x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

A sign of things to come?

Desmond Kane previews the Scottish Open, which is the final tournament before next week's Open Championship.

Gregory Harvet celebrates his dramatic victory in last year's Scottish Open.
Gregory Harvet celebrates his dramatic victory in last year's Scottish Open.

LOCH LOMOND // It is perhaps not as renowned globally as its bolder and older Scottish brothers of St Andrews, Carnoustie, Troon or even Muirfield, but there is an atmosphere attached to Loch Lomond, which will be the scene of the impending Barclays Scottish Open, that enabled large dollops of sunshine to illuminate the soul yesterday despite some really wretched rain.

Loch Lomond is far from the links-style course that will host the 137th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale in England next week, yet it has managed to etch its own niche in the golfing calendar. As a forerunner to the Open for the past 11 years, it carries with it serious significance and, of course, brings with it the type of greenery and hilly peaks that act as a fitting backdrop to a European tour event dripping with class as well as the traditional downpours that always adorn a Scottish summer.

Loch Lomond looks like a course that is at one with the nature that surrounds it. It was designed by the former Open champion Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish in the 1990s. It is quintessentially a parkland circuit where emphasis is more on the target golf of the USPGA tour, rather than the thinking element of shot-making that will be deployed next week. There remains a wonderful tale that has probably been trotted out every time Loch Lomond hosts a tour event but for the purpose of this organ, it is worth retelling.

Apparently, during the designing of this course, Weiskopf had to be dragged out of a bog resembling something akin to quicksand next to the testy 14th hole, but he lived to tell the tale. His story ended with him stating his belief that at Loch Lomond, he had managed to create one of the finest courses in the world. On these long, unremitting nights that are commonplace in the northern climes of Europe, it is hard to disagree.

In taking a glance at the fairways and greens, albeit soggy ones, one can easily detect that here is a course reeking of exclusivity. A member trying to play more than dozen times in a year on the main course, is usually rendered out of bounds. It is regarded as a club for the occasional use of members and their guests. As a par 71 boasting more than 7,000 yards in length, it will provide a sturdy test for the professionals if the rain falls hard. The weather forecast suggests it will shroud the Loch from the first day of play tomorrow until Sunday, and could be as problematic as any of the holes the competitors will face.

After sporting times that brought us Spain's Euro 2008 success in football and the Wimbledon men's final in tennis between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, golf traditionally assumes centre stage at this point of the year in the UK. Loch Lomond has natural beauty, but also a natural arena to deliver similar drama. Phil Mickelson, the former US Masters champion, was full of miscalculations when trying to complete victory in this tournament last year. He emptied a drive into reeds at the 18th hole, and lost a play-off to the unheralded Frenchman Gregory Havret.

With the imposing Rossdhu House acting as the clubhouse, Loch Lomond, which was the ancestral home of a Scottish clan, has hosted this event since 1996. It is of little dispute that the Scottish Open and British Open segments of the year are alluring, but it is also worth noting that nobody has ever won at Loch Lomond and progressed to carry off the Open the following week. The winner of the British Open will not be known until Sunday week but in studying the cast of this year's tournament, he could be in our midst during this week.

Three of the world's top six in Mickelson, Ernie Els and Adam Scott will play. They all have previous here. Els has won the event twice, while Scott finished 12th behind the 2005 winner Tim Clark. The injured Tiger Woods would not have attended even if fit. He usually preferring to work on his attributes on a links course in Ireland the week before the Open. While there may be no Tiger, there are enough grouse, deers and eagles engulfing this stretch of land to make for some enchanting viewing. There is also the more serious business of a trophy, a winner's cheque worth £500,000 and Ryder Cup points available, which is of great interest to the Scot Colin Montgomerie as he strives to earn an automatic spot in Nick Faldo's European side.

The Abu Dhabi champion Martin Kaymer has withdrawn due to the death of his mum to cancer, while the Englishman Luke Donald is also resting an injury. The highest-placed player in the top five at Loch Lomond who has not already gained a place at the Open will be also guaranteed a spot at Royal Birkdale. These are a wonderful few weeks in golf, but there can never be a guarantee in these parts that the rain will stay away.