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July 13, 2014
MICHAEL GIBBONS:¬† Good morning, everyone.¬† Welcome to our future venues announcement regarding the next two editions of the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open.¬† We have with us, Rt Hon Alex Salmond MSP, First Minister of Scotland, welcome.¬† At the First Minister's right, we have Martin Gilbert, Chief Executive of Aberdeen Asset Management.¬† On the left of the First Minister, George O'Grady, European Tour Chief Executive.¬† On Martin's right, we have Bruce Dunlop, the immediate vice captain of Gullane Golf Club.¬† And last but not least, Stuart McColm, general manager of Castle Stuart Golf Club.
We also welcome a number of officials from the government, Aberdeen Asset Management, from Gullane, East Lothian Council, from Castle Stuart, so you are all very welcome.
I am delighted to hand it over to the First Minister to make our announcement formal.
RT HON ALEX SALMOND:¬† Thank you very much.¬† I'm delighted to make the formal announcement of the future venues of the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open.
First, I'll just reflect on the extraordinary success of this tournament since Aberdeen Asset Management took over its sponsorship two years ago.¬† We have had a record crowd at Castle Stuart two years ago and a record last year, and this year is far over the practise day in the first three days.¬† We are 1,159 spectators off from last year's record.¬† As you see, we don't keep a careful eye on these things at all.¬† So that is a testimony to the extraordinary success of this tournament.
I'm delighted, just as I was so enthusiastic about the idea of having top‑quality golf in the Highlands of Scotland to have a top‑quality international field, the strongest international field of golfers in Europe this year, with the sole exception of The Open Championship itself; to have that sort of quality of field in the northeast of Scotland here in Aberdeen, hugely supported by the public of the northeast of Scotland an around Scotland has been another extraordinary and resounding success.
As you know we are very proud in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open that the last three Open Champions have all come from the field of the Scottish Open and we are striving for the field that we have this week.¬† I think we have very good prospects of making that four‑out‑of‑four in¬† The Open Championship next week.
The announcement is that next year, the Aberdeen Asset Management will be going to Gullane, and in two years' time, it will be going back to Castle Stuart.¬† Both are fantastic golf courses.
In the case of Gullane, we have given you some illustrations, because it is a new Gullane Championship Course which will be a composite between Gullane 1 and Gullane 2, which I know both courses will be familiar to you.¬† But the diagram we thought might help explain to you how the championship might be formatted next year.
We are extraordinarily enthusiastic in the Scottish government about this because this means our great national championship is going around a range of areas in Scotland, and that means that East Lothian will get the opportunity to enjoy the economic benefits that the Highlands have enjoyed the last few years and that the northeast has enjoyed this year.
And it demonstrates that we have outstanding, extraordinary golf courses all around Scotland, which is very much a part of the promotion of a sport and an industry that's generally more than one billion bounds a year to the spot issue economy.
So with that, I'm delighted to hand over to Martin Gilbert, the Chief Executive of Aberdeen Asset Management, who has an announcement to make about the nature of next year's tournament.
MARTIN GILBERT:¬† Thank you, First Minister.¬† We are obviously delighted to be continuing our partnership with both The European Tour and the Scottish government, enabling us to take this event from strength‑to‑strength.
Today's venue announcement is part of the overall strategy, as you know, of moving the tournament around to the top links courses in Scotland, some of the top courses in the world.¬† It is and I think you'll all agree, working.¬† So absolutely delighted it's going back to Castle Stuart in two years' time and obviously to Gullane next year.¬†
I'm also pleased to announce that 2015 will see an Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open pre‑qualifier.¬† This will be a 54‑hole qualifying event for Scottish golfers.¬† It will take place the week preceding The Scottish Open, and it will offer six places in the championship that week.
We are hugely proud to support this new event, along with the Scottish government, and it really continues our policy of supporting golf at all levels in Scotland, and we have seen the result of that with a Scottish winner of the British Amateur a couple of weeks ago.
The continuation of NBC's coverage of this event in the U.S. is of huge value to us as a company, and we are delighted to see that all also continuing in the future.
Finally, just before I hand over to George O'Grady, the Chief Executive of The European Tour, can I just say we are looking forward to Gullane next year and Castle Stuart the year after.
