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Golf Course Preview for PGA Betting: Scouting the 2024 Genesis Scottish Open

As the road to the year's final Major Championship winds down, the PGA Tour makes its second annual pilgrimage to the home of golf (or at least 20 miles south of it across the Firth of Fourth). Scotland's national Open has been played at the Renaissance Club in North Berwick for the last five years, and in that short time, we've seen everything from 22-under shootouts to wind-swept slog-fests won at U.S. Open-esque totals.

Aside from the variable scoring conditions, our favorite PGA Tour regulars will be tested in many different ways in North Berwick this week. Links golf is far removed from the point-and-shoot target golf we've seen in Detroit and Deer Run in recent weeks. Instead, players will be graded on variety, imagination, and creativity around this naturally imperfect terrain. However, the same attributes that make links golf such a compelling viewing product also make it an unforgiving proposition from a handicapping perspective. Weather and wind will play as vital a role in the eventual outcome as we'll see all year, and many promising prospects have been snuffed out on the back of an unfortunate draw on the tee sheet.

This piece will serve to break down every key trend and statistic I'm weighing to project a player's viability in the outright market and set our readers up to make the crucial decisions necessary on pre-week betting boards. Without further ado, here is my comprehensive scouting report on the Renaissance Club and the 2024 Genesis Scottish Open!

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The Golf Course

The Renaissance Club - Par 70; 7,237 yards

Past Champions

  • 2023 - Rory McIlroy (-15) over Robert MacIntyre
  • 2022 - Xander Schauffele (-7) over Kurt Kitayama
  • 2021 - Min Woo Lee (-18) over Thomas Detry/Matt Fitzpatrick (playoff)
  • 2020 - Aaron Rai (-11) over Tommy Fleetwood (playoff)
  • 2019 - Bernd Wiesberger (-22) over Benjamin Hebert (playoff)

 

Renaissance Club by the Numbers (Off-The-Tee):

  • Average Fairway Width -- 32.3 yards; 15th narrowest on the PGA Tour
  • Average Driving Distance -- 294.2 yards; seventh highest on Tour
  • Driving Accuracy -- 51.3%; Lowest on Tour
  • Missed Fairway Penalty -- 0.26; second lowest on Tour
  • Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee Difficulty: (-0.020); 12th toughest on Tour

With an average fairway width of just over 30 yards and the lowest driving accuracy percentage on Tour, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Renaissance Club was due to play similarly to the off-the-tee test we saw last year at Hoylake. A course that, above all else, required you to avoid its perilous combination of pot bunkers, internal OB stakes, and gorse bush that returned one of the highest missed fairway penalties of the season and a penalty fraction comparable to waterlogged TPC Southwind.

However, The Renaissance Club vastly differs from last year's Open venue in the way it penalizes off-line tee shots -- despite ranking as the most difficult course on the PGA Tour to hit fairways over the last two seasons, a player's projected score from just off of the fairway sits at just 0.19 shots. In general, the 3" fescue rough here won't be nearly lush enough to provide any significant hindrance to the world's best, but that number shifts dramatically if you hone in specifically on fairways missed from outside of these friendly confines.

The "non-rough penalty" at Renaissance Club over the last two seasons sits at a whopping 0.64 strokes -- almost exactly the same as we saw last year at Royal Liverpool and the fifth-highest mark on Tour since 2015. The caveat to all of this is in the sheer frequency in which we expect players to deal with this peril, however, as just 22 fairway bunkers are truly in play for touring professionals over the 18-hole routing and outside of the oceanside 13th and a few instances of rock outcropping, no real chance of a penalty stroke exists around these links.

This combination of difficult-to-hit fairways and general forgiveness to wayward tee shots leads me to weigh driving distance far above accuracy this week. Of the top 10 drivers of the ball here last season, only three exceeded the field average in fairway percentage, while nine of ten rated out above field average in driving distance. Two years ago, just two of the top nine on the final leaderboard hit over 50% of their fairways (6/9 gained to the field in distance). As seven of the ten Par 4s, this week measure over 450 yards, length off the tee will play a much bigger factor when attempting to score on Renaissance’s more demanding segments.

