The Renaissance Club, the site of the Genesis Scottish Open which starts on Thursday, seems to have been there for hundreds of years, like so many other great golf courses in Britain.
Like all true links courses, it meanders along the shoreline with few trees; wind, rain, heat and cold become problems for the players. He has firm fairways that can propel a well-hit shot forward an extra 50 yards or punish an equally well-hit shot with an unlucky rebound.
The field has tall golden fescue grass that billows in the wind. Brown-tinged greens ripple subtly in the center and boldly at the edges. And, of course, deep bunkers swallow balls hurtling toward their targets.
It is in the best neighborhood of the city to play golf. Muirfield, home of the Honorable Edinburgh Company of Golfers and regular host of the British Open, adjoins the course. and by the way is North Berwick Golf Club, where this sport has been practiced since 1832.
But the Renaissance Club, now in its fifth year as host of the Scottish Open, opened in 2007 after two American brothers developed the club. The tournament course is the product of an extensive renovation in 2014, which opened up some of the holes with views of the water.
However, its architect, Tom Doak, is not known for building courses that host professional golf championships. This was the first.
So how did the Renaissance Club come to host a tournament that has grown in importance? (It offers entry to the British Open to players in the top five, and is sanctioned by the PGA Tour and DP World Tour, which means more money and ranking points.)
The change began in 2011 with a broader strategy to play in conditions that would approximate the British Open that is often held a few days later. The Scottish Open had been around, off and on and under various sponsors, for around 50 years at that time.
The organizers partnered with Visit Scotland, the country’s tourist office, to find places that would also capture the imagination of tourists. While Scotland has a variety of topography for its golf courses, Scottish golf conjures up images of windswept bouncy courses.
“We launched a linking strategy in 2011 and decided to move from Loch Lomond to Castle Stuart,” said Rory Colville, Genesis Scottish Open championship director. “We decided that the best thing for the players was to play golf the week before the Open Championship. The financial benefit of the first Scottish Open at Castle Stuart was said to have exceeded £5 million. [about $6.3 million]. That’s a really positive thing.”
Loch Lomond, which had hosted the tournament for over a decade, was an estate golf course with streams and trees dating back centuries. It is classified as one of the best courses in the world. But its trees and streams don’t evoke the same images of Scottish golf.
Castle Stuart, like the Renaissance Club, is a modern course built to look as if it has been on the ground forever. The difference was in the design team.
Opened in 2009, it was designed by Gil Hanse, an American architect who restored courses for the US Open and PGA Championship, including Los Angeles Country Club and Southern Hills in Oklahoma. At Castle Stuart, Hanse worked with Mark Parsinen, who found the land, to build a Highland course with sweeping views, firm fairways and deep bunkers.
“Although at the time Castle Stuart was a relatively young golf course, it featured everything one would want from a new links course as a venue,” said Colville. “It was a fair test of golf, but it was also the right kind of test in the pre-Open warmup,” in that it wasn’t set up to penalize too much.
“The players don’t want to take a beating in the face of a major championship,” he said. “Castle Stuart was the right kind of golf course. Also, it had this fantastic scenic setting to showcase golf to the world. It was a really rewarding experience to bring the Scottish Open to the Highlands.” And he produced solid champions: Luke Donald, Phil Mickelson and Alex Noren.
The strategy in those years was to use a rotation, or calendar, of courses similar to what the British Open does by moving the championship to a set number of venues. For the Scottish Open these included Royal Aberdeen, Gullane and Dundonald.
“We had an exceptional experience at Royal Aberdeen,” Colville said of the tournament in 2014. “Justin Rose won there in great style. Rory McIlroy played there and won the Open the following week.
Gullane had the advantage of being close to the capital, Edinburgh, which increased the number of spectators.
But the best players resisted a rotation before the official Open Championship rotation. It meant that they would potentially have to learn a new course every year. There were also economic reasons to hold an event at the same stop with the same planned infrastructure.
“At Loch Lomond, we build an event year after year,” said Colville. “We needed to find a home to make it the scale it needs to be. That’s tricky when you look at a member club, with a larger number of members who don’t want the yearly interference of golf course closures and disruption to their daily play.”
The Renaissance Club had been founded by brothers Jerry and Paul Sarvadi. Paul is the CEO of Insperity, a human resources company, and Jerry spent his career in aviation fuel.
On the club’s tenth anniversary in 2018, Paul Sarvadi spoke about his commitment to continuing to host the Scottish Open. “While we are proud of our first 10 years, we are even more excited about the next 10 years,” he said.
Colville said the brothers were passionate about creating a home for the Open.
“They have built a long-term television complex and parking facilities,” he said. “They have built the infrastructure that makes it feasible to hold the event year after year. They have turned it into a viable event.”
They have also allowed tinkering on the course. “Our agronomy team has worked closely with the club to improve conditions and refine the golf course.”
Doak, who declined to comment, is best known for designing destination locations on extraordinary terrain, such as Barnbougle in Tasmania, Cape Kidnappers in New Zealand and Pacific Dunes in Oregon. It has largely avoided commissions or restorations of fields that will host tournaments.
“I never really thought I would do tournament golf courses,” he told the Golf Channel in 2019. Asked what he did to create a course tough enough for the pros, he added: “It’s getting into their heads a little bit. You want to do things that make them think and play it safe a little bit.”
Since the Renaissance Club course was renovated in 2014, Doak has been less involved in the changes from year to year. The ownership group brought in Padraig Harrington, a three-time Grand Slam champion and former Ryder Cup captain, to inquire about the course from the perspective of a tournament player.
“You get the perspective of someone with their liaison credentials to help refine the golf course and make it better,” Colville said. “He added some subtle design features to make the rough more criminal and changed a lot of the cut lines on the fairways.”
In the five years since the course began hosting the event, the Scottish Open has achieved elevated status with its sanctioning by the PGA and DP World tours. It has secured Genesis, the luxury car company, as a title sponsor.
“We expect to be the highest attended Scottish Open this year, with over 70,000 spectators,” said Colville.
“This year we have eight of the 10 best players in the world. That is a vote of confidence that they like the golf course and they like the facilities.”