Target date of 2017 for Embo golf course planning application
PLANS for a second “world class” golf course in East Sutherland could be submitted to the local authority in the first half of 2017, it has been revealed.
The American entrepreneurs behind the multi-million pound Coul Links project at Embo, Todd Warnock and Mike Keiser, are hopeful that a planning application could be before Highland Council as early as a year from now.
Mr Warnock said: “There are meaningful hurdles that we have to clear in order for this project to become a reality but we are working diligently towards surmounting them.”
The prospect of a championship golf course with the potential to complement Royal Dornoch Golf Club (RDGC), currently ranked number five in the world, first emerged last October and was greeted with delight for the economic benefits it is likely to bring.
Mr Warnock, proprietor of Dornoch country house hotel Links House and the developer of the town’s Carnegie Courthouse visitor destination, which is set to open in June, has linked up with award winning golf course developer Mike Keiser to spearhead the project.
The Northern Times was this week granted an exclusive interview with Mr Warnock, who is keen that the wider north Highland communities be updated on the progress of the ambitious project.
He was speaking following the third visit to Coul Links of internationally known golf course architect Bill Coore who has just spent eight days walking the site in order to develop a preliminary routing.
Mr Coore and his business partner, two-times Masters winner Ben Crenshaw, have designed several top golf courses but this will be their first in Scotland.
Mr Warnock said that since the project was made public, pre-planning talks have been held with Highland Council, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency.
Those had raised a myriad of environmental and other issues which have to be addressed. Towards that end a team of independent consultants had been commissioned to undertake research into the site ranging from its biodiversity and topography to hydrology and archaeology.
A traffic management report has also been initiated. Mr Warnock and Mr Keiser are reluctant to see increased traffic on the single-track Loch Fleet road and are considering a bespoke shuttle bus service from Dornoch town square. Over the winter fortnightly bird studies have also been conducted on the site, which starts three miles north of Royal Dornoch Golf Club and runs along the Dornoch Firth at Loch Fleet.
The land is owned by the Abel-Smith family.
Mr Warnock said: “We hope that these consultants’ reports will be ready sometime in September or October but the majority of them have to reflect the year-round situation on site with the changing seasons.
“Assuming a constructive response from the various agencies, we would then hold public meetings. We want community input and perspective. That will probably happen in the fourth quarter of the year.
“If we can come to an agreement with all the bodies, we can file a planning application, hopefully in early 2017.”
He added: “Do we know if this is really going to happen or not? No. But if they (the various authorities) say we can do it, then we have every intention of doing it. We do not need outside investors or borrowed capital.”
The 18-hole Coul Links will be a public rather than a members’ course and will have a practice facility, pro-shop and small cafe. Its start and finish point is likely to be on a high area near Coul farmstead.
Mr Warnock said: “There will be no hotels and no housing developments at the course. When the sun goes down, people leave – hopefully to stay in the surrounding towns and villages.”
This course model has been carefully planned in order to give maximum socio-economic benefit to East Sutherland.
Mr Warnock said: “The idea of getting golf tourists to stay in Dornoch is a critical element of our plan.
“It is our view that Castle Stuart was a great step for golf tourism in the Highlands but unfortunately it has resulted in golfers staying in Inverness and visiting Dornoch only to turn around and leave. RDGC has improved visitorship but Dornoch, Tain, Embo, Golspie and Brora have not benefited economically from this increase. The reason for that is the centre of gravity for golf tourism is in Inverness. Our opinion is that Coul Links will bring a second centre of gravity to Dornoch.”
Talks are being initiated with managers at Brora, Golspie and Tain golf courses on how to market the clubs. Mr Warnock said: “We think Coul Links, in concert with these courses, will make this area a unique destination in the golfing world.