Tom Doak is without a doubt one of the pre-eminent golf course architects of his generation. Five of the ultimate top 100 courses in the world are his original designs and he has had a hand in restoring and nurturing many other top 100 courses, all around the world.
However, when the Scottish Open visits his Renaissance Club design in East Lothian next week, this will be a first for Doak. He explains, ‘It's an entirely new experience for me; my courses have hosted amateur events and also the US Women's Open, but not a Tour event.’
‘I spent a year in the UK and Ireland after college and that's where my affinity for links golf started, it is always an inspiration for my work. The only feature I can think of which is a direct homage to something in Scotland though is the shallow shelf in the 8th green - I think it's the 14th or 15th as played for the Scottish Open - which is based on the 12th green on The Old Course at St. Andrews.’
It would be fair to say that the course the world will see for the Scottish Open isn’t a typical Doak creation. Accessibility and playability for golfers of all levels are key Doak hallmarks but features which aren’t particularly prevalent here. Why the difference? Doak explains, ‘My client was always interested in hosting a big professional event, so I had to respect that and change my design philosophy a bit, since I normally don't care at all about that.’
‘One feature I incorporated was having a couple of long par-4 holes (8 and 18 normally, 2 and 18 for the tournament) with very difficult greens. That's normally frowned on by American designers who think it's unfair, but I noticed several of them in my year abroad (like the 13th at Prestwick or the Road Hole at St Andrews) and was determined to incorporate one to test the players, both physically and mentally. If you're trying to test a plus-6 handicap you have to have a couple of features that a scratch player will struggle with.’
The Renaissance has a reputation as a tough driving course – and that has been exacerbated by some set-up decisions made by the club. ‘The course is now about half as wide as when I built it. They stopped mowing large portions of fairway a few years ago to prove that the course was a tough test, though I thought the length and difficulties around the greens would take care of most of that.’
Doak is phlegmatic about what happens when a course is picked to host a top event like the Scottish Open. ‘Mr. Sarvadi still asks my opinion of things, but for example it was not my idea to renumber the holes and put the most compelling part of the golf course right at the start (and likely not on TV). Once the Tour takes over, even the owner doesn't get a say, and the architect surely doesn't.’
What they won’t have banked on is the recent conditions in East Lothian. Doak believes that the wet year in Scotland so far means that ‘the rough could be pretty brutal for the Scottish Open’. It has been the wettest June in the East of Scotland for many years and the rough on all the local courses is high. Forget the wispy grass of last year’s Scottish Open at Gullane, this is deep, succulent, cloying rough that will gobble balls up and make them hard to get out.
But this isn’t just a long, tight course, the green complexes are dramatic at times too. Tom thinks you will need to be an all-round player, at the top of his game, to thrive. ‘The winner will have to drive it well and/or be strong enough not to care. But the hole locations on those greens really matter in terms of where you don't want to miss each day, so it will take a player who can think his way around the course and avoid bad errors.’
The world won’t see a typical Doak course when they turn on their TVs in a couple of weeks time. But we will see the players tested to the max over a demanding course. Tom is true to his philosophy on who he wants to see as the winner, ‘I absolutely don't care about the scoring, as long as the best players on the week rise to the top’. Given the quality of the course they are going to face, I suspect he will get his wish.
You can read my reviews of all the Tom Doak courses here -