Coul Links could add sizzle to Northern Scotland's golf landscape

Coul Links Golfweek File Photo

Coul Links could add sizzle to Northern Scotland's golf landscape

Courses

Coul Links could add sizzle to Northern Scotland's golf landscape

The Forecaddie has been a big fan of Royal Dornoch Golf Club since visiting the famed links in Northern Scotland the same year Golfweek started publishing – 1975. Ever on the search for more great golf, the Man Out Front has been tipped off to what could become the next stunning Scottish links on coastal land only 3 miles north of Dornoch.

The proposed Coul Links on 450 rolling acres of stunning dunesland near the village of Embo could attract overseas golfers and pump much-needed economic development into an area that has lost tourist trade in recent years.

Bill Coore – course design partner of Ben Crenshaw – came upon the site two years ago, then tipped off golf impresario Mike Keiser (of Bandon Dunes, Sand Valley and Cabot Links fame) and fellow Chicagoan Todd Warnock, who each jumped into the project. The village of Embo partnered in the undertaking with hopes to spawn economic development. 

If approved, the course will focus on golf without any big, fancy accommodations on-site. Keiser said plans include a simple service building – called a “bothy” –  but no lodging or even a clubhouse. The hope is to give golf tourists a reason to stay in the surrounding towns, thereby stimulating demand for more hotels.

One may see more golf tourists in Northern Scotland if Coul Links come to pass.

The area could use the help. Turns out that with the 2009 opening of Castle Stuart Golf Links 50 miles south in Inverness, many overseas golf tourists who used to stay in the area near Tain, Dornoch, Golspie and Brora were instead encamping south, then visiting Dornoch just for the day. The regional hotel and restaurant trade suffered, and the hope is to use Coul Links to reinvigorate international golf tourism in the more northern region.

The project has been encouraged by the Highlands and Islands Council, a regional economic development agency. The big step will be obtaining approval from the environmental agency, Scottish National Heritage. Part of the property includes an area designated as an environmentally sensitive site of special scientific interest in regards to plant life, soil and wetlands.

Keiser and Warnock are taking an intensely local approach to Coul Links, including the development of a comprehensive site management plan for the land, which currently is without one. The parcel, held in private as pasture, already shows signs of invasive plants taking over and loss of native habitat. Part of the Coul Links site application provides for a minimal golf footprint and strict ecological management.

One advantage: Nobody would mistake Keiser and Warnock for heavy-handed tycoons intending to impose a luxury resort on the land. Keiser’s track record in this regard is well established. So, too, is Warnock’s – he recently developed the stylish Links House in Dornoch and restored the long-empty downtown meeting space known as Carnegie Courthouse to one of the liveliest gathering halls in the region. 

A decision on permitting is expected in January. If the project is approved, Coore and Crenshaw are prepared to get to work as early as April. Construction and grow-in likely will take two years.

TMOF can hardly wait. 

(Note: This story appears in the Oct. 23 2017 issue of Golfweek.)

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