Faldo inspired by banks of Loch Lomond

Tim Glover on a new championship being played this weekend on a new course
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The Independent Online
If Nick Faldo allows the inaugural Loch Lomond World Invitational to get away from him this weekend he will have no excuses. As the European Tour swings from the ridiculous (unplayable greens at the British Masters at Collingtree) to the sublime surrounds of the bonnie bonnie banks, Faldo was moved to wax lyrical.

Indeed, to listen to the Englishman, who was so critical of conditions in Europe that he joined the US Tour, one is tempted to check the wax in one's ears. "It's just absolutely fabulous," Faldo said of Loch Lomond. Then he began to warm to his theme. "It is by far the best golf course in Great Britain by miles. The condition, the views, everything. The setting is unbelievable. I hate those courses where you can't remember anything about an individual hole, but here you can picture every hole even after just one round. It's great to see that it can be done in this country. The greens are absolutely spot on."

Considering that Faldo and his management team, IMG, rarely get out of bed unless there's a juicy contract lying on the breakfast tray, it is tempting to contemplate how much the Masters champion was paid to take the high road to Glasgow. The answer is: nothing.

"I'm playing here," Faldo said, "because I wanted to see the course and I think this is going to become a great event. It's a good one to support." Given the venue, and the philosophy of the owner, Lyle Anderson, the event probably deserves to succeed. Refreshingly, Anderson has decided not to pay appearance money.

Officially, of course, such an incentive does not exist but try telling that to sponsors. Anderson, an American property developer who has built courses in Scottsdale, Arizona, hosts a seniors tournament called The Tradition which became a "major" for the golden oldies after only four years.

"Our goals at Loch Lomond are similar to the goals we initiated at The Tradition," Anderson said. "We will look after the players and their families as if they were competing in a major championship; we will not burden them with requests to attend parties or pro-ams and we will set up the course for a true test which will ensure a worthy champion. Commercialism will be at a minimum. Accordingly, with the objective of creating a major world tournament, we feel appearance money would not be proper, as it is not at the existing majors. This is an opportunity for the top players to step forward and support a tournament that could become one of the leading international events."

It may be called the World Invitational but the fact is most of the world's leading players have declined the invitation even though the tournament has pounds 750,000 in prize-money with the winner receiving pounds 125,000. The idea was to invite the top 60 in the world rankings. Only 12 have accepted; of the top 20 in the world only Faldo and Colin Montgomerie are here.

The hypocrisy in the game is breathtaking. Anderson, while accepting on the one hand that the US Tour would give very few exemptions for players to travel to Scotland, admitted: "I think we'd have got a number of American players here if we had paid appearance fees." It is not just the Americans who have stayed away. The other day Seve Ballesteros, Europe's Ryder Cup captain, was warning players, particularly Faldo, to qualify on merit for the match against the United States at Valderrama in 12 months' time. Although the World Invitational carries Ryder Cup points, Ballesteros is not here, nor Bernhard Langer.

The story of Loch Lomond, which has been named as the best new course in the world, began in 1988 when David Brench, a London developer, finally received planning permission to build 18 holes. He wanted Jack Nicklaus to design them, failed to interest the Golden Bear and instead approached Tom Weiskopf. Weiskopf, who won the Open Championship at Troon in 1973, looked at a video of the land and visited Loch Lomond two weeks later.

The project stalled when the receivers were called in in the early 1990s but Weiskopf persuaded Anderson to buy the land from the bonnie bonnie Bank of Scotland in 1994. Not that Anderson needed much persuading. It took him all of one hour to decide to do a deal. "Loch Lomond," Weiskopf said, "is my best work. It is my lasting tribute to the game of golf."

Notwithstanding the fact that there are those who would argue that a golf course has no place at Loch Lomond, Anderson has ambitious plans. Nicklaus, perhaps realising that he should have taken the original commission, is currently designing another 18 holes. Apart from the fact that Anderson wants his World Invitational to live up to its name in the years to come - he has no sponsor this year, despite BBC TV coverage, and expects to make a loss - he is optimistic about staging the Ryder Cup here even if it will not be before the year 2005.

As for Faldo, he may not, in Anderson's words, have received a "dime or a shilling" but there were other incentives. Having flown from Berlin, where he has designed a course, it suited his schedule. Apart from the fact that it was his daughter's birthday yesterday, Anderson hooked him with a line that, as far as Faldo was concerned, was the next best thing to appearance money: fishing. Not only has he the chance to catch trout and salmon but the wee powan, a species that can only be found in the waters of Loch Lomond.