The Scottish Open returns to Gullane Golf Club for the second time in four years this week. Located in East Lothian, about 20 miles east of Edinburgh, the course sits on the blustery southern shore of Scotland and has featured a classic seaside links course for more than 350 years. Last year, the Open joined the European Tour’s Rolex Series, an eight-tournament swing with each event having a $7 million winning purse.
Stewart Duff, 50, Gullane’s course manager, talked about storm winds, hosting pressures and who he thinks will contend. The conversation has been edited and condensed.
What added pressure comes with hosting the Scottish Open?
I think it’s just the expectancy of everybody. I come from the small town, Gullane, of about 3,500 people. Most people play golf and are members of the golf club and play the courses around Gullane. The golf course is very much a part of the town. You want it in the best possible condition for them, yourself, the staff and members and the town as well. And of course the tour players. It’s a lot of pressure to please everybody, but it’s good to have pressure.
What did you learn from first hosting the Open in 2015?
As much as we tried to get everything done for that first tournament, there were still small things we didn’t get to. It wasn’t noticeable, but there’s always something. Everything came off well; we had good weather and a good tournament. This year, we put more pressure on ourselves and we raised our standards a little bit higher. We’re very good, but we’re still trying to get better. In the end, the weather has the final say.
We added more staff and we’re getting more things done. Everybody aspires to a course like Augusta. But if you don’t have 100 staff and course closures, you’re not going to achieve those standards. You have to be realistic. We are by no means perfect, but then again most courses aren’t either.
How much input does the European Tour have on the course design?
We work very closely with them. Everything is discussed. It’s not a case of them telling us to do something. It’s a good dialogue between us. When the guys come up on the course in the final stages — to check fairways or cut back roughs — everything is discussed. It’s healthy.
Stewart Duff is the course manager at Gullane Golf Club, the site of the Scottish Open this week.
In June, a summer storm with winds reaching nearly 70 miles per hour blew apart a hospitality tent at the course. Are winds an issue at Gullane?
We are a very exposed links course, but we generally don’t get winds like that. That was just one of those freak incidents. It was installed right, it just came down in the winds. I was in the clubhouse with two members of the European Tour when someone said the marquee just blew apart over into the 17th fairway. I couldn’t believe it. One of the guys had just been working in there five minutes before it blew over. Thankfully no one was injured. The marquee is back up now.
That said, the course is very exposed. They will have to play with their heads a bit. Play low and keep it in the fairway. Looking at the long range forecast, it’s looking like light winds between 8 to 10 miles per hour, which will be good for the players, and we’ll likely see some good scores.
It’s been said that East Lothian was designed by Mother Nature with some of the best golf terrain in the world.
We have some fantastic golf courses. Muirfield is one mile up the road and is fantastic. North Berwick Golf Club, five miles away, is quirky. That’s just the old-school golf courses. We have some new kids on the block, too. It’s just golfing paradise. Everybody says St. Andrews is, but this is a good second to it. There’s so much variety. It’s superb.
How should pros play this course?
Keep the ball straight and on the fairway, and keep it low. A lot of pitch and runs to the greens, and don’t be trying to lob wedge to the greens. This is practice for these guys as they get their shots ready for the British Open. The conditions are very, very similar. If you’re going to be spraying the ball or if you’re no good off the tee, you’re going to get yourself into trouble and find one of the bunkers, or get into the rough, and that’s going to cost you. Within the ropes is very playable, outside you’re in trouble. Keep it straight and you’ll be fine.
Who will play well at the Scottish Open?
Justin Rose is my favorite. I also like Henrik Stenson. I’m dying to see Patrick Reed get out here. I loved how he played at Gleneagles during the Ryder Cup. I love what he did at Augusta. I love how he plays now. He’s very competitive and plays some great golf. I don’t know what he’s like on links courses, but he could be real good. I just like his attitude. Rickie Fowler could do well again. He played well last time. He won. He knows the tracks well.