The Renaissance Club, the site of the Genesis Scottish Open which starts on Thursday, appears to have been around for hundreds of years, as have many other great links courses in Britain.
Like all true links courses, it meanders along the coast with few trees; Wind, rain, heat and cold become problems for players. She has steady passes that can kick hard forward an extra 50 yards or punish an equally good shot with an unlucky bounce.
The stadium has a tall golden grass lawn waving in the wind. The brownish greens are subtly rippled in the center and eye-catching on the edges. And, of course, deep bunkers swallow balls heading for their targets.
It’s in the best neighborhood in town for golf. Muirfield, home A respected company of golfers in Edinburgh and regular host of the British Open, abutting the course. And down the road North Berwick Golf Club, Where the sport has been played since 1832.
But the Renaissance Club, now in its fifth year of hosting the Scottish Open, opened in 2007 after two American brothers developed the club. The championship course is the product of an extensive renovation in 2014, which opened up some holes with views of the water.
However, its architect, Tom Doak, is not known for building courses that host professional golf tournaments. This was his first.
So how did Al-Nahda club host an increasingly important tournament? (It offers entry to the British Open to players who finish in the top five, and is approved by the PGA Tour and DP World Tour, which means more money and ranking points.)
The change began in 2011 with a broader strategy of playing in conditions akin to the British Open which was often held a few days later. The Scottish Open has been around, on and off, and under various sponsors, for about 50 years at that point.
The organizers partnered with Visit Scotland, the country’s tourism board, to find places that would also capture a tourist’s imagination. While Scotland has a variety of terrains for its golf courses, Scottish golf conjures up images of bouncy, windswept courses.
“We started the links strategy in 2011 and decided to move from Loch Lomond to Castle Stewart,” said Rory Colville, Director of the Genesis Scottish Open. “We decided it was in the best interest of the players to play golf links in the week before the Open. The economic benefit of the first Scottish Open at Castle Stewart was said to be in excess of £5 million.” [about $6.3 million]. That’s a really positive thing.”
Host to the tournament for more than a decade, Loch Lomond is a parkland playground on a farm with streams and centuries-old trees. It is rated as one of the best courses in the world. But its trees and streams do not evoke the same images of Scottish golf.
Castle Stuart, like the Renaissance Club, is a modern stadium built to look as if it has been on the ground forever. The difference was in the design team.
Opened in 2009, it was designed by Gil Hansi, an American architect who has restored US Open and PGA Championship courses, including the Los Angeles Country Club and Southern Hills in Oklahoma. At Castle Stuart, Hanse worked with Mark Parsinen, who found the land, to build a Highland course with sweeping vistas, steady fairways and deep bunkers.
“Although Castle Stewart at the time was a relatively small golf course, it really highlighted everything it wanted from a new links course as a venue,” Colville said. “It was a fair test of golf, but also the right kind of test in the warm-up to the World Open,” in that it wasn’t set up to be overly punishing.
“Players don’t want to get beat going to a major tournament,” he said. “Castle Stuart was the right kind of golf course. Also, it had this wonderful, scenic setting to show golf to the world. It was a really rewarding experience to take the Scottish Open to the Highlands.” And it produced powerful heroes: Luke Donald, Phil Mickelson, and Alex Noreen.
The strategy in those years was to use a rota, or schedule, of courses similar to what the British Open does in moving the tournament to a set number of venues. For the Scottish Open they included Royal Aberdeen, Golan and Dundonald.
Colville said of the tournament in 2014: “We had an exceptional experience at Royal Aberdeen. Justin Rose won there in great style. Rory McIlroy played there and won the Open title the following week.”
Golan is distinguished by its proximity to the capital, Edinburgh, which has led to an increase in the number of spectators.
But the top players held back from Rota before the start of the Official Open. This means that they are likely to learn a new course every year. There were also economic reasons for hosting an event at the same station with the same planned infrastructure.
“At Loch Lomond, we build event year after year,” Colville said. “We needed to find a home to make it the size it needed to be. That’s hard when you look at a member club, which has more members who don’t want the annual intervention of closing the golf course and stopping their daily golf.”
Al Nahda Club was founded by brothers Jerry and Paul Sarfadi. Paul is the CEO of Insperity, a human resources company, and Jerry has spent his career in jet fuel.
On the club’s 10th anniversary in 2018, Paul Sarfady spoke of his commitment to continuing to host the Scottish Open. “While we’re proud of our first 10 years, we’re even more excited about the next 10 years,” he said.
Colville said the brothers had a passion for creating a home for the Open Championship.
“They have built a long-term television and parking complex,” he said. “They have built the infrastructure that makes it possible to hold the event year after year. They have made it a viable event.”
They also let messes on the course. “Our agricultural engineering team has worked closely with the clubhouse to improve conditions and improve the golf course.”
Doak, who declined to comment, is known for designing destination sites on gorgeous plots of land, such as Barnbugle in TasmaniaAnd Cape kidnappers in New Zealand And Pacific Dunes in Oregon. He has largely avoided commissioning or renovating courses that will host tournaments.
“I never thought I’d be on championship golf courses,” he told Golf Channel in 2019. When asked what he did to create a stadium strong enough for the pros, he added, “They get in their heads a little bit. You want to do things that make them think and make them play it safe a little bit.”
Since the Renaissance Club’s revamp in 2014, Doak has been less involved with the changes from year to year. The ownership group brought Padra Harrington, a three-time major champion and former Ryder Cup captain, to the Consultation at the session From the perspective of a tournament player.
“You can get someone’s perspective with their links credentials to help improve and improve the golf course,” Colville said. “It added some subtle design features to make the roughness more punishing and changed a lot of the fairway cut lines.”
In the five years since the course began hosting the event, the Scottish Open has achieved cult status by being accredited by the PGA and DP World. It has secured Genesis, the luxury car company, as a title sponsor.
“We expect the Scottish Open to be the best attended this year, with over 70,000 spectators,” said Colville.
“This year we have eight of the top 10 players in the world. This is a vote of confidence that they love the golf course and the facilities.”