Jul 1 2011 by Gordon Bannerman, Perthshire Advertiser Friday
IT may be unfamiliar to players and spectators alike but Castle Stuart is the new home of the Barclays Scottish Open.
And with Inverness just a two-hour drive from Perth, organisers of a European Tour event re-located from Loch Lomond are rolling out the welcome mat at a tiered links course hugging the Moray Firth.
PA Sport joined a posse of intrigued hackers who generally write a better game than they play for a recent media day at Castle Stuart.
For once, disputes between the scribes were few and far between. This is a course which already looks as if it shares the longevity of classics in that part of the world such as Royal Dornoch and Nairn.
But with expansive fairways and forgiving rough, unless the compass lets them down and steers them into the gorse or thick stuff, the pros will be marking-up cards in the sixties – unless that customary links defence, the wind, whips across the spectacular terrain.
The Castle Stuart design team maintain they were inspired by golf in a “simpler era” and the gorgeous clubhouse Art Deco look gives it a classic thirties look.
“It is about hope and redemption” maintains managing partner Mark Parsinen.
Natural sand traps rather than sculpted bunkers provide a degree of protection and potentially bafflingly undulating greens and approaches will test the grey matter of the Tour stars with putter in hand
But a birdie-blitz reminiscent of the Bell’s Scottish Open days at the King’s Course could be on the cards.
Spectators heading north from the Big County will find their trip rewarded by a top class field, including US-based top Scot Martin Laird, who rates it the “fifth Major” in his book, underlining his aspirations to win on home soil.
Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie makes the journey from the family home in Dunning, two times Major champion Sandy Lyle, always a favourite in Scotland, has signed-up along with Open champion Paul Lawrie, World Cup winner Marc Warren, Alastair Forsyth and Stephen Gallacher for the Barclays event teed-up for July 7-10.
They will join a host of their fellow countrymen all hoping to emulate Monty who, to date, is the only Scottish golfer to win the prestigious title –and that was back in 1999.
With The Open following hard on the heels of Castle Stuart, a cluster of box office names are being lured to the Highland capital in search of links golf.
Luke Donald and Lee Westwood will continue their joust for the world number one crown while Phil Mickelson, Padraig Harrington, Matt Kuchar and defending champion Edoardo Molinari are all on board.
For full details of ticket offers visit www.europeantourtickets.com or telephone the Ticket Hotline: +44 (0) 800 023 2557. For further information check-out the Official Championship Website: www.barclays scottishopen.co.uk