The SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge hosted by Macdonald Hotels and Resorts is an event which marries a stunning golf course in breath-taking surroundings with a lucrative prize fund and some of the most knowledgeable fans in golf. Here are some of the stories to look out for this week…
Koepka’s chase for family double
One of the most famous surnames in recent Challenge Tour history appears on an entry list week for the first time since the 2013 edition of this event.
Chase Koepka makes his debut on Europe’s top developmental tour this week, fittingly at the tournament which witnessed a glorious conclusion to the Challenge Tour career of his brother Brooks.
The older of the Koepka brothers clinched instant promotion to the European tour with victory at Macdonald Spey Valley Golf Club three years ago and has since gone on to become one of the best young players in the world – currently 15th in the Official World Golf Ranking.
His younger brother turned professional just two weeks ago and he will be hoping to emulate Brooks by getting his career off the ground via the European route.
When asked if he got some tips from his brother about the course this week, Chase, who is slightly more diminutive than his brother but with very similar facial features, said: “Well he’d probably tell me to clear the 350 yard fairway bunkers from the tee first, so I’m not sure I can take on everything he says!”
Talkin’ ‘bout ‘aye’ generation
Exciting times for Scottish golf as a new generation of young stars emerges from the amateur ranks and several of those young upstarts are in the field this week.
Robert MacIntyre is the most in-form of the youngsters, having finished runner-up at the British Amateur Championship last weekend, only just missing out on a dream ticket to the Masters, US Open and Open Championship in the process.
Ewen Ferguson and Grant Forrest, both members of the victorious Great Britain and Ireland team for the 2015 Walker Cup team, are also both present to try their hand among the professionals, alongside Connor Syme, the reigning Australian Amateur Champion.
Those four players had the pleasure of playing nine holes in the company of the country’s most recent Ryder Cup star Stephen Gallacher on the Tuesday prior to the event, so they will not be shy of inspiration this week.
If they do manage to put in a big performance in Aviemore, it could be career-changing as the points they earn will count towards the Road to Oman Rankings and may conjure dreams of European Tour promotion for the 2017 season.
Duncan bunkin’ at home
Following his maiden Challenge Tour victory at the Challenge de Madrid in May, Duncan Stewart arrives in Aviemore as the highest-placed Scot in the Road to Oman Rankings.
To add to that, the 32 year old’s home is just 20 minutes down the road at Grantown-on-Spey, so he will no doubt feel at ease as he aims to become the first home winner of this event since George Murray in 2010.
He also enters this week in hot form, having led after the first and third rounds of last week’s Najeti Open before finishing in a share of fourth place in France.
Is a glorious hometown (sort of!) victory on the cards?
Three lions to become four?
The recent history of this event has been dominated by Englishmen – Jack Senior’s victory last year made him the third winner from south of the border to win in the last four years.
The former Walker Cup player returns to defend his title this week, having not been able to gain graduation to the European Tour last year, and a top ten finish in his last Challenge Tour start in Czech Republic means his game is in good shape for the challenge.
Sam Walker, the only two-time winner of this event (2006 and 2012), is also in the field, as are both of the English winners on the Challenge Tour this season, Jordan L Smith and Gary King.
The English challenge at the Scottish Challenge is sure to once again be a strong one.
Football fever reaches Scottish Hydro
Following the thoroughly enjoyable FootGolf battle which unfolded on your screens last week in anticipation of the Euro 2016 contest (below), the football will once again come out this week on the first hole of the Spey Valley course.
Scotland manager Gordon Strachan will be watching on as four Challenge Tour players take on the first hole in a way they will have never done before, using a football.
Ahead of Wednesday’s crunch match between Republic of Ireland and Italy, Ruaidhri McGee of the former and Niccolo Quintarelli of the latter will pit their footballing wits against local favourite Duncan Stewart and defending SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge champion Jack Senior.
It remains to be seen whether they can match the skills of Spaniard Emilio Cuartero Blanco, but no doubt they will have just as much fun along the way.