 

Renaissance Club by the Numbers (Approach):

  • Green in Regulation Rate -- 62.0%; 14th lowest on the PGA Tour
  • Strokes Gained: Approach Difficulty: (-0.028); eighth toughest on Tour
  • Key Proximity Ranges:
    • 200+ yards (accounts for 25.1% of historical approach shots)
    • 175-200 yards (23.2%)
    • 150-175 yards (20.2%)

In terms of iron play, the Renaissance Club will provide a welcome reprieve from the point-and-shoot wedge fests we've seen in the last three weeks on Tour. Last year, nearly 70% of approach shots came from over 150 yards, and over the last two seasons, we've seen nearly 50% of second shots come in from beyond 175.

In addition to sheer proximity, the multitude of different shots required into the greens this week will allow the game's preeminent artists to separate themselves with sheer variety. Particularly if the wind kicks up on Scotland's eastern coast this week, players will be forced to employ many different tactics to give themselves birdie looks. From low, piercing ball flights that cut through the wind to grounded shots meant to utilize the natural contours around the greens, this isn't a week to rely on players who don't have a reliable answer to many exceedingly different questions.

Admittedly, weeks like this are difficult to model for in the traditional sense, as it's difficult to make the case that recent approach splits on a soft, benign golf course like TPC Deere Run or TPC River Highlands are in any way predictive of the test players will face across the pond these next two weeks. For this reason, I'm paying even more attention to both course history at Renaissance Club and comp. course history at The Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship played on the DP World Tour every fall. I cannot emphasize enough that this is an entirely different game from what we see week in and week out on the PGA Tour, and these historical markers are perhaps the best gauge we have of just how prepared these guys are for the examination ahead.

 

Renaissance Club by the Numbers (Around the Greens):

  • Scrambling Percentage -- 53.6%; 3.9% below Tour Average 
  • Sand Save Difficulty -- (-0.010); 12th toughest on Tour
  • Up-and-Down Difficulty (Fairway) -- (+0.070); second easiest on Tour
  • Up-and-Down Difficulty (Rough) -- (+0.107); Easiest on Tour
  • SG: Around the Green Difficulty: (+0.079); Easiest on Tour

One paragraph after talking up this course like the second coming of Augusta National, we reach far and away its most straightforward aspect. Links courses carry quite a reputation around the world for their difficulty around the greens, and over the last two seasons, we've seen some of the most difficult greenside surrounds in Championship golf around St. Andrews and Royal Liverpool.

The Renaissance Club, however, cannot claim to carry the same prestige as St. Andrews' perilous runoffs or Hoylake's cavernous bunkering -- as it actually sits as the easiest course to gain strokes around the greens on the entire PGA Tour over the last two seasons. In fact, last year, Renaissance sat dead last out of 45 courses in Strokes Gained difficulty from both the rough and the fairway while also sitting 38th out of 45 courses in difficulty from the sand.

Of course, the importance of a good short game is most scaled with wind projections. In past iterations of the Scottish Open, we've seen players crest the 90% mark for Greens in Regulation in calm conditions and dip below 60% two years ago in the most wind-affected of the recent events at Renaissance Club. I don't see anything in the upcoming forecast to suggest we need to prepare for doomsday, but if things do change drastically in the coming days, around the green play will be among the first major adjustments made in the modeling.

 

Renaissance Club by the Numbers (Putting):

  • Average Green Size: 7,000 sq. feet
  • Agronomy -- Red Fescue
  • Stimpmeter: 10
  • 3-Putt Percentage: 2.4% (0.6% below Tour Average)
  • Strokes Gained: Putting Difficulty: (-0.016); fifth toughest on Tour

Similarly to my passage on approach play, the greens at Renaissance Club are also unlike anything we’ve seen in the 2024 PGA Tour season. At over 7,000 square feet on average, they rank as the 8th largest complexes on the schedule, and as is tradition on British Links courses, they’re made up of the same native fescue we see in the fairways and rough. Running at a 10 on the Stimpmeter, I’d expect these greens to be among the slowest we’ll see all year, and given their sheer size, I'll be placing an extra-special emphasis on lag putting splits like approach putt performance and three-putt performance.

