Sunday, March 29, 2015

New golf courses: Ireland vs Scotland

11th green at Castle Stuart
Last week was a week of big announcements in Scotland, with news that Donald Trump is looking to build his second course in Aberdeen (seemingly, he's over his little tizzy about wind turbines)... and further news that Arnold Palmer is to design a second course at Castle Stuart, only 100 miles away.

It will certainly add huge weight to what is
an impressive links golf destination, combining Scotland's North East (Royal Aberdeen, Cruden Bay, Fraserburgh, Trump International... to name a few), with the Highlands (Castle Stuart, Nairn, Brora, and the richly acclaimed Royal Dornoch). With airports in Inverness and Aberdeen, it makes one of the  best golfing coastlines in the world very accessible indeed.
The dramatic par three 2nd on Carne's Kilmore nine
So how important will these two new courses be in a sport where global participation is in decline while course development continues to expand?

More importantly, for Ireland, could these new courses influence the decision-making of future golfing tourists looking at an Ireland vs. Scotland golf trip?

It is an interesting question when you consider the plans for Irish links courses that have fallen by the wayside over the last decade... the most recent casualty being Bushmills Dunes on the Antrim coastline.

The Irish Golfing Plethora 

Back when I was travelling in 2007/2008, there were plans for many new Irish golf courses. Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam, Padraig Harrington, Retief Goosen, Ernie Els (x2)... were just some of the higher profile courses which were to be spread across the country. Consider that three of the last courses to be built and opened in Ireland were designed by Nick Faldo (Lough Erne), Paul McGinley (Macreddin) and Jack Nicklaus (Killeen Castle) and you'll note the trend for 'names'.

Big names = big courses = big media splash.
The par three 4th at Macreddin
Most of these plans have died; a few remain in extended hibernation. There were several links courses on that list (Els was working on a links course at Wexford's Kilmore Quay and a seaside course close to Old Head) but between the recession and new EU environmental rules there has been little progress. Holes are being built here and there (the new Kilmore nine at Carne, three new holes at Royal County Down, post-storm redevelopment at Doonbeg, and, presumably, a couple of new holes at Royal Portrush), but nothing as influential as the two new 18 hole courses now being prepared for Scotland.
The new 3rd hole on Carne's Kilmore nine.
There were Irish dreams for so much more and two of the most dramatic links projects were planned for the same beautiful peninsula in the south-west of Ireland, at Castlegregory and at Inch, on the Dingle Peninsula.

Two links courses were to cover a 700 acre stretch of dunes and land north of Castlegregory. One course was to be private (which would have been the 1st of its kind in Ireland) and designed by Bill Coore (of Coore and Crenshaw); the other was to be open to all and designed by Tom Doak. The story goes that seven Irish families had grazing rights to the land and it took the efforts of Bob Bianchi, a non-golfing lawyer from Massachusetts, to convince them that a bigger picture existed. Indeed, there had been dreams of a golf course on this land for some 50 years. Sadly, with environmental and EU restrictions, that dream has not materialised... and so it remains.

Then there are Mike Keiser's plans for Inch, on the opposite side of the peninsula. Should the planning all go Keiser's way, the course would be just 300 yards away from Dooks, across Castlemaine Harbour. It would be on a spit of land, meaning water would be alongside almost every hole. In terms of a new links course in Ireland, this remains the most viable option.
The 4th hole at Castle Stuart - aiming straight at the castle

The Golfing Question

The question really is: will the new courses being built in Scotland affect golfers' decision-making processes? Will they look at Scotland as being more attractive once these two new courses are added? Let's not forget that the existing courses at both Trump Aberdeen and Castle Stuart are 'new' in links terms. According to Ruairidh MacDonald (of the Scottish Golf Podcast) they have already boosted tourism:

"Cruden Bay (practically next door to Trump) noted a 40% rise in visitors in 2013 (one year after Trump opened) based on three things: 
1. The Trump course is bringing more golfers to the region. 
2. The PR / media people who visit while also visiting Trump. One Wall St Journal article concluded by saying 'visit Trump International but only if you have time after playing Cruden Bay.
3. Course conditioning has Cruden Bay in great shape.

Ruairidh concludes with what can only be termed as golfing gold:
"For the first time golf tour operators are reporting solely Aberdeen itineraries, a sign that the great golf offering is extensive."

Look at it from the other side: is Ireland missing out by not building these new courses? If the government is placing such weight on tourism, surely these courses would only help to improve the number of golfers striding our fairways? And as our government and Tourism Ireland are so keen to bang on about, golfers are worth three to four times as much as 'regular' tourists.

I know it's not just a political decision - there's also the issue of EU regulations and developer motivation - but what do people think? Should we be looking at every possibility to build these new courses?

Opinions welcome...

1 comment:

  1. Right now golf is on sale in Ireland for us from the U.S.. We have been planning a return trip in 2016 and now have been debating trying to squeeze a trip into 2015. With the Euro being low I would think the tourism people would be advertising like crazy here. This will be our groups 3rd trip to Ireland and we have thought about a trip to Scotland but the price and the memories keep us coming back to Ireland. @neillmp