Over the past decade a wave of future stars have passed through the SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge hosted by Macdonald Hotels and Resorts.
Since the tournament’s inception in 2009, a host of emerging young talents have made the transition from promising professionals to Major Champions, Ryder Cup players and European Tour winners, after competing in Aviemore.
In fact, five of the top 25 in the Official World Golf Ranking (Rafael Cabrera Bello in 25th, Tyrrell Hatton in 23rd, Alex Noren in 17th, Tommy Fleetwood in tenth and Brooks Koepka in fourth) have all graced the pristine fairways of Macdonald Spey Valley Golf Club on their path to the top of the game.
Of those top players, it is Koepka who has made the sharpest rise since winning the SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge in 2013.
Four years after securing a three-stroke triumph in the Scottish Highlands – his third on the Challenge Tour that season – the American became the seventh player from Europe’s top developmental tour to claim a Major title after a stunning performance at last year’s U.S. Open.
Following that maiden Major breakthrough, the 28 year old made further history by becoming just the second player in 29 years to successfully defend the U.S. Open with a gritty performance at Shinnecock Hills.
Koepka’s journey to the summit of the world game started one afternoon at the foot of the Cairngorm Mountains.
“It was such an important win,” said Koepka. “That third victory took me onto the European Tour – so it really was the beginning for me.
“To do it in Scotland at Spey Valley was great too – I really had to work hard in difficult conditions to put in the performance I did on that final day.
“After that I drove through the night to make it to Sunningdale in time for Open Qualifying, which I managed to win too.
“Looking back that was a very important time in my career, and the 11 months I spent on the Challenge Tour gave me a good grounding in the professional game.”
Following Koepka’s memorable victory in 2013 another of golf’s most well-known figures, Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston, took home the trophy in 2014.
The Englishman, who has become a household name for both his golfing ability and larger than life personality since, also looks back fondly on his Aviemore triumph.
“I played great golf all week,” Johnston said. “I just remember having a couple shot lead on Sunday. My nerves were off the charts.
“It was amazing and I was absolutely buzzing. That win had a huge impact on my whole career to date.”
During the ten years of the SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge there have been two home winners, Jamie McLeary in 2009 and George Murray in 2010, and the event has given many of Scotland’s young stars a foothold in the professional game.
Paul Bush, Director of Events with VisitScotland, said: “We have supported the SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge since its inception and are proud to have witnessed its growth into one of the key events on the Challenge Tour.
“This event helps to showcase a wonderful region in Scotland and provides a strong platform for the next wave of touring professionals looking to progress to the next stage in their careers, leaving a lasting legacy.”
Stephen Gallacher, Tournament Ambassador to the SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge hosted by Macdonald Hotels and Resorts, said: “I have always regarded the Challenge Tour as a very important stage in the development of the next generation of young golfers.
“The competition on the Challenge Tour is always tough and it is a good indicator of which players are capable of making the successful transition onto the European Tour.
“It is no surprise to see that many of today’s top professionals have all played on the Challenge Tour at some point in their career, and it provides the perfect platform and foundation for a long and successful, professional career.
"I am immensely proud to be associated with the SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge and I congratulate everyone who has helped make this event one of the longest-running events on the Challenge Tour over the past decade.”
Ruaridh Macdonald, Deputy Chief Executive of Macdonald Hotels and Resorts, said: “We are delighted to be hosting the SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge for the tenth time at Macdonald Spey Valley Golf Club.
“Ten years have flown by and it is great to see the progression of the Challenge Tour and the past winners of the SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge.
“Over the past decade we have been able to showcase our beautiful venue and highlight what a lovely part of the country Aviemore is to the rest of the world.
“Everyone at Macdonald Hotels and Resorts works extremely hard to make this week of eye-catching golf a success and make sure everyone connected with the Challenge Tour feels welcome.
“Hopefully, 2018 will be another great event and there will be many more years of Challenge Tour action held at our wonderful venue.”