Serendipity is a wonderful thing. As I walked Coul Links for the first time yesterday, a week on from exclusively revealing it as the site earmarked for Mike Keiser’s first development in Scotland, who should I bump into but the man himself Mike Keiser and investor and right-hand man to this project Todd Warnock.
With the site being so vast there was nothing serendipitous as our paths crossed in one of the many hundred dune slacks on the Embo Estate, two miles north of Dornoch. Both gentlemen were rightly inquisitive at first as I traipsed over the dunes at last light on a cooling autumn afternoon in the Scottish Highalnds. Once acquainted Keiser and Warnock were more than happy to share further their plans for the site back at Links House, a boutique luxury hotel which overlooks the first tee at Royal Dornoch and owned by Todd Warnock, a self made Chicago entrepreneur.
What was clear from the outset is their intention to make this development as transparent as possible with every effort to work with local governing bodies and businesses in the area. While only at the very early stages of a feasibility study the pair are already in strong dialogue with Royal Dornoch Golf Club, Highlands & Islands Council and the Scottish Government environment agency Scottish Natural Heritage. No Local Hero script here.
Then of course there is the site itself. Growing up with linksland on the northeast coast of Scotland I was fully expecting what I found. What I wasn’t ready for was the scale of the site. Measuring over 600 yards in width, twice that of Royal Dornoch’s Championship Course. The enormity of the property is incredible as it races parallel to the Dornoch Firth before meandering inland to the confinement of Loch Fleet. Keiser explained that the site was certainly large enough for 36 holes however with the environmental constraints that will most likely ensue a routing of a world class 18 hole course will suffice.
The site is twice the width of the Championship Links at neighbouring Royal Dorncoch
Walking the site I started to question what Scottish links can this compare to? The dune formations remind me most of Fraserburgh while the main dune ridge resembles that of Royal Aberdeen. Then it dawned on me that perhaps the links of Embo Estate isn’t comparable in it’s entirety. The uneducated will inevitably want to enter a petty arms race over whose dunes are ‘biggest’. On the main dune ridge of the property dunes surpass 60 feet in height before dropping off to provide intricate dune slacks and the humps and bumps synonymous with our traditional links courses in Scotland. The beauty of this development however is having the luxury of limited disturbance to the land as the dunes sway in the wind just waiting to be cut. On this occasion size doesn’t matter.
Then the question all golfers want to know, who’s building it? Subject to the project’s approval architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw of Coore & Crenshaw will be asked to work alongside the local council and environment agencies in routing a truly world class 18 hole, sustainable and authentic links golf course. This decision is hardly surprising after the success of Keiser’s recent development at Cabot Cliffs and philosophy of minimal moving of materials. Warnock explained that Bill Coore has already visited the site twice.
Perhaps most revealing from the chance meeting yesterday were plans around further development of the site or should I say lack of. Warnock & Keiser have no intention of building anything but a world class golf course and basic starter shack on site. No real estate, no lodgings, no 100 bedroom hotel. The initial plans would would see golfers shuttled by bus between Royal Dornoch and the Coul Links with reservations made via Royal Dornoch Golf Club.
In the same way the old Scottish links were created, it’s all about the golf.
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