May 1-2 Spey Valley
May 7-8 Tain & Brora
June 26-27 Duddingston
July 18-19 Rowallan Castle
October 8-9 The Duke's
A "responsibility to golf in Scotland" has led to the Scottish PGA taking control of the pay-as-you-play Optical Express Tour in a move that will bolster both the Tartan Tour's schedule and the playing opportunities for golfers on home soil.
The Optical Express Tour, previously known as the Xltec Pro Tour, was an independent circuit set up by Alan Tait and Nigel Scott-Smith two years ago. Despite the acclaim that greeted its arrival on the domestic scene, there was a fear that the whole concept would wither on the vine as entries for events barely reached the 50 mark.
With the PGA now on board, an important playing platform, particularly for young professionals who are trying to gain a foothold in the game, has been safeguarded. Crucially, the six-event schedule, which will count towards the Scottish PGA's order of merit, will maintain the tour's original ethos and will be open to all pros, male and female, as well as offering places for elite amateurs.
To some critics, the PGA has always been viewed as a closed shop and one reluctant to roll out the welcome mat to non-members. These are changing times, however. As all the bodies involved with Scottish golf strive to work together – sometimes with the odd cross word – for the betterment of the game here, the PGA is playing a key role.
Tait and Scott-Smith had ambitions of producing a genuine developmental tour in Scotland to give up-and-coming talent the chance to flourish in their own backyard instead of heading off to foreign fields in search of opportunity. While that ideal remains some way off, this is another significant step in the right direction.
"The PGA, while being a members body, has a responsibility to golf in general in Scotland," said Michael MacDougall, the Scottish PGA secretary, who is hoping for regular fields of around 100 for the Optical Express events.
"It's over 110 years old, we're steeped in traditions, but there is a realisation that we need to open up a wee bit. This is an opportunity to do that. Perhaps there was a perception [that outsiders were not welcome]. This might not be to all of our members' tastes but the responses I've had have been very positive. This is a developmental tour to an extent and one that will benefit the game as a whole."
With a £100 entry fee, as well as backing from the title sponsor, the pros can expect to compete for a purse of around £15,000 per event. This addition to the schedule, allied to the tournaments unveiled earlier this year, has helped increase the Tartan Tour's overall prize fund by some £100,000 to around £700,000.
"We did everything we possibly could to make an independent tour work in Scotland," added Tait, the founder of the original Optical Express Tour.
"Instead of saying bye bye to such an important sponsor as Optical Express, we felt that the next best thing to do for golf in Scotland, and its future, was to hand it over to the Scottish PGA who will take it to the level it needs to go to."