TURNBERRY, Scotland — Turnberry needs an Open Championship. It needs a regular European Tour event.
The town of Girvan, five miles south of Turnberry, could do with a regular dose of big-time golf.
I know Girvan. At least I remember Girvan.
Time was when this little seaside town was a popular tourist destination for Scottish families. In summer, the town would be packed with holiday makers from Glasgow.
I remember going to Girvan as a boy on a family holiday. Happy memories – for me and Girvan.
I remember a seaside town bustling with energy. There isn’t much energy in Girvan these days. It’s just another tired, rundown Scottish seaside town.
Pity, because it’s situated in one of the prettiest areas of Scotland. Aside from the nearby Turnberry Links, the most scenic of all the British links layouts, Girvan looks out onto Ailsa Craig, the Mull off Kintyre and the Island of Arran with its majestic Goat Fell mountain. On a clear day, you can see the coast of Ireland.
You only need to drive 17 miles south of Turnberry to the pretty seaside village of Ballantrae to get an idea of just how scenic this coastline is.
This is also Burns country, as in Scottish poet Robbie Burns. The countryside lends itself to poetry. Rolling farmland turns into rugged uplands as the hills sweep up from the coast.
No wonder people flocked here to get away from the city.
The advent of cheap air travel to Spain and other European destinations in the 1980s killed Girvan as a holiday destination. The town suffered as a result.
Despite the efforts of the South Ayrshire council to try to regenerate the area, Girvan is struggling. The town is currently reeling from the news of planned redundancies for 145 workers at the FMC Biopolymer plant, a seaweed reprocessing plant. That number may not seem a lot, but it’s huge for a town of only 8,000 people.
This year’s Open obviously won’t take the town back to its glory days, but the income the championship generates will be much welcomed.
Two years ago, a study estimated that approximately 75 million pounds were pumped into the Carnoustie region due to the Open Championship. Girvan would gladly welcome some of that money.
Although the idea of a luxury hotel and golf course with green fees of 210 pounds (approximately $300) goes against my blue-collar background, I can see the benefit Turnberry brings to the local area. Girvan needs Turnberry to be successful.
So the Open will help. So, too, would a regular European Tour event.
Leisurecorp, the group that owns Turnberry, wants to stage the European Open at Turnberry. The Leisurecorp-owned event is currently held at the London Club.
Leisurecorp has gone sour on the idea because it doesn’t want to jeopardize Turnberry’s place on the Open Championship rota.
“We were talking about the European Open and the ability to have it occasionally pass by at Turnberry,” Leisurecorp chief executive David Spencer said. “It would make sense for Leisurecorp to bring it here.
“We would only look at doing that if we took full counsel from the R&A and the European Tour. The Open Championship is the pinnacle of any tournament that can be staged at any venue, and it is very important to the future of Turnberry and the west coast of Scotland.”
R&A chief executive Peter Dawson admits he and his organization wouldn’t be best pleased for Turnberry to become a regular European Tour stop.
“We like to think the Open Championship venues are special in the sense they are not used as routinely as others,” Dawson said. “But we also recognize the realities of commercial life today, and it is something to be discussed.”
St. Andrews and Carnoustie stage the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship every year and yet are in no danger of coming off the Open rota. The same should be true of Turnberry.
If they want a solution then why not hold the European Tour event on Turnberry’s Kintyre course and save the Ailsa for the Open? There are plans to upgrade the Kintyre course anyway.
The good news for Girvan is that the R&A says it won’t have to wait another 15 years for The Open to return to Turnberry. Better news would be a regular European Tour stop for Scotland’s most scenic course.
Leisurecorp, the R&A and the European Tour need to find a way to make that happen. Girvan needs all the help it can get.