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Gullane next up as Castle Stuart returns to rota

It was not quite an international incident, but Rory McIlroy has probably not endeared himself to the good golfing folk of the Highlands.

RORY McILROY: Rebuked for comments about Castle Stuart
RORY McILROY: Rebuked for comments about Castle Stuart

As Gullane, widely expected to be the venue for the 2015 Scottish Open, was finally confirmed as the host to next year's domestic showpiece at a press briefing yesterday, Castle Stuart's return to the rota was officially pencilled in for 2016.

The Inverness links had staged the championship for three years between 2011 and 2013 but, during that spell, a certain Master McIlroy did not venture northwards to compete. He had his reasons and, having made his first Scottish Open appearance since 2009 here at Royal Aberdeen, he stated why. "I missed out on Castle Stuart because I didn't really feel like it provided a true links test," he said earlier in the week.

Stuart McColm, the general manager of Castle Stuart, yesterday delivered his own response. "Rory has never been, so I don't know how you can say that if you've never been," said McColm, who was swift to emphasise the fact that when the wind finally whipped up during last year's championship the challenge rapidly intensified.

"Why doesn't he come and play? Without a wind, any links course is laid bare, but on the final day last year we got a two-club wind and there were only five scores under 70."

Despite McIlroy's rebuke, Castle Stuart proved a highly popular destination, not least for Phil Mickelson, who conquered there last year and went on to win the Open the following week.

The introduction to the Scottish Open rota of Gullane, that celebrated stretch of East Lothian linksland that golfers have been thrashing away on for more than 300 years, should be equally well received. The nearby Renaissance course, which opened its lavish doors in 2008, had also been hotly tipped as a potential venue but Gullane always had an edge.

"The Renaissance is exceptional but it's still bedding in and the turf at Gullane was exactly what we were looking for," said George O'Grady, the chief executive of the European Tour as he underlined the importance of the Scottish Open's much sought after slot in the schedule the week before the Open.

With more than 1000 acres of land, and three different courses to play with, the 2015 Scottish Open will be played over a composite layout. This championship layout will comprise 15 holes from Gullane No.1 and three holes from Gullane No.2 to make a 7257-yard, par-71 test. The fourth, fifth and 16th holes of the No.2 course will be used as the 15th, 16th and 17th of the championship course, while the second hole of Gullane No.1 will be used as the first. The original first will not be employed at all. It will all make sense this time next year.

As well as unveiling the venues for the next two years, officials revealed plans for a 54-hole qualifying tournament the week before the main event. Starting next year, at a course close to Gullane, the three-round shoot-out for home-based players will see the leading six earn a place in the field. "This continues our policy of supporting golf at all levels," said Martin Gilbert, the chief executive of Aberdeen Asset Management.

With a foothold in the Highlands, the north-east and, now, the east of the country, the Scottish Open needs to find a stop-off in the west. "2017 is a real possibility for the west of Scotland," added Gilbert, with Dundonald Links, near Irvine, being heavily touted.

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