GEORGE O'GRADY:¬† Thank you, Martin and First Minister.¬† We use the word delighted quite a lot today but we certainly are delighted with this agreement for the next two years.¬† Suffice to say that when First Minister and Martin Gilbert played at Gullane, that seemed to do the trick for us.¬† So it's been tested by two extraordinarily good golfers, and we listened to them (laughter).
One thing that gives us great heart on The European Tour, I've said before, we had strong partners.¬† Our No. 1 partner, the strength of golf in Scotland, is the First Minister.¬† He believes in golf in Scotland, and he's been a wonderful host for The Ryder Cup that's coming up in a couple of month's time; and together with Martin, they fight for what they think is the best for Scotland.
We probably haven't said enough about Royal Aberdeen who have invited us to be here this week.¬† It's been a superb championship from our point of view.¬† It's worked logistically on the ground, exceptionally well, wonderful test for our players and we hope that one day Royal Aberdeen will invite us back sometime in the future, who knows.
But right now, Gullane, with all turf, with all the features that Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson and so many other players want to play the week before The Open, these two courses we feel really answer the exam paper that we want to set the week before The Open Championship.
These are great partners.¬† The ClubGolf initiative which the First Minister has pushed through, we saw on Wednesday this we can on the Pro‑Am day, Rickie Fowler, Paul Lawrie and so many other players coming, eight of our top professionals 400 children at Murcar Golf Club; to see them with happy, smiling faces and finding out that golf is fun, to help grow the game.
We are delighted with the Scottish Open and we are looking forward to a great day today.¬† Thank you.
MICHAEL GIBBONS:¬† Bruce, great day for Gullane.
BRUCE DUNLOP:¬† Thank you very much,¬† First Minister.¬† Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
Having been in discussion with The European Tour and Peter Adams, who is here in the front row; in particular, Peter, we have had a great deal of pleasure and very much enjoyed your professional attitude and the relationship we've built up over the last ten months.
We at Gullane Golf Club are delighted to learn that today, only today, have become the nominated venue for the 2015 running of the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open.¬† We have been playing golf in Gullane Hill for over 350 years, and consequently, not just the club, but a magnificent links are steeped in golfing folklore and history.
With over 1,000 acres of land and three courses, we have a great deal of flexibility in hosting in modern day golf championship of this nature, particularly in giving up the complex logistics associated we events of this scale.
A number of years ago, the club chose to invest in its future by undertaking a strategic program of strengthening works to improve its No. 1 and No.2 courses.¬† These works included lengthening and reshaping holes on both courses, coupled with improved and tightening fairway bunkering.
Recently, the club, further extending the financial commitment, we have gone to a 12‑month long major refurbishment and extension programme to the member's clubhouse.¬† These investment decisions have been fully vindicated by the awarding of this prestigious championship today.
As George suggested earlier, Gullane is renowned for its high‑quality links turf, true greens, strategic bunkering, occasional breeze, or perhaps Gale, Alistar; but most particularly it's known for its magnificent scenery.¬† Recently Gullane was¬† voted as one of the top five most scenic golf settings in the world and No. 1 in Europe.
East Lothian prides itself in sitting on one of the most cherished golfing coastlines in the world, known as Scotland's golf coast; and it's therefore particularly fitting to retain this championship around Scotland for the benefit of the general golfing public.
Gullane has a long proud history of hosting championship golf, and I'm confident that our course will offer an exacting challenge for next year's event.¬† We very much look forward to hosting this prestigious event and offering a warm welcome to the world's best golfers and spectators to our links in 2015.¬† Thank you.
MICHAEL GIBBONS:¬† Thank you, Bruce.
Stuart, great news we are going back to Castle Stuart.
STUART McCOLM:¬† Fantastic, yeah, absolutely thrilled.¬† On behalf of the partners at Castle Stuart, we are absolutely delighted and thrilled to be slotted for the 2016 of the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open, and to once again be working with The European Tour and inviting some of the world's best golfers to the links at Castle Stuart.
We know this is a great day and a great announcement for the team at Castle Stuart and also great news for the whole of the Highlands community, who I'm sure will come out again in great numbers for this flagship European Tour event, and we hope to make it a very successful week.
