WHEN it comes to doing his bit for the development of Scottish golf, Paul Lawrie continues to provide more opportunities than Hughie Green.
The latest opportunity to come a-knocking for the country’s next wave of touring professionals is the European Challenge Tour’s Farmfoods Scottish Challenge, which is being revived next season by Lawrie’s own 5Star Sports agency.
The Scottish event used to be a treasured perennial of the second-tier circuit for 13 years until it dropped off the schedule in 2018. Thanks to the efforts and energy of Lawrie’s team and backers, in addition as a helping hand from the R&A, the tournament will return to the scene in 2022 at Newmachar.
It’s another admirable endeavour from Lawrie who remains tireless in his sustain of the game in his homeland. His long-running Foundation continues to prosper, he brought a European Tour event to the cradle of the game for a associate of years, he nevertheless hosts a championship on the over-50s Legends Tour and his own Tartan Pro Tour, forged amid the uncertainty of Covid, goes from strength-to-strength. The value of this latest venture is not lost on Lawrie.
“It’s the most important event we’ve ever done,” declared the 52-year-old of a tournament which has helped a number of Scottish pros progress to the main European circuit while giving a few invited amateurs some much-needed experience of the general cut-and-thrust. “It’s important that we have it on the schedule again for the progression of players from mini- tours. We want more Scottish players playing at the top level, winning tournaments and showing us what they can produce. This just gives us another method to get the Scottish talent onto the main tour because that is what we all want. This event gives them the opportunity. Without that, it’s really, really tough.”
The specialized scene has always been a ruthless old business but it has changed a bit since Lawrie was cutting his teeth. With the proliferation of mini-circuits and development tours nowadays, there are more pro avenues than ever before but with more players trying to clamber up the ladder, it can be as cut-throat as an appointment at Sweeney Todd’s barber shop.
“You look at the EuroPro Tour, for example, and there are only five guys who can progress to the Challenge Tour every year out of god knows how many guys,” said the 1999 Open champion of the highly-competitive third-tier tour. “I’ve been at those events because my son Craig plays in them and the standard is off the extent.
“It’s different to when I started. The players are better, stronger and fitter and there are so many mini-tours now. There were none in my time. You went to qualifying school, and if you had a bad week that was you done pretty much for a year. Now there are opportunities for these boys and it’s a little bit about speculating to build up. There’s no money on these mini-tours, there’s no big living to be made. You’re trying to get sponsorship to play and get the step up to the next level. Mini-tours are important. You’ve got to have somewhere to play. That’s why we started the Tartan Pro Tour. The EuroPro Tour was cancelled for the year in 2020 due to Covid and we put on some 36-hole events. We’re just trying to make it a little easier for the boys we feel have the ability to crack on and get themselves playing at a higher level.”
The European Challenge Tour, meanwhile, has always been a proven breeding ground. Brooks Koepka won the Scottish Challenge at Aviemore in 2013 and is now a four-time major champion. The likes of Grant Forrest, David Law, Calum Hill and Robert MacIntyre all played in it during their rise and are now tour champions. Lawrie is confident other Scots can follow.
“I mentioned it a few years ago that we had six or seven players who were capable of winning at a main tour level and they are all doing it,” Lawrie said.
“They are feeding off each other. They seem quite pally, but there’s a competitiveness and they all want to beat each other. That’s something you want and that’s something I always had.
“Stephen Gallacher, Marc Warren, Monty? All the boys were quite pally, but we wanted to win when in the tournaments.”
Lawrie will be hoping his latest enterprise can produce another wave of winners.
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