We should also note that Renaissance Club has ranked as the most difficult course on Tour to putt inside of five feet over the last two seasons and the fifth-most difficult from five to 15 feet. The combination of blustery winds and unfamiliar surfaces has the potential to wreak havoc on players who aren’t coming in with a ton of confidence on the greens. I'll be looking for players with both touches from long range and an aptitude from inside 10 feet -- with special emphasis on positive splits on similarly slow greens.

 

Key Stats Roundup (in order of importance):

  • History on Links Courses (Open Championships, Alfred Dunhill Links Championships, Scottish Open's, etc.)
  • Mid/Long Iron play -- particularly from 150 yards and beyond
  • Putting on Slower Green Complexes -- looking both at lag putting metrics like Approach Putt Performance/Three-Putt Avoidance as well as splits from the key scoring range of 5-15 feet
  • Driving Distance
  • Proficiency in the Wind

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The Sunday Shortlist

Before the odds come out on Monday morning, here are two to three names I’ve identified as significant targets upon my initial research.

Tommy Fleetwood

In full disclosure, with the profound effects that weather can have on these coastal links tracks, this is one of the few weeks in which I'm okay sacrificing a few points on the opening line to ensure my player won't be facing the near-impossible task of contending from the bad side of a draw. At the time I'm writing this (Sunday evening), North Berwick doesn't look to be forecasted for any significant weather events (wind or rain) for either of the first two rounds. But I've been burned far too many times by a late-week shift in forecasted winds to go punting off my entire budget on the word of a Monday AM weather report.

That doesn't mean we should completely abandon any semblance of due diligence beforehand, however, and perhaps nobody in this field is better suited to deal with these volatile circumstances than Southport's own Tommy Fleetwood. The Englishman has been the most consistent links player on the planet over the last five years: recording ten top-twelve finishes in 14 starts at the Open Championship, Scottish Open, and Alfred Dunhill Links Championship since 2018.

Fleetwood's proficiency not only in the wind but also on and around the traditionally slower green complexes on the links makes him an ever-present threat in the British Isles. And this season, Fleetwood comes into his homecoming with some added momentum: ranking fifth in SG: Total over the last three months, and inside the top 30 in each of the four Strokes Gained categories.

This elite all-around skillset has allowed Tommy to record just one finish worse than 26th through a nine-start stretch since the start of April, and in the month of June, Tommy finally put his traditionally elite ball-striking back on display. In four starts from Canada to Muirfield Village, Pinehurst, and the Travelers, Fleetwood gained an average of 4.27 strokes with his driving and approach play: a mark that sits behind only Tom Kim, Collin Morikawa, Viktor Hovland, Ludvig Aberg, and Rory McIlroy in that time.

With his history around links tracks and his incoming form, I'm certainly not expecting to see much of a discount on Fleetwood this week, but I do believe he represents the safest entity in this field outside of the last two defending champions. He famously won his first-ever pro tournament as a fresh-faced 22-year-old at Gleneagles, and at any price over 20-1, I think he's got a great chance of repeating the trick for his first PGA Tour title just a couple hours down the Scottish coastline.

 

Tom Kim

We alluded to his elite incoming ball-striking form in the previous write-up, and perhaps nowhere on the planet is a trending Tom Kim more exciting than on the British links. Despite spending many of his developmental years traveling around Asia, the 22-year-old Korean has looked right at home in his introduction to golf in the British Isles: logging finishes of third and sixth through two starts here at Renaissance and recording his best ever Major finish (T2), in last year's Open Championship at Royal Liverpool.

Kim also comes into the week as one of the hottest golfers on the planet: gaining nearly five strokes per start with his ball-striking in the month of June and coming just one poor wedge shot short of besting World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler at the Travelers Championship three weeks ago. The 22-year-old phenom displayed tremendous poise throughout the week: logging weekend rounds of 65-66 despite entering the third round with the task of fending off three of the game's top five players.

Tom has plenty left to prove on the sport's longest tracks, but those weekend rounds in Cromwell proved to me that he's more than capable of taking down top titles on venues that suit his style of play. There are no questions about his fit here in Scotland, and with the confidence he's currently playing with, Tom Kim is incredibly live not only this week but perhaps to capture his first-ever Major title on Scotland's western coast. I'd be interested at any price over 30-1.

 

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