Nearly 30 years have passed since the last of eight successive Bell’s Scottish Opens at the Perthshire venue, where Ian Woosnam was a double champion and fields included Seve Ballesteros, Sandy Lyle, Colin Montgomerie, Nick Faldo, Payne Stewart, Fred Couples and Vijay Singh.
The James Braid-designed course isn’t long enough these days for a DP World Tour event, but it’s a perfect fit for the Senior Open Presented by Rolex, which is being held at Gleneagles for the first time on 21-24 July.
“Despite my memories of the PGA Centenary Course,” said Paul McGinley, who led Europe to a convincing 16.5-11.5 victory in the 2014 Ryder Cup, “the King’s is a true golf course. It has a bit of everything to make it a real test. There’s no right or wrong way to attack it, but you can’t hold back or it will eat you up.”
Changes have been made specifically with this event in mind. A new tee at the seventh hole, named Kittle Kink, has not only increased the length from 444 yards to 468 yards but also changed the angle for the drive by creating a more severe dog-leg.
Situated in an existing copse of trees, another new tee has lengthened the 12th, called Tappit Hen, by 33 yards, requiring a hefty hit is now required to carry the bunkers guarding the saddle that runs across the fairway.
For many, the 14th is the favourite on the course and, having been extended by 32 yards to 341 yards, the exciting risk-and-reward element at Dent Den has been retained.
Though not brand new, a back tee at the 18th will also ensure that a solid closing drive is required to clear another of those saddles, which had become easy to clear from the old tee due to the enhanced equipment.
“It will be a different test to the last time many of us played it, but it will still be as true as ever,” said Montgomerie, who had victory in his sights in 1992 until Australian Peter O’Malley covered the last five holes in an astonishing seven-under-par as he signed off with a 62 to finish two shots ahead of the home man. “A lot of the Americans won’t have played it before, but I can assure them they will love it.”
The event’s 35th edition is taking place the week after the 150th Open at St Andrews. With some Scottish fans missing out in the ballot for that, the Senior Open could benefit, especially as Gleneagles is widely recognised as the best tournament venue in the home of golf.
“I think the crowds could be the best we’ve ever seen at the Senior Open,” added Montgomerie, who will be joined in flying the Saltire by Lyle, Paul Lawrie, recent first-time Legends Tour winner Euan McIntosh and possibly others from qualifying events.
“People will want to come to a venue that is steeped in history and Gleneagles is a real spectators’ course. We saw that with the Ryder Cup in 2014. It’s a wonderful place to watch golf.
“Going back to Gleneagles will bring back a lot of memories for many of us. I made the cut there as an amateur in the 1987 Scottish Open. It’s a special place and I can’t wait for July.”
The prize fund of $2.75m represents a $250,000 increase on last year, when Welshman Stephen Dodd pulled off a stunning success at Sunningdale. Three-time Open champion Padraig Harrington is making his debut on this occasion, having been one of McGinley’s assistants for that Ryder Cup victory.
“Gleneagles is obviously a very special place for me,” he said of planning that winning week over an American side led by Tom Watson to perfection, “and it’s going to be a nice feeling when we get to go back there in July. All these years later, I still struggle to put that week into words. It was magical and something I will never forget.”
Others set to be in the field include former Open champions Ernie Els, Darren Clarke and Tom Lehman, as well as Bernhard Langer, a four-time winner of this event, including his breakthrough in 2010 at Carnoustie.
“This event is always very special for me,” said the German, who is still racking up Champions Tour titles at the age of 64. “Being a four-time winner is one of the best accolades you can have, and I am very proud and happy to have that achievement. Hopefully there’s one more left in me and I would love to do it in Scotland this year.”
Charismatic Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez, the winner at St Andrews in 2018, will be chasing another Scottish success, with hopefuls from around the world set to be among a bumper entry on this occasion.
For the majority, a qualifying test will await at either Blairgowrie, Glenbervie or Ladybank on the Monday of the championship, which was first played at Turnberry and, in addition to Carnoustie and St Andrews, has also paid visits to Royal Aberdeen, Muirfield and Royal Troon over the years.
Ticket prices range from £20-£40, while the event is also part of a Scottish Summer Golf Pass that has been introduced this year. It costs £85 and permits a ticket holder to attend one day of the Genesis Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club, the Senior Open and the AIG Women’s Open, which is being held at Muirfield for the first time.