Q.¬† It's a well‑known fact that the Renaissance Club was also looked at as a possible venue for next year.¬† Can you tell us what the determining factor was in Gullane getting the nod?
GEORGE O'GRADY:¬† Well, I could use a parliamentary answer and say, our learned who announced in the Scotsman last Tuesday which seemed to make some pretty good surmises about why.
I think it was really‑‑ Renaissance was an exceptional golf course to have a tournament on.¬† But we felt that in the week before The Open, it's still bedding in slightly there.¬† The turf at Gullane was exactly what we are looking for.¬† Those who are here met with the players last year; both Ernie and Phil and Darren Clarke, P√°draig Harrington and there was three others we were meeting with.¬† They felt they need to play somewhere where they felt they could squeeze the ball off links turf, exactly what you see here, what you saw at Castle Stuart and we definitely are going to get at Gullane.¬† So I think that was the thing.
The Renaissance could take any tournament we wanted to.¬† It's got security and a wonderful clubhouse and it's got a place for a tented village, car parking; it all fits in.¬† But we really see this as a tribute to the venerable links, and it's the turf I think.
RT HON ALEX SALMOND:¬† The fact that we have many, many outstanding golf courses in Scotland, we want to concentrate on the ones who invite us and the ones that are part of the circuit.¬† That doesn't mean other courses aren't outstanding courses; you and I both know they are.
One of the great virtues of this championship is its able to present to a worldwide audience, the outstanding nature of courses such as here at Royal Aberdeen, which people wouldn't have had the opportunity because they are not on The Open circuit, but nevertheless, outstanding golf courses.
Yesterday I was looking at some of the pictures being beamed around the planet and to have the whole City of Aberdeen, the supply boats in the bay, the coastline stretching up, the seascape, it's quite extraordinary.¬† There are many great views and Castle Stuart has outstanding views and has been said, Gullane has a breathtaking view and panoramic view of central Scotland with the seascape, but the view here at Royal Aberdeen is quite something.
We are spoilt for choice, but part of the mission for this tournament is to present to a worldwide audience some of the outstanding links courses of Scotland, which are not on The Open circuit, and nonetheless, are extraordinary, outstanding golf courses.
The decision, as George rightly said, was on the merits of Gullane and what Gullane had to offer.¬† Of course it's a difficult decision and that doesn't preclude other decisions being made in the future.¬† We are, as I say, spoilt for choice with outstanding golf courses.
Q.¬† You've been to the Highlands and the northeast and the east.¬† What about the west of Scotland as a venue in the future?
RT HON ALEX SALMOND:¬† Well, Martin has demanded that he and I play at many of the great links courses in west of Scotland in the near future and the only condition‑‑ to win as I did at Gullane a few weeks ago.¬† Yes, of course.
MARTIN GILBERT:¬† I think 2017 there's a real possibility for the west of Scotland‑‑¬† we haven't played yet‑‑
MARTIN GILBERT: The First Minister and I have not played Dundonald yet.¬† We are inviting George, as well, because that's easier money to make on the golf course (laughter).
GEORGE O'GRADY:¬† I think a lot of our team have played just about every course in Scotland, or at least that's what their expenses say, anyway.
RT HON ALEX SALMOND:¬† Can I just clarify, I'm not on expenses.¬† (Laughter).
GEORGE O'GRADY:¬† One thing we could say, the First Minister referred to NBC.¬† That's one reason why we are finishing so late and the last match is off at five past 3.00 today because it gets us primetime viewing in the morning on the network, which is a big factor or Aberdeen Asset Management and reflecting Scotland to a wide audience.
Without the First Minister's negotiating skills at Medinah, it wouldn't have got there, and NBC treated the tournament last year exceptionally well.¬† It had very high ratings.¬† Now, we accept that Mickelson winning and winning the way he did had a large part to do with that.
But they also trailed the tournament, and so it wasn't just the two hours on Saturday and Sunday they agreed to show.¬† All of the tournaments they covered before that, they said:¬† "Coming soon, The Scottish Open from Castle Stuart."¬†¬† Well, the pictures of the coastal views of the golf course were stunning and they over‑delivered on what they had given us.¬† So they are a really strong partner, and we have heard from our American viewers, as well, just how stunning some of the pictures have looked in the States this weeks.
