It was his way of saying ‘thanks’ to the people supporting two separate pro-ams that have teed things up nicely for the Farmfoods Scottish Challenge, which helped by support from the R&A, is back on the Challenge Tour schedule for the first time since 2018, when it was won by David Law.
“In the first instance, I was going to play in both pro-ams,” Lawrie told The Scotsman after seeing the last groups out at the Aberdeenshire venue on Wednesday before jumping into a buggy with his youngest son, Michael, to hand out refreshments to golfers out on the course.
“But, when I stood on the tee at the Scottish Seniors (which he was hosting at Royal Aberdeen) last year, I got great feedback from that because everybody appreciated me seeing them and getting a picture with them, so I decided to do that for this event as well.”
Aiming to build on the success of the event when it was run by Bounce Sport during a ten-year stint Macdonald Spey Valley in Aviemore, Lawrie has resurrected a Scottish stop on the Challenge Tour through his sports management and events company, Five Star Sports Agency .
“It was important that this event came back,” said the 1999 Open champion. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the work that Iain Stoddart and Bounce did with this event put so many of our players on the main tour and it’s great that we’ve managed to get it up and running again.”
As was the case with the Paul Lawrie Match Play event when it was staged on what’s now the DP World Tour, it’s not just a case of putting a name to something or being associated with it. Lawrie is rolling up his sleeves to help Michael McDougall, his right-hand man, and the other members of a small team.
“There’s a lot of work,” he said. “Mikey is here, there and everywhere. He does a great job for us anyway, but this week he’s like Superman. We haven’t got a big staff and Mikey ends up doing most of it along with Reece Mitchell. My son, Michael, is also here, so we’re all pitching in and working hard. We’re all proud to see the event back as it’s important that it’s on the schedule.”
The backing of his loyal sponsors has helped make that happen, with a prize pot of £230,000 up for grabs over the next four days. “The nice thing from [wife] Marian and I’s point of view is that when we do go to people and say ‘right, we’ve got an idea’, we’ve got quite a few who back us all the time,” he said.
“I’m talking about Eric Herd at Farmfoods, Gary Ross at Gym Rental, Fugro and other companies that are always there for us when we knock at their door. They are not going to say ‘yes’ unless they are going to get something out of it or their customers are not going to get looked after. They’d do it once and not come back. But the fact they do come back and say ‘yes’ is nice for us.”
While Newmachar has hosted PGA EuroPro Tour and Tartan Tour events in the past, this is on a different level. “The club have been brilliant to deal with. They’ve been amazing, in fact,” said Lawrie.
“I played here three weeks ago and I thought we were in a wee bit of trouble as the course was struggling for growth at that time, but they’ve worked so hard to get it going. The staff are here morning and night to make sure the golf course is presented and it looks great.
“They’ve got volunteers out every night sanding divots. It’s just an amazing job everyone has done to make it all come together.”
By all accounts, the players are liking the current test of golf. “I think the good thing from our point of view is that it’s not a modern-esque golf course,” said Lawrie of that. “It’s not a golf course where they are going to stand up and hit the driver off every tee and overpower it.
“You are going to have to get in position to score here. Scoring will be low, I assume, because it’s not the longest of golf courses, but you have to hit it in certain places and, if you don’t, you are going to be in a little bit of bother as there are a lot of trees,
“There’s a lot of position play out here, which the modern game is not about now. It’s a little different and maybe that’s why they are enjoying it.”
Daniel Young spearheads a sizeable Scottish contingent that also includes 2018 Open Silver Medal winner Sam Locke and Jack McDonald, a winner here on the PGA EuroPro Tour. For all the home players, it’s an opportunity to really kick-start their careers.
“We’ve got a number of players on our books who are just needing an invite on the Challenge Tour,” said Lawrie, speaking with his management hat on. “I think there’s a lot of them capable of playing at a higher level and there’s been no Tour School for them to try and make that jump up over the last couple of years, so we thought we need to get our own Challenge Tour event on the go and we use the invites for the players we are looking after, which we’ve done.
“I understand there are a few players who are a little bit upset they’re not here because I’ve mainly used the invites for the guys I manage and we are hoping to change that a little bit next year.
“But, in the first year, we are under-writing it, we are taking the risk and we feel it is our call. People had the chance to win a spot on the Tartan Pro Tour and there will be more spots through that next year. But this year it’s mainly for our guys and I’m not losing sleep over that.”
Italian Matteo Manassero and Irishman Paul Dunne, both DP World Tour winners, are the two headline names in the field for an event that was won by Brooks Koepka in 2013, providing him with a springboard to win four majors.
“It’s a quality field, but it’s always going to be that way on the Challenge Tour,” observed Lawrie. “You are always going to have young players who are keen as they are on the way up. And you are always going to have players who, unfortunately, have got to the top but have slipped down a peg or two and need to get back up there, so it will be competitive.”
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.