Not everyone's going to get to experience Augusta National. You can experience the old course at St Andrew's. To be part of that history is a wonderful thing.