So I think whatever push you made with NBC has been returned in Scotland's favour many, many times over.
MARTIN GILBERT:¬† George I think that's a vital point for us at Aberdeen and the Scottish government.¬† It serves a dual purpose for us in building our name awareness in the U.S. on primetime terrestrial television, and also the pictures of these golf courses being beamed around the U.S. will lead inevitably to greater visitor numbers for these golf courses in Scotland.
STUART McCOLM:¬† Just on that point, we at Castle Stuart after last year, have seen a significant increase in visitor numbers.¬† I have spoken to many Americans who come to play us on the back of NBC television.
MARTIN GILBERT:¬† Hope you're prepared for that at Gullane (laughter).
BRUCE DUNLOP:¬† We will be.¬† We will be.
MARTIN GILBERT:¬† You might have to answer the phone (laughter).
RT HON ALEX SALMOND:¬† I would observe this week that the tight lie at Castle Stuart that Phil Mickelson played his miracle chip to win the playoff is no longer as tight a lie because so many people have played that shot at Castle Stuart, it's now a sandy lie.
MARTIN GILBERT:¬† He said it was easy, that's the worrying part.
Q.¬† As the First Minister pointed out, the crowds so far, is that in line with your expectations, or is it slightly falling short bearing in mind the field we have this week and the bigger population of the city?
RT HON ALEX SALMOND:¬† Well, we are hoping that we can get past the records of 2013.¬† But I remind that you Castle Stuart took three years to build up to that record.¬† The 2013 figure was some 40,000 more than the 2011 figure and 2000 more than the 2012 figure.¬† So 2013 was very high.
I think after Wentworth and The Irish Open, we are the best‑supported tournament in the European Tour in terms of spectator numbers.¬† So we are intent on doing the numbers year by year but we are aware of course and would like it to be up over the four days thus far.¬† And just I've been reliably informed by God that the rain goes off at one o'clock in good time for the spectators to come in.
Obviously there's a lot of things that depend on the crowds you get but this is a very, very well supported golf tournament and we intend to continue to grow the golf tournament.
The significance of the qualifier shouldn't be underrated that Martin has just announced.¬† That's going to allow more opportunity for Scottish professionals to qualify for the national tournament, and it's going to give professionals another opportunity to play a tournament over three rounds.
It's going to be another opportunity for one of the great golf courses in the East Lothian area to stage a pre‑qualifier and it's going to make the event one over two weekends, which I think is hugely important.¬† And from our perspective in the Scottish government, it will give us even more scope to develop the ClubGolf concept and have many, many more participants in terms of club golfers and their families at a major tournament.
So it's a very, very exciting development, which will, again, adds to the luster and growth of the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open.
Q.¬† It's a very big sporting period in these few weeks in the summer.¬† Wonder what the concern is over the possible negative impacts of going up against the Wimbledon finals weekend next year, which has not been the case ever in the past?
MARTIN GILBERT:¬† I think from our point of view, I think we think the golfing audience is different from the tennis audience.¬† And one is on BBC obviously, and one is on SKY, so that's a good plug for SKY if anyone's here from SKY.
It's out of our hands in any case.¬† We have the prime week on The European Tour, the week before the British Open, and that's something that we and Scotland didn't want to lose, as you know, which is the main reason that the government came in to try and bridge the gap so that we could keep that week.
So I think the week is the vital thing for us rather than what we are up against.
RT HON ALEX SALMOND:¬† Martin is absolutely right.¬† This, for golf, is the best spot on the European Tour, and it's hugely important for Scotland.¬† But also for the professionals; that they get the opportunity to test their skills against a classic links turf, which is one of the reasons, apart from love of Scotland and love of the crowds here, that the international aspect of this field is so strong this week.
And therefore, we were absolutely determined to maintain that spot that we have done and then to grow the tournament to make it all the more spectacular, which we are doing.
