A FIFTH conservation organisation has spoken out against the proposal to create a golf course at Coul Links near Embo.
The Marine Conservation Society has joined the RSPB Scotland, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Buglife and Plantlife Scotland in calling for the development to be abandoned.
But this month, the respected on-line newsletter FineGolf suggests that the Dornoch area faces a serious choice between conservation and economic prosperity. They suggest that the extra income generated by golfers now planning to stay a few nights in the town, wanting to play both Coul Links and Royal Dornoch, could be substantial.
Three weeks ago, the Northern Times revealed that four conservation bodies had written to the developers urging them to reconsider their plans for Coul Links.
Today, Calum Duncan, head of conservation Scotland for the Marine Conservation Society, has added his concerns about plans for the 18-hole championship course.
He says: “Scotland is of European importance for sand dune systems and Coul Links is one of a few in Scotland and across the UK that remain almost entirely undisturbed.
“We think they should stay that way as befitting a nationally and internationally important site, so that the local community, visitors and rare wildlife can share and enjoy them for generations to come.”
Bruce Wilson, senior policy officer, Scottish Wildlife Trust said: “The recently published State of Nature Report gives a clear warning about the loss and fragmentation of coastal habitats, and demonstrates how unsustainable development is harming Scotland’s wildlife and habitats.
“A very significant proportion of the undisturbed dune system at Coul Links will be irreversibly damaged if this proposal goes ahead. It is almost inconceivable that we are faced with the loss of such a precious place.
“Hopefully lessons have been learned from the Scottish Government’s approval of Trump International Links in Aberdeenshire, which has been a disaster for another nationally important sand dune system.”
Lorne Smith of FineGolf (www.finegolf.co.uk) has looked at what he calls the Royal Dornoch Golf Club conundrum.
He writes: “The club and town enjoys the income from numerous tourists bussed-in from overnight stays in Inverness. The Council of Management (RDGC) has discovered that apparently Americans like greater facilities than just a net to warm up in, and so the club is building a new driving range with a bus park and teaching area to help relieve them of more sterling.
“If these tourists could be attracted to stay overnight in the Dornoch area then the Royal Burgh and the northern Highlands would not miss out on their spending.
“Even more importantly these visitors would enjoy the opportunity to discover the wider magic of the place and want to return, rather than just ticking it off on their golfing list.
“There are some of the finest, fine-grassed, traditional ‘running-golf’ courses in GB&I, like Brora, Tain and Fortrose and Rosemarkie close to Dornoch but they lack that extra pull to be regularly on the American golfing tourist circuit.
“If Dornoch became their overnight base they would be more likely to play them, like they used to before being pulled away to the courses south of Inverness.”
He continues: “American fans of Dornoch, Mike Keiser of Bandon Dunes and Cabot Links fame in liaison with Todd Warnock, have retained the very finest ‘running-golf’ course architects in the world, Coore & Crenshaw, to design the new links course on fabulous ground almost next door to Dornoch.
“If this second, world class course ever gets built the one thing that might hold those extra thousand wealthy tourists in town overnight is their wish to play both courses. Would this opportunity unleash a local entrepreneurial spirit to provide the necessary retail and accommodation services required and the jobs associated?
“So as FineGolf sees it there seems to be a choice for the membership:
1) Continue with the scepticism that these millionaire Americans do not really want to fit into the unique and proud local culture, while confirming it would be better to just keep Royal Dornoch for ourselves, perhaps being worried about an increased scramble for the first tee.
2) Royal Dornoch is a vibrant club, embracing the town and the royal clubs around the world as has been seen during this historic year, with members who have diverse backgrounds, united by the desire to be the best in the world.
“It seems a simple choice when so many say ‘stay where you are and you will go backwards’.
“Has Dornoch’s great man John Sutherland’s vision of prosperity already been fully realised or is there an opportunity to go to the next level?”
The developers have always maintained that both environmental and economical goals can be met.