MANAGERS of north golf courses have voiced their support for ambitious plans to build a new championship golf course in East Sutherland.
And a suggestion that north courses join forces with Coul Links, should it get the go-ahead, to market the area worldwide as a prime golfing links destination, has also gained strong support.
Brora Golf Club president Alistair Risk this week hailed the proposed new "world-class" course as having the potential to economically transform East Sutherland.
He said: "This is something that could attract thousands of additional golfing visitors to Sutherland.
"It could potentially transform not just the tourism market but the local infrastructure and the East Sutherland economy. It is great news and we are 100 per cent behind it."
The Coul Links project is being advanced by American entrepreneur Todd Warnock and award-winning golf course developer Mike Keiser.
An area with stunning views at Loch Fleet on land owned by the Abel Smith family has been identified as ideal. Leading golf course architects, Texas-based Coore & Crenshaw, have been asked to design the course.
Bill Coore made his third visit to the area last month and spent eight days walking the site in order to develop a preliminary routing.
A number of environmental, scientific, transport and other studies are currently under way. Public consultation is to take place in the autumn and it is hoped a planning application for Coul Links could be submitted as early as the first half of next year.
Mr Warnock flew back to America this week but will return next month for the opening of another of his enterprises – the renovation of the historic Dornoch Courthouse into the Carnegie Courthouse retail centre.
He is also proprietor of Links Hotel at Royal Dornoch where construction is being carried out on a six-bedroom extension which will open in spring 2017.
Mr Warnock has held talks over the past months with the management at six other courses – Brora, Golspie, Royal Dornoch, Skibo, Tain and Castle Stuart (Inverness).
He said on Monday: "I have had the opportunity to meet personally with the leadership of six north clubs and we enjoyed a thorough and candid conversation.
"We talked about making the Highlands the most exciting links golfing destination in the world. We talked about a shared vision of prosperity.
"There is nowhere else in the UK that has as many extraordinary links golf courses as closely situated as East Sutherland.
"The golfing tourist will be able to stay in the area and play a number of courses rather than running up for a single round at Royal Dornoch and departing.
"If they stay, they will return and the economy of the area will benefit.
Mr Warnock said that he and his business partner Mr Keiser had been extremely pleased at the response from the golf clubs.
He said: "We are pleased these important clubs are supportive of Coul Links and believe it will bring a huge economic contribution to the area. We have begun a conversation about how we all work together but no commitment has yet been made."
General manager at Royal Dornoch Golf Club, Neil Hampton, said: "Royal Dornoch is supportive of the Coul Links proposal and wish the developers well."
Alistair Risk said: "If Todd Warnock and Mike Keiser intended to build yet another golf course at Embo I would object as we are well served for the local membership and the existing golf market.
"But they are planning a world class course designed and constructed by a world class team. It is great news."
Golspie Golf Club committee member James Yuill said: "I don’t think for one second that we will lose out if a new championship course goes ahead at Coul Links. It can only add to the potential for us to get more people to come and play at Golspie."
Tain Golf Club professional Stuart Morrison said he did not think local residents yet realised just how highly regarded those involved in the Coul Links project were in the golfing world.
He said: "Mike Keiser, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw are probably the number one hottest property in the world at the moment as far as golf design and golf development are concerned.
"For them to be involved in a project in our area is massive."
He added: "Everyone at Tain is in total agreement that if Coul Links goes ahead and if the opportunity is there for us all to work together, then that would be brilliant."
But Mr Morrison warned that people would also have to "up their game" in terms of providing better facilities, accommodation and experiences for visiting golfers.
Peter Crome, of Skibo Castle, said: "We support any development that is going to provide more jobs, a better experience for visitors and help the area get on the tourist map."
Castle Stuart general manager Stuart McColm said: "Coul Links will be another feather in the Highlands’ cap. The calibre of the people behind it means it will be a great addition to the north."
Todd Warnock has welcomed British Airways’ new daily service linking Inverness with Heathrow.
He said the link, which started on Tuesday May 3, was a "tremendously exciting" step forward which would make it easier for international travellers to access the Highlands.
He said: "It means I can play an early two-ball of golf at Dornoch in the morning but still catch the mid-day flight and get to Chicago on the same day!"