Monday, January 31, 2011

Architect Gil Hanse on Castle Stuart Hosting the Scottish Open

Architect Gil Hanse's Castle Stuart Golf Links in Inverness, Scotland, which he co-designed with owner Mark Parsinen, was recently named the host site for the 2011-13 Barclays Scottish Open, quite the coup for a layout that opened in 2010. I had a chance to talk with Hanse about it.

This is the first time a design of his will host a major golf tour. TPC Boston in Norton, Mass., an Arnold Palmer layout that Hanse completely redid, is home to the PGA Tour's Deutsche Bank Championship, part of the FedEx Cup playoffs.

This year, Hanse will pull off a double-double. The week prior to the Deutsche, the playoffs get underway with The Barclays at Plainfield Country Club in Edison, N.J., a Donald Ross course Hanse reworked. Barclays also hosts the Scottish Open.

Hanse said he first was made aware that Castle Stuart was in the running as new site for the Scottish Open in December. It had been announced that Loch Lomand, the host for the past 14 years, was out and that the search was on for a links course since the event is held the week before The Open Championship.

"Mark Parsinen would love to have an Open Championship. This was an opportunity too good to pass up," Hanse said. "We'll present a tournament that sort of replicates what they're going to face."

This year, Royal St. George's is The Open venue.

Few courses host such an important tournament this early in its life, but Hanse said the turf at Castle Stuart is already in wonderful condition. That is owed to the fact that head greenkeeper Chris Haspell and general manager, Stuart McColm, who grew in the highly regarded Kingsbarns Golf Links originally owned by Parsinen, were part of the project from the earliest stages of construction. Hanse and his design partner, Jim Wagner, also brought to the table experience in establishing a new course.

"Everything we did, they were so heavily involved," Hanse said. "I'm perfectly comfortable that through the green will be fine."

The condition of the deep fescue areas will depend on the Highlands weather. A rainy spring and summer will produce thicker grasses than if there is a drought period, just as on any established links course.

As to how the golf course will hold up to the pros, that will depend on the weather. If conditions are benign, Hanse said, then, as on most links golf courses, the players will go very low. In harsh conditions, scores will skyrocket.

For the tournament, Hanse said he'd like to see a couple of relatively calm days and a couple of days of average summer conditions.

"I hope that the wind is not the story," he said.

Castle Stuart plays just over 7,000 yards from the back, but could easily be extended. According to Hanse, fill pads for additional tees were built but not turfed and now sit in the tall fescue. If they were to be used, the course would lengthened to over 7,400 yards. Hanse said he and Parsinen have no plans to utilize them this year.

"The thought now is to let them play and we'll observe and make modifications if necessary."

As far as holes Hanse said he is looking forward to seeing the pros tackle, he lists the third and the final three.

The third and 16th are drivable par-4s running in opposite directions so one should always be down wind. The 17th is a par-3 of 220 yards that should play into the prevailing summer breeze meaning players could have as much as a 3-wood in their hands. The 18th is a par-5 that will probably yield some eagles.

"A par there will be like making a bogey," Hanse said.

The tournament is not only great news for Castle Stuart and Hanse, but also for the Highlands region of Scotland that is never part of any major golf event.The hope is that Inverness, with a population of approximately 60,000, and Aberdeen, with a population of about 210,000 and 120 miles away, will heartily support the event.

"My expectation is that the community will be solidly behind this," Hanse said.

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