Nearly two years ago, Bandon Dunes domo Mike Keiser made headlines with his bold intentions to build a course in northern Scotland—"intentions" being the operative word. Keiser and co-developer Todd Warnock had proposed teaming with golf's greatest current design duo, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw to craft a seaside layout just north of fabled Royal Dornoch, to be called Coul Links. At the time, we called the prospects for the Scottish Highlands course "tantalizing." The mere dune-flecked, beachside setting alone had course connoisseurs salivating. Inevitable, however, were the fierce protests from the anti-development factions, of which there were many. Fast forward to September 29, 2017. The site is still without golf holes, but the door has creaked open ever more slightly.
As reported by The (Aberdeen) Press and Journal, Keiser and Warnock have spent two years modifying their original proposals, and on September 29, they submitted a planning document to the Highland Council, proposing to move forward with the construction of the 18-hole championship course in the town of Embo.
Coul Links would occupy hallowed golfing ground, on rumpled seaside linksland less than two miles north of Royal Dornoch, ranked Number 15 in GOLF Magazine's Top 100 Courses in the World.
Coore told Keiser that the land was spectacular—perhaps the best ever. That's saying something, as Keiser is no stranger to jaw-dropping on-the-ocean spreads, having created or co-created Bandon Dunes, Cabot Links, Cabot Cliffs and Barnbougle in Tasmania.
While the groundbreaking appears to be at least a year away, you can't help but anticipate greatness, given the site and the development and design teams. Royal Dornoch occupies some of the most remarkably varied terrain ever made available for golf. It combines that variety with unparalleled vistas. After Tom Watson played Dornoch prior to his Open defense in 1981, he remarked that the experience was "the most fun I've ever had on a golf course." Donald Ross grew up here and you can see his affinity for Dornoch's raised plateau greens on his American masterpiece, Pinehurst No. 2. The new course will face inevitable comparisons, given that it has "roughly the same footprint as Royal Dornoch," according to Keiser. And of course, the men who restored Pinehurst Number 2 to Donald Ross' vision: Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw.
Regardless of how it winds up comparing to Royal Dornoch, Coul Links will undoubtedly provide one more compelling reason for tourists and purists alike to make the pilgrimage to the region. As recently as the 1960s, Dornoch was considered too remote to be worth the bother. With the recent re-discovery of hidden jewels such as Brora and Golspie, and with the addition of Trump International Golf Links Scotland and Castle Stuart (both with second courses in the planning stages) to the south in Aberdeen and Inverness, respectively, northern Scotland is poised to be a breakout destination all its own.
Public hearings will take place on October 22nd and 23rd in Embo and Dornoch. The vote will likely come down to a mid-January 2018 Highland Council planning meeting. In the past two years, the developers have worked closely with community leaders and public officials to minimize the environmental impact on the property—and even to enhance it in some cases—while promising prosperity for all in the form of a new world-class, destination golf course. And if there's anything we've learned about Mike Keiser and his coastal developments, it is this: Don't bet against him.