With advanced ticket sales well ahead of last year’s numbers and excitement already building around Loch Lomond, record crowds are expected to flock to the west coast of Scotland this week for The Barclays Scottish Open.
It will be well worth the trip, for the field is one of the strongest assembled on The 2003 European Tour International Schedule, outside of next week’s Open Golf Championship at Royal St George’s.
Eduardo Romero will defend the title following his play-off victory over Fredrik Jacobson 12 months ago but will face a tough task in trying to become the first player to win successive Barclays Scottish Open titles against a field liberally sprinkled with world class players from both sides of the Atlantic.
Six Major Champions will play including Ernie Els, winner three years ago at Loch Lomond and the current leader of the Volvo Order of Merit, who will leave the Bonnie Banks and head to the south of England next week to defend his Open crown.
Completing the group are South Africa’s Retief Goosen, the man who followed Els onto the winners’ podium at Loch Lomond in 2001, Scotland’s Sandy Lyle and José Maria Olazábal of Spain, along with two Americans, John Daly and Phil Mickelson.
Whilst all seven winners of the prestigious title – Thomas Björn, Els, Goosen, Tom Lehman, Colin Montgomerie, Romero and Lee Westwood, have been warmly received, there was a special resonance to the cheers which rang around the ancient walls of nearby Rossdhu House in 1999 when Montgomerie triumphed.
A home winner is always a little extra special and Montgomerie gave the home supporters what they had longed for with a superb final round 64 which saw him win by three shots and provide the first Scottish winner on home soil since Ken Brown lifted the Glasgow Open at Haggs Castle in 1984.
“It was very special to me, coming from that side of Scotland myself and winning in front of such superb and knowledgeable crowds,” recalled Montgomerie. “The support I had was unbelievable.”
“I am very much looking forward to returning to Loch Lomond for The Barclays Scottish Open. I always enjoy playing in Scotland and playing in front of my home crowd.”
The seven time Volvo Order of Merit winner will be supported by a strong cast of his fellow countrymen including Sam Torrance, the Captain of last season’s winning Ryder Cup Team, who will return to Scotland next month to play in his first European Seniors Tour event, the Charles Church Scottish Seniors Open at The Roxburghe, after turning 50 on August 24.
All competitors who tee up at Loch Lomond will find a course which has drawn fulsome praise from all who have played on in since its birth in 1994 and one which is regularly features in the lists of the world’s best new courses.
The Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish masterpiece presents a golfing test which is fair but demanding and one which features some of the most spectacular views on earth, a point not lost on co-designer Weiskopf, the 1973 Open Golf Champion, who regards it as his lasting memorial to golf.
“It is the finest course I have ever been involved with. I don’t just mean outside the United States, it is my favourite by far,” said the American. “I had never seen a site like it, perhaps no designer ever will. The opportunity of designing the course carried with it an awesome sense of responsibility for Jay and me.
“It is one of the most beautiful places on earth, endowed with mature trees and breathtaking views with the history of Scotland lingering in the stones and in the water of the Loch.
“Time, and the golfers who come to play it, will make the final judgement but I believe it has become known as one of the most outstanding golf courses in the world.”