(Picture credit: @scottishgolfpodcast / Instagram)
The construction of a new multi-million pound golf course in the Scottish Highlands has taken a ‘big step forward’.
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), the national statutory body for environmental oversight, has welcomed proposals put forward by developers for Coul Links; in particular the economic benefits the course will bring to the East Sutherland area.
It is estimated that the course, which is a few miles north of Dornoch and at the Loch Fleet estuary, will boost the local economy by £60m over ten years and bring 250 jobs to the area including employees at the course and hotels and bars.
And although SNH did object the proposal due to the loss of nationally important sand dunes and its impact on special plants and animals found there, project manager Chris Haspell is confident that a resolution can be reached.
“It’s a big step forward,” he told bunkered.co.uk. “The realisation that we can work hand-in-hand with SNH is great because it will really advance the project.
“It isn’t a done deal by any stretch of the imagination but it gives Highland Council a little bit more confidence that we’re trying to do this in exactly the right way.”
The course, developed by US duo Mike Keiser – who owns Bandon Dunes – and Todd Warnock, has faced a number of strong objections since the proposals were first put forward, largely down to its partial routing through a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
The Scottish Wildlife Trust and RSPB are adamant the project will destroy the dunes ecosystem and disrupt nesting birds. The Coul Links team say that isn’t the case and are disappointed that representatives from the organisations have been unwilling to get involved in any dialogue about the project.
“They’ve not approached us,” added Haspell, who was previously site manager at Castle Stuart. “We’ve offered olive branches to get them to come and speak to us – RSPB, Scottish Wildlife Trust and a couple of private groups too – and be involved in the process but unfortunately they tend to throw obstacles and no one has actually spoken to us from any of these organisations.
“Look at England’s golf coast – they all lie in SSSIs that are all managed by the courses in conjunction with Natural England. It’s not like it’s never been done before. What we’re saying is we’re a responsible developer, we’re going to do the right thing, and we’re going to secure the whole 800 hectares.
“We are going to disrupt the area during construction. That’ll be the case for 18 months. But once it’s in place, it’ll give people better access and we’re going to set aside £15-20,000 per year on maintenance – gorse management, birch management, making the land better for nesting birds – and we’ll do that hand-in-hand with SNH. If RSPB and Scottish Wildlife Trust come to the table, we’d like them to be on that panel.”
All of the local golf clubs, including Brora, Royal Dornoch and Golspie, as well as Embo Trust, Dornoch Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and VisitScotland, have thrown their support behind the project, which it is believed could transform the Dornoch region into a major golf destination.
“I’ve spoken to all of the local clubs and I’ll be working closely with them – should the plans get approved – to try and boost their economies with some 36-hole packages,” said Haspell.
“If we get people here, what we want them to do is stay. Even if it’s just for one night, it’s more than what they’re staying at the moment. This area can become a massive golf destination.”
The Highland Council Planning Committee will look at the proposal on January 22 and make decision there and then as to whether the course will get the green light.
Should it get that, construction could begin as early as April/May 2018 and will take 18 months.
“It may get passed with conditions and that’s perfectly normal,” said Haspell. “But if it doesn’t, that’ll be us – and that’ll be a big shame.”