There are a whole range of things that we are going to be doing to keep this tournament moving along.¬† Any week in the summer you're going to be up against; today is the World Cup final.¬† So you're always going to be up against huge‑‑
MARTIN GILBERT:¬† If Andy Murray makes the final, First Minister, on the Sunday, it's going to be a difficult choice for us both.¬† We may have to fly down for the final and come back up.
RT HON ALEX SALMOND:¬† Obviously in that context, we'll manage to find a way.
MARTIN GILBERT:¬† It would be a nice problem to have actually.
Q.¬† I think we are all delighted that we are going back up to Castle Stuart, especially after the last couple of years, but one person that won't be thrilled is Rory McIlroy who told us earlier this week the reason he wasn't at Castle Stuart was it didn't offer him a true links test the week before The Open Championship.¬† Is there a concern that by going back in 2016 the field won't be as stellar as it is this week?
STUART McCOLM:¬† Well, the disappointment for me is Rory has never been.¬† So I don't know how he can say something about a golf course he's never seen, so I don't have much more to say ton it.
GEORGE O'GRADY:¬† I don't think we should be too worried about that.
Hardly a breath of wind; remember the first year and the previous sponsor, we had thunderstorms and really incredible rain.¬† The car parks were virtually washed away and parts of the airport.¬† And unusually, in my experience, there was never, there was not a breath of wind.
Now Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose were saying at the beginning of the week, you could play at any golf course.¬† They said possibly if they got too biga bashing ‑‑ we worried about that this week; if the wind went against you, by Sunday night, top players could be saying, great experience playing here but I'm mentally shattered come Sunday; I'm not right for The Open.
And we always felt Castle Stuart, it's more generous off the tee; I think that's fair. ¬†Lee Westwood himself has said he gets by on really accurate, long straight driving.¬† Ernie, Phil and the rest, they wanted to hit linksy shots without being punished in the weather went against you.
Now, it's been a stiff breeze for two, three‑ish days this week, not gale force but quite strong, and this is a thinking man's golf course.¬† Although quite a few‑‑ well, I'll say half the field missed the cut, and our recorders didn't take any severe sort of complaining at the end of that.¬† They all enjoyed the test of being here.
I think there's balance.¬† We speak to Rory a lot on what he looks for in this particular week, and last night when he finished, he said he felt this examined all aspects of his game, the wind had changed around.
They all change with the wind I think on a basis, and we could have played this week with no wind and it would have been a great test, as well, but they played it with a wind.¬† So 2016 is quite a long way away.
RT HON ALEX SALMOND:¬† The last three winners of The Open Championship have played The Scottish Open and that's why the field has the international strength it has, because the message has been given out loud and clear, not the least by Phil Mickelson is that if you want to win The Open Championship, then play The Scottish Open.
If you ask me who I'm supporting in¬† The Open Championship next week, then obviously the first answer is any Scottish golfer who is in the running.¬† But the second answer is anyone who is in the field this week at The Scottish Open.¬† That's what really matters; that is Scottish Open has demonstrated that the right preparation for The Open Championship is to play at The Scottish Open on a links course, on a great links course.
And whether it's here at Royal Aberdeen or Castle Stuart or Gullane or any other great links course it could go to in the future, one thing you can be absolutely sure of is that, A, it will always be a great links course; and B, it will always be a stellar field because of the message if you want to win The Open, play The Scottish Open.
STUART McCOLM:¬† At Castle Stuart last year, we had a two‑club wind last year and only five scores beat 70, whichif you get two‑club wind, the scores are going to go up.¬† As has been said before, we had no wind ten of those the 11 days up there.¬† So I do think we'll be looking for a good test of golf.
Q.¬† Have you decided on an a venue for the final event yet‑‑
MARTIN GILBERT:¬†¬† It will be in East Lothian clearly and further details will be announced, but I can confirm it will be in East Lothian.
Q.¬† Regarding the composite course next year, how and why was that developed for playing the two golf courses?
MARTIN GILBERT:¬† First of all I think it was going to be difficult to use the first hole, I think was the first question, and really to make a strong course.
BRUCE DUNLOP:¬† I think that's absolutely right.¬† The decision was made with Peter earlier on in the process not to use the first hole.¬† And because of that, it was fairly obvious that we should then look at what other options were available to create a composite championship course, and some of the very best golf holes on Gullane Hill are on the No. 2 course and not just No. 1.
