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New world class golf course for east Sutherland?

By SPP Reporter

Michael Keiser (left) and Todd Warnock at Coul Links this week.
Michael Keiser (left) and Todd Warnock at Coul Links this week.

EAST Sutherland has been handed a huge early Christmas present – the prospect of a second "world class" golf course in the area.

American entrepreneur Todd Warnock and others are considering building an 18-hole links course on a large swathe of ground at Coul, close to the seaside village of Embo, it emerged this week.

The ambitious £7 million plan is at an early stage, with the environmental impact still to be assessed. The ground involved is in a Special Protected Area (SPA) and also has designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

A public consultation exercise is to take place, but if it was to go ahead the project would have the potential to bring hundreds of visitors to the area, boosting the economy and creating jobs.

East Sutherland is already home to the prestigious Royal Dornoch Golf Club.

Around 11,187 golfers travelled to Dornoch this season to play its championship course and a further 3237 played the club’s Struie course. Chicago-based Mr Warnock and his wife Liz have already invested hundreds of thousands in Dornoch, converting a former manse – Links House – into a boutique hotel.

The couple are also kickstarting a project to turn the historic Dornoch courthouse into a Andrew Carnegie-themed visitor centre.

Mr Warnock was in Dornoch this week to progress the golf course plan and made a statement to the "Northern Times" yesterday.

He said he had joined forces with fellow Chicago businessman and golf course developer Michael Keiser, along with Ralph Abel Smith, owner of Coul Farm, to "evaluate a potential new course at Coul Links".

The area of ground in question is located three miles north of Royal Dornoch Golf Club along the Dornoch Firth at Loch Fleet.

The site identified is understood to be twice the size of Royal Dornoch’s championship course.

Mr Keiser, who was also in Dornoch this week, is a well known name in golf circles. According to "Golf Tripper" magazine he sold a greetings card company to try his hand at golf course development and has been responsible for the award winning Bandon Dunes course in Oregon, Cabot Links in Nova Scotia and Barnbougle in Tasmania. Two other noted names in the golfing world – course architect Bill Coore and former Masters winner Ben Crenshaw (of the firm Coore Crenshaw) – have conducted preliminary analysis of the site.

The American Society of Golf Course Architects states: "Coore Crenshaw’s methods provide consistently high quality work, making their group a very sought-after firm in course design."

Mr Warnock said: "The group has conducted initial discussions with Highland Council and Scottish Natural Heritage and has agreed to launch an assessment of the economic and environmental issues related to the proposed project.

"Highlands and Islands Enterprise is helping to facilitate discussions."

But he warned: "At this point no conclusions whatsoever have been drawn in respect of the potential project. The group plans to spend several months in feasibility mode, during which there will be a process of public consultation.

"A further announcement will be made when appropriate."

It is understood that at this stage the group does not intend to build any infrastructure other than a golf course.

Initial plans are that golfers would be shuttled by bus between Royal Dornoch and Coul Links.

Royal Dornoch manager Neil Hampton said he had been informed about the project and welcomed it.

He said: "The club is very supportive of a new golf course being built on what looks like a great piece of land. They have spoken to us about it."

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