Bosses say Turnberry winning race to be ready
One of my colleagues has a nifty little sideline filming corporate golf days. Training a lens on the pulls, hooks and shanks that abound on such occasions is a hazardous business, so he wears a hard hat cunningly disguised as a golf cap.
While the course remains the most spectacular Open venue on the rota, the sonic backdrop is filled with the sounds of construction as drills, hammers and cement mixers echo from the famous hotel overlooking the links.
Clad in scaffolding and sitting atop the hill across the road from the course, the hotel that will provide accommodation for the majority of the players at the Open is undergoing a total refurbishment and the race is on for the work to be completed to schedule.
Contractual wrangles and the aging building have made it a difficult project but the Royal and Ancient (R&A) and the hotel owners, Leisurecorp, are confident the work will be done on time.
They will have to hit the ground running, though, because its first full week of operation since closing last November will coincide with the first Championship to be staged at Turnberry since 1994.
"With the amount of work we had to do to be ready for the Open in 2009 it was always going to go to the wire," said Leisurecorp boss David Spencer.
"Our plan was always to hand it over at the end of June and we are on course to do that. The scaffolding is starting to come down and the new-look repainted and rewindowed ocean side will be on full view from the end of May."
But the process has not been straightforward. Spencer admits: "We've had a few contractor hiccups but giving this iconic building, which is 100 years old, renovation there was always going to be a few bumps and scrapes."
Terms couldn't be agreed with the original contractors by the deadline of January 2009 but a replacement firm had been lined up to step in and they have agreed to the contractual obligation to finish the job on time.
"We've kept on all the staff since we closed in November, so it's not as though we are opening a brand new hotel with brand new staff," Spencer added.
Leisurecorp is a big player in golf. The Middle East based outfit is bankrolling the European Tour's Race to Dubai.
With the global recession and tumbling property prices in Dubai, there have been concerns that the Tour may be adversely affected, but Spencer is keen to allay those fears.
"Our alliance with the European Tour is the cornerstone of our business. But I think we also need to be conscious of the fact that our goals for the European Tour are incredibly ambitious. We don't want to flaunt those goals in this economy.
"We need to be cautious as every business does. We need to stand shoulder to shoulder with the European Tour and with people like the R&A, and work our way through this.
"It's a five-year contract (with the European Tour) with a five-year option and we plan to be hopefully with the European Tour for 20 years. It's a long-term alliance."
Another conundrum Spencer's company faces is whether to take future European Opens to Turnberry. Leisurecorp has a significant stake in the tournament which will be staged at the London Club for the second year running in May.
While a move to the South Ayrshire coast would guarantee this glorious course a regular place on the European Tour map it might jeopardise its place on the Open rota.
R&A chief executive Peter Dawson admits that he prefers Open venues to remain "special" to the Championship, although he accepts St Andrews, the home of the autumnal Dunhill date, is an exception.
"Obviously the Open is the pinnacle event. As regards 'would we bring the European Open to Turnberry?' Yes we'd like to but we would not do anything like that without the counsel of the R&A and the European Tour," Spencer said.
"The Open coming back to Turnberry in the future is absolutely our goal."
More pressing is making sure the venue is ready for this year's championship. There are few fears over the course that has a dramatic new 10th tee which forces players to drive over the beach.
The course has been shut since November but the full benefit will not be felt until more warmth gets into the soil to prompt growth. Once this happens it will be fashioned into its usual stunning layout.
A final thought: This will be the first Open where there will be drug testing. Here's a hypothetical that must surely worry administrators across the game. What happens if the champion tests positive and second place is shared? Who would be champion?
Would the title be shared? Would a retrospective play-off be staged? Could the Open be decided on count-back?
The scenario is hypothetical but the questions are genuine and apply to all the majors. No-one seems particularly enthusiastic to answer.