So there are going to be three holes from No.2 which will be integrated and 15 holes on No. 1.¬† The expected length of the course is probably on the order of 7,200 yards.¬† So I think it's a good composition for the championship.
RT HON ALEX SALMOND:¬†¬† I think that makes it all the more exciting.¬† We can be certain that the first two to tee off will get a course record as I understand the rules, and we'll take it on from there.
But I think the promotion of the Gullane Championship Course makes it even more exciting.¬† I'm looking forward to having‑‑ only played Gullane once in my life and I've unfortunately been beaten by Martin Gilbert when I did play it.¬† I'm looking forward to getting my revenge on the championship course at a suitable time and place of Martin's convenience.
Q.¬† Following on from the question about Rory McIlroy's comment, from your own point of view, how frustrating are those comments from players like that to hear, and does it put any pressure on you guys between now and then to maybe in a reactive way make some changes to the course to toughen it up?
STUART McCOLM:¬† No, I mean, for us, at Castle Stuart, we've proven before with a two‑club wind it's a test for anybody.
At the end of the day, any links course with no wind, Old Course, Carnoustie, you name them, they are there, 62, 63, 64, they are all available, but you get a wind on any of them; we just haven't had it at Castle Stuart.¬† As I say, for me, Rory has never been there.¬† So you know, why doesn't he come up and play it before he makes up his mind, would be my suggestion.
GEORGE O'GRADY:¬† I think a lot of these players are advising their opinion this week, and they worked it out, because we told them that the first two editions, there wasn't a breath of wind, and as you say, a bit of wind a couple of days the last time and the scoring went up.
They talk amongst themselves, as well.¬† We are seriously trying to get the right venues that give you the right preparation.
I remember Graeme McDowell saying some great things last year.¬† Well, Graeme played in the very first one and he said, I can't understand it, these fairways are very, very generous and I've missed the 12th fairway in three rounds out of four; it plays tricks with your mind.¬† And the concept of the infinity greens on the par3s in the first year, wasn't televised by SKY, and the broadcaster then wanted to put a camera tower right behind the greens, which took away from the designer's view on the golf course.¬† And then SKY and Tour Productions have managed to televise the last two years at Castle Stuart not interfering with that shape of the shot.
I think by the time you come around in two years' time, Rory, one, we would have spoken to him, which we do anyway on choice of venue, all our top players are spoken to; Luke Donald has won there, as well, precision player.¬† So I think what you say at the beginning of one week doesn't always hold in a year's time.
RT HON ALEX SALMOND:¬†¬† Just remember the field at Castle Stuart in the last few years has been stellar as well, Darren Clarke, Phil Mickelson, these guys can play a bit.¬† So these have been great fields at Castle Stuart, and we have managed to attract even more great golfers internationally to Royal Aberdeen.
But I think the single biggest aspect of doing that has been the reputation of the last three Open Champions having played The Scottish Open.¬† The key decision that was made in the Scottish Open was to play on a great links golf course.¬† And as soon as that decision was made, it's a matter of obviously expanding and broadening and strengthening the tournament, and that's the key decision.¬† That is a direct result of having the week before The Open as a spot.
We are absolutely delighted with the field we have had the last few years and absolutely delighted with the field we have this year.¬† The tournament will keep growing as long as we can demonstrate that this is the best preparation for The Open Championship.
GEORGE O'GRADY:¬† We actually got a straight answer to that; the First Minister is absolutely right.¬† But the first time, apart from Martin and First Minister wanted to come to Aberdeen; the player, the professional player who spoke to us and said, would we consider this golf course, was Ernie Els.
I said, "When did you play here?"
He said, "I never have.¬† Greg Norman's played here in the Senior British Open and reckon it's one of the best links courses in the world and so we should go there."¬† Now so that's all been done on what somebody else has done.
So a lot of the players here have never played Royal Aberdeen before, they are doing it on what they have been told.¬† The great thing is they come here and haven't been disappointed.
MICHAEL GIBBONS:¬† Gentlemen at the top table, thank you very much.
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