The Genesis Scottish Open celebrates its 50th anniversary with a new chapter in the history of the tournament. The National Open for the birthplace of the real, ancient game is making its debut as a jointly sanctioned event on both the PGA TOUR and DP World Tour. Fourteen of the top 15 players in the world are scheduled to compete at The Renaissance Club in one of the strongest fields of the year.
To prepare for this historic week, here are 5 things to know about the venue for the Genesis Scottish Open, The Renaissance Club in North Berwick. It was designed by an American, but fits right in with its historic neighbors in Scotland’s golf-rich region of East Lothian.
1. MODERN LOOK, HISTORICAL SETTING
It was in 1744 that the Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers established 13 rules for the game of golf. That was three decades before the United States declared its independence from Britain. The Honorable Company found a permanent home in Muirfield in 1891. Muirfield, still part of The Open Rota, borders The Renaissance Club, which is a modern venue in this historic setting.
It was not a group of Scots in the 18th century who founded The Renaissance Club, but a group of Americans in the 20th century. The Sarvadi family was in Pinehurst, North Carolina, two decades ago when an associate asked if they would be interested in building a field in Scotland. That associate was Don Lewis, whose father-in-law, Pandel Savic, was one of the co-founders of Jack Nicklaus’ Muirfield Village (a course Nicklaus named after Scotland’s Muirfield, the site of his first Open win).
Jerry Sarvadi, who made his fortune on jet fuel, took the lead among the nine brothers. He was invited to play Muirfield shortly before the 2002 Open Championship and was delighted by what he saw on the neighboring property. He met with the trustees of the proposed site for the new field, which was owned by the Duke of Hamilton, and after several trips to Scotland, he signed a 99-year lease in 2005.
The Sarvadis added another American to the fold, hiring Tom Doak to design the course. Doak hails from Michigan, but has a lot of experience working with firm seaside turf that is more suited to golf courses, especially at Oregon’s Bandon Dunes Resort, where he built Pacific Dunes. Ranked 18th on Golf Digest’s list of the best courses in the United States, that course opened in 2001. Doak, one of today’s foremost architects, is known for using short grass, dramatic slopes and firm conditions to create a challenge, just like Augusta. National’s architect, Alister Mackenzie, who Doak wrote a book about. Doak’s other Top 100 Designs include Sebonack Golf Club in New York, Ballyneal in Colorado, the Old Macdonald Course at Bandon Dunes, and Rock Creek Cattle Company in Montana.
“Our intention was always to create a course that felt like it belonged on the site and on the East Lothian coastline,” said Doak, a global golf architecture scholar who spent his first year of university caddying at St. Andrews and studying the great UK courses, just as his mentor, Pete Dye, had done.
The result at The Renaissance Club is not an American-influenced course in Scotland, but a tribute to Scottish golf created by Americans.
2. THE MUIRFIELD BUSINESS
While most trees are absent from the Scottish countryside, The Renaissance Club was built on a site that featured 300 acres of pine trees and required 8,500 tons of felled timber. According to Sarvadi, the property’s unusual tree line was the result of the Forestry Commission of Great Britain planting large stands of pine and sycamore trees after World War II. When The Renaissance Club team removed tree stumps, they found pure sand under the trees.
Upon opening, Sarvadi and Doak kept a piece of trees on the property. These well-placed pins exert their influence on some tee shots and approach shots. Many of them were still around when the Scottish Open came around in 2019, but a batch of trees were uprooted from the ground ahead of the 2020 event, altering the aesthetics of the track.
In fact, the trees proved to be an important business asset for The Renaissance Club, as they also served to protect neighboring Muirfield.
“Muirfield owned all the dunes north of the field,” Doak recalls. “But The Renaissance Club owned the woods up to the wall on the eighth green at Muirfield, so to protect that boundary…the (Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers) offered to sell some of their land on the dunes, which we happily accept. .”
Doak told The Fried Egg podcast last year that “as far as Muirfield knew, we would take down all the trees and build a hole right there and salute the Muirfield members.” Doak says that Sarvadi and the team never planned to do this, but the leverage came in handy nonetheless.
In addition to establishing a defined buffer zone, Muirfield used some of his acquired land to move around the ninth tee during the 2013 Open Championship. Meanwhile, The Renaissance Club applied to extend its course into the newly acquired dunes, a process that it took about five years. When given the green light, Doak was brought in to drill three new holes directly on shore. Those holes are numbers 9, 10 and 11 on a normal day and numbers 12, 13 and 14 for the Scottish Open.
3. ROAD TO THE COAST
Beginning with the 10th hole, a short par 5 that is the seventh hole to be played every day, this week’s spectators will see the course move towards the Firth of Forth. The next hole is a long par 4 that can stretch up to 510 yards and sometimes plays against the wind. Next comes The Renaissance Club’s signature stretch along the dunes.
“The most beautiful view on the course is when you walk onto the 12th and the Fidra Lighthouse (an uninhabited island in the Firth of Forth) comes into view after you couldn’t see it from the tee,” Doak said. “Then the next hole is played along the cliffs with a secluded beach to the left. And then on the 14th you turn around and play towards Arthur’s Seat (an ancient volcano) in Edinburgh around the curve of the coast.”
Numbers 12 and 14 for the Genesis Scottish Open are par 3s, while number 13 is a par 4. It’s a beautiful stretch for players who do the spin on a normal day, but the route was changed for the Genesis Scottish Open to prevent players from moving. across the course for a 10th-tee. The tournament uses the first six holes of the regular routing before closing out the first nine with what members play as numbers 16, 14, and 15. The last nine of the tournament begins on the members’ seventh hole. Numbers 7-13 are the opening of the last nine for the Genesis Scottish Open before the layout concludes with the same two holes the members finish on.
This route can lead to some longer walks between holes, but it prevents the middle of the course from starting with the treacherous tee shot along the cliffs at No. 13 (No. 10 in the normal layout).