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Feature on Loch Lomond

Thirty minutes from Glasgow and half an inch from heaven, Loch Lomond Golf Club offers a truly memorable experience to visitors and members alike. It is also the ideal setting for the game's greatest contest, the Ryder Cup, writes Paul Trow

Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder. But in this case that is nonsense. There are some things which all beholders recognise as innately beautiful. Loch Lomond is just such a place.

The golf course on the 'Bonnie' banks of Scotland's most evocative tourist attraction was laid out around a decade ago and its architects, the 1973 Open champion Tom Weiskopf and his partner Jay Morrish, are in no doubt about its worth.

"I consider Loch Lomond my lasting memorial to golf," wrote Weiskopf who first visited the site in 1989. "The opportunity of designing the golf course at Loch Lomond carried with it an awesome sense of responsibility for Jay and me.
"It is one of the most beautiful places on earth, endowed with mature trees and breathtaking views with the history of Scotland lingering in the stones and waters of the loch.

"Visits to the course since its completion lead me to believe it will become known as one of the most outstanding in the world. Time and the golfers who come to play it will make the final judgement."

Loch Lomond Golf Club's time has been short, but in the few years since Weiskopf's dream took shape across the water from Ben Lomond, its holes have established themselves among the most cherished in the British Isles.

No less a judge than Nick Faldo has declared that he "would like every course to match the conditions here" while this year's European Ryder Cup captain Sam Torrance, a fiercely patriotic Scot, has no doubt that "the golf course, environment and facilities are most definitely world-class".

Colin Montgomerie, European No 1 from 1993-99, believes it to be the best new course of recent years while double US Open winner Ernie Els has dubbed it "probably the best course in Europe" and Tom Lehman, Open champion in 1996, rates it as highly as Pebble Beach.

Never one to be upstaged when it comes to expressing a forthright opinion, Tony Jacklin was astonished when he paid his first visit. "This is the best course I've ever seen," enthused the former Open and US Open champion who captained Europe's Ryder Cup team four times during the 1980s. "One day it will be a venue for the Ryder Cup."

Loch Lomond is a club with a proud public face. Since 1996, it has been one of the prestige stops on the European Tour and for the last four years has occupied the sought-after slot immediately before the Open Championship. This year, with double the prize money on offer compared to 2000 (£2.2 million) and a four-year commitment until 2005, the tournament marks the revival of the Scottish Open title.

The event is one of a handful to enjoy the widespread exposure which BBC television coverage can provide while the roll call of champions - Thomas Bjorn, Lehman, Lee Westwood, Montgomerie and Els - underlines that this is a place where the cream rises to the top.

In addition to an already considerable contribution to the men's tour, Loch Lomond played an important part in the development of the women's professional game when it staged the sixth Solheim Cup between the United States and Europe last October. Afterwards, the victorious European captain Dale Reid declared that Loch Lomond was "one of the best venues I have ever been to and is the best matchplay course I have ever seen."

Loch Lomond has a largely international membership, representing over 40 different countries, yet it remains committed to the traditions and future health of the game. Since 1994, the club has donated fourball tee times to the Scottish Golf Union to sell to members of other clubs. The proceeds are then used to pay for lessons for junior golfers throughout Scotland and to date more than £200,000 has been raised for this cause.

Furthermore, juniors under the age of 16 will be admitted free of charge throughout the Scottish Open and several leading junior events have already been staged at Loch Lomond, including a recent round of the Faldo Junior Series.

And now the campaign is under way to bring golf's greatest show to this hallowed corner of Scotland in 2009. Indeed, it seems remarkable that in its 82-year history, the Ryder Cup has only once been held in golf's homeland - at Muirfield in 1973.

The owner of Loch Lomond Golf Club, the American businessman Lyle Anderson, believes that a Ryder Cup return to Scotland is long overdue and it is hard to disagree that this jewel of a course would be the ideal setting for the top men of Europe and the United States to pit their skills against one another.

Each criterion laid down by the Ryder Cup Committee which candidate courses must meet in order to qualify for consideration to stage the match has been met by the club's vice-president Keith Williams and his team of nearly 150 staff.

"We have some very good ideas and are fully satisfied that we can meet the criteria to stage the Ryder Cup," says Williams, formerly managing director of Wentworth Golf Club, England's best-known inland course. "We have commissioned professional surveys by independent consultants and our own staff into the questions of traffic management, car parking and spectator facilities."

Should Loch Lomond win the right to host the world's third largest sports event (after the Olympics and soccer's World Cup), an estimated £67 million will be injected into the Scottish economy - £44 million for Scotland as a whole and £23 million locally. To this end, £24 million of public money has been earmarked for important transport improvements and Loch Lomond, naturally, enjoys the enthusiastic backing of Glasgow City Council.

Glasgow airport is only a half-hour's drive from the course and most of the visitors are expected to stay in Glasgow where the number of hotel beds is set to increase dramatically over the next few years.

In addition to the 40,000 spectators expected to attend each day of the Ryder Cup (more than double the usual crowd for the Scottish Open), some 5,000 people will be working on site. Overall, the Ryder Cup is expected to create up to a thousand permanent jobs in the area and dozens of new businesses.

There is certainly no shortage of suites on site for the teams, wives and key officials while the nearby 100-room Cameron House Hotel can accommodate other officials and VIPs. Apart from all the necessary meeting rooms, locker rooms and other facilities, Loch Lomond will have at least 70 suites by 2009.

Jack Nicklaus, a close friend and associate of Mr Anderson's, is currently working on a second 18-hole layout which is expected to open during 2002. In the meantime, the area will become Scotland's first national park next April and if Loch Lomond's Ryder Cup bid receives the thumbs-up in September, Luss Estates, the owner of the property, will confirm the construction of a third course for the use of the public on a pay-and-play basis.

The devotion with which the local wildlife at Loch Lomond is protected is matched by the attention to detail and quality of maintenance provided by the greenkeeping staff. No more than 15,000 rounds are played each year (about a third of the average on most courses), and no golf is allowed at all during the winter months.
Last winter, all the greens were dug up, redrained, relaid and seeded with a new generation of Creeping Bent. The new grass is four to five times denser than the old variety, thus ensuring a smoother surface. It is also more resistant to diseases and can be cut a lot shorter.

As befits an organisation which strives for perfection, Loch Lomond certainly does not come cheap. But Williams stresses: "This is an international club for the occasional use of members and their guests, not as the primary club for a member. When they do visit, it is of paramount importance to our members that their privacy is protected and to this end we maintain a 24-hour security system on sit for 365 days of the year."

The clubhouse is based in Rossdhu House, a restored Georgian mansion built in 1773. The site has been the ancestral home of the Clan Colquhoun since the 12th Century and the ruins of a mediaeval castle feature prominently on the 660-acre estate along with a delightful walled garden and a small chapel which was built in 1469. Loch Lomond also offers a wealth of outdoor pursuits from boating to pheasant shooting to fishing for trout and salmon.

But it is the game of golf which has brought this enchanting stretch of land to the attention of the sporting world, and to stage the Ryder Cup in 2009 would be its ultimate flowering. A flowering for Scotland.


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