by journalist and author John Huggan
The record book will show that Gavin Hay won the Montrose Links Masters, the first of what will be 12 Tartan Pro Tour events in 2021.
But few would argue that the East Renfrewshire teaching professional should be sharing star billing with the host venue.
Hay’s winning aggregate of 134, eight under par and two shots better than runner-up Paul O’Hara, was certainly worthy of praise – especially the back nine of 31 that saw him round in 64 on the second day.
But he was only one of many to acknowledge the quality of the fast-running test with which the 75-strong field was presented.
“I’ve played Montrose a lot,” said Hay, after completing a second round that contained as many as eight birdies, the most crucial of which came at the penultimate hole.
“It’s been such a delight – after a winter of hitting balls off mats – to hit shots off the beautiful tight lies we’ve had here.
“Watching the ball run and release is brilliant. I love playing here. It is such a good test.
“It’s all about putting the ball in the right places for the second shots. If you short-side yourself you are never going to get the ball close enough to make birdies.
“You really have to think your way round.”
Tournament host Paul Lawrie was another who enjoyed the 6,457-yard lay-out.
The 1999 Open champion added a 72 to his opening 67 and ended the proceedings in a tie for third place alongside his nephew Sean, Daniel Kay and Robbie Morrison.
“This course is so good, just brilliant,” said the more senior member of the Lawrie clan.
“Especially in a wind. And when the greens are firm like they are now and the pins are tucked away a little, it’s a tough test.
“The scoring was good over the two days, but far from ridiculous.
“The great thing is that so many holes ask you to find the right spot off the tee. It’s not just a case of hitting the fairway anywhere. You need to be in the correct place to set up the second shots.
“I like that aspect of links golf. Plus, here the finish is so strong. The 16th and 17th holes are as good as you will see anywhere. They are both brilliant.”
Former BMW PGA champion Andrew Oldcorn opened with a 72, then had to withdraw through illness.
But the 61-year had seen enough of Montrose to know he’ll be back for more.
“This is just a proper links, a shot-maker course that sets up so well for those who can move the ball around left-to-right and right-to-left,” said Oldcorn.
“It’s just an old-fashioned links in that respect. You need to control your shots rather than just bashing away all the time.
“The turf is so good too. Hitting irons off those tight lies is a lot of fun. And it is in brilliant shape for this early in the season. So that was another bonus. I loved every minute out there.”
Still, the man who had the most fun was certainly Hay, with the birdie he made on the 418-yard 17th – playing into a strong east wind – the undoubted highlight of what was a brilliantly played round.
“All in all, I played very solidly and got the putter going at just the right times,” he said.
“I normally struggle a bit with the shorter putts, but I’ve been really good on the greens here.
“Anyway, I had just made a bogey at the 16th, so I took a 1-iron off the tee just to get the ball in play on the 17th. It is such a tough hole.
“Then I hit a phenomenal 4-iron to three-feet and managed to knock it in for the birdie. That was a bonus.
“I was standing on the 17th tee thinking I would be happy with two pars to finish. I wasn’t aware of what was happening behind. But I obviously knew I was there or thereabouts.
“The course was such a great test today.”
Indeed. Everyone said that. So it must be true.
- Full results from the Montrose event can be seen here
- Hear what the professionals had to say about the Links here
- And you can get a taste of the action in this video
- You can find out more about all our 2021 events here