GOLF fans from Badenoch and Strathspey and across the region are being urged to help give Castle Stuart the best chance of hosting the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open again next year.
Organisers at the links course want the four-day event that starts today (Thursday) to be on a par with, if not better than, the Irish Open.
It became the first European Tour event to attract crowds of more than 100,000 earlier this month.
An added attraction for fans is the chance to get photographs with the Ryder Cup trophy this weekend.
Tour organisers will not decide the venue of next year’s event until this week’s £2.5 million tournament is completed.
It has been speculated The Trump International Golf Links at the Menie Estate in Aberdeenshire – which was opened by American billionaire Donald Trump on Tuesday – could host the event in future.
“There is no crowd figure target as such,” said Fraser Cromarty, Castle Stuart’s sales and marketing director.
“Ireland had 112,000 spectators, which is just unbelievable and a new European Tour record, but if Northern Ireland can do it, let’s see if northern Scotland can follow them.
“The success of the event will be viewed in many different ways, including spectator numbers, so more fool ourselves as an area if we can’t get behind a world-class sporting event such as this in the Highlands.”
The tournament, which has again been preceded by a Pro-Am, attracted more than 50,000 people last year despite heavy rain washing out a full day’s play on the Saturday.
More than £70,000 has been splashed out on improving drainage at the course in a bid to avoid any disruption after downpours caused landslides and flooding 12 months ago.
Although confident the work will ensure the championship is not cut short again, Cromarty is steering clear of the weather forecast — which is currently suggesting showers on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“I haven’t looked and I’m not going to,” he said.
“It will be what it will be, but we will be okay this year.
“The course is miles better, especially after the maintenance work that was carried out.
“If we get a lot of rain, who knows? But the course can cope with whatever is thrown at it at the moment.”
A STAR-STUDDED field of 156 golfers, led by defending champion and world number one Luke Donald, has been completed with the late entry of triple Masters champion Phil Mickelson, who accepted an invitation from the sponsors.
The American was 58th in last year’s event but was joint runner-up at the Open a week later.
His inclusion adds to a mouth-watering line-up which includes three-time major champions Ernie Els and Padraig Harrington and leading Scots Paul Lawrie and Martin Laird.
Lawrie said: “Obviously you want to win your national Open, and I’m very much looking forward to going back – it would be great to be the champion.
“Unfortunately, people are going to remember the bad weather from last year, as it was horrendous.
“I hope that the weather is kinder this year because Castle Stuart is a stunning part of the world and they deserve to have four days of good golf.”
Leading Scots amateurs Brain Soutar (28) and Jack McDonald (19) will also tee off alongside the professionals after accepting invites, but British amateur champion Alan Dunbar has pulled out of the event.
Full details of all Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open ticket and hospitality offers can be found at: www.europeantour.com/tickets