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For the Scottish Open, the Renaissance Club Toughens Up

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There was a certain quantity of grumbling — justified or not — about how some European Tour courses play too easy, most notably in 2019 when Rory McIlroy criticized the playability on the Renaissance Club in North Berwick, Scotland, which has hosted the Scottish Open since 2019.

“I don’t think the courses are arrange hard enough,” McIlroy told reporters on the time after the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, also played in Scotland. “There aren’t any penalties for bad shots.

“I don’t feel like good golf is considered well because it could possibly be. It happened within the Scottish Open at Renaissance. I shot 13-under and finished thirtieth [actually tied for 34th] again. It’s not a superb test. I believe if the European Tour desires to put forth a very good product, the golf courses and setups should be tougher.”

Other players soon voiced similar concerns. Ernie Els of South Africa said he agreed “100%” with McIlroy. “European Tour flagship tournaments and other top events should be ‘major’ tough. Test one of the best!” Els said on Twitter.

Edoardo Molinari of Italy, a three-time winner on the DP World Tour, said on Twitter: “Good shots should be rewarded and bad shots should be punished … it’s that straightforward!”.

Now, either from player input or owners simply making improvements, several courses have made changes in Europe and the US, including the Renaissance Club, which is hosting the Scottish Open for the fourth time starting on Thursday.

Padraig Harrington of Ireland, a three-time major winner who recently consulted with the course architect Tom Doak, admits it could have played easy at first.

“The primary yr had low scoring, but that was since the European Tour didn’t know the golf course,” Harrington said in regards to the initial yr the club hosted the tournament. “They went very easy on the setup. That’s when the Renaissance Club’s owner, Jerry Savardi, said, ‘Let’s toughen up this course.’”

Players like McIlroy were reacting to how officials arrange the course for the tournament, Doak said. Consider the weather.

“They’ve played the tournament there three years, and so they’ve not had a standard weather yr once,” he said. “It’s only been windy one or two days out of 12. It’s normally a windy place, it’s similar to Muirfield round the corner. The conditions make an enormous difference.

“But we don’t control the weather. You may’t construct a links course and tighten it up in order that it’s hard in benign conditions, because then when it’s windy the course is unattainable to play. You’ve to have some leeway. So we’re going slow with the changes. We don’t wish to overact.”

A lot of the changes have been incremental.

“The last two or three years we’ve mostly done little tweaks — fairway bunkers and contouring,” Doak said. “We’re just working across the margins. After I first designed the course [in 2008], we were just going to host an event once. You don’t really design for a one-time event, I design for member play.

“But once you’re going to host a tournament on a repeated basis, then you want to think in regards to the core function of the golf course and what we wish to do in a different way due to that.”

They’ve also let the rough grow. “We’re attempting to get the rough rougher,” he said.

The addition of fairway pot bunkers [deep with high side walls] removed from the tee should present an increased challenge for players by forcing them to think more fastidiously about their shots and strategy, Doak said.

“We never really considered it when the course was first built,” he said. “I just never anxious about players carrying 300 yards. But now a bunch of them can.”

Other more significant changes were considered, like changing greens, or making them smaller.

“It will be really difficult to alter a green and get it back to the suitable condition before the subsequent tournament.” Doak said. He’s waiting to see how the course plays in additional normal weather conditions. “Then we’ll see if we keep going with changes, or if we’re good where we’re.”

Harrington, who won the US Senior Open last month, approached the changes from a player’s standpoint.

“As a player, you would like those changes straight away,” he said. “In an ideal world, all golf courses evolve. Golf courses are all the time changing. But you’ve gotten to go slowly with these changes, and you possibly can’t go into it making it tougher for the sake of creating it tougher.

“We’ve made subtle changes to separate the sphere slightly bit,” Harrington said. “You’ve to make your golf course a stern test.

“I really like to punish the guy who doesn’t take it on, or chickens out and bails. But no person desires to stop a player from playing well. We would like to encourage them to play well, tease them, and ask them to hit more great shots. But we’re going to punish you when you take a shot and miss it.”

Harrington also underscored how the changes will force players to more fastidiously select their shots.

“We more clearly defined the penalties, and if a player desires to take them on, great,” he said. “But they separate the winner from the guy who finishes tenth. For those who’re not playing well, there’s a variety of danger. But when you’re playing well, you’ll get rewarded.

The goal of Savardi, the club’s owner. was easy. “I need a course that rewards the great shots, and punishes the bad ones,” he said. “Regardless of what the weather is.”

Yet Savardi still has an eye fixed on the weather.

“The greens are bone dry, and our fairways are rock hard,” he said. “If the weather stays like this, this place goes to be on fire.”

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