Coul Links will play across 200 seaside acres.  (Courtesy photo) Architect Bill Coore surveys the site of the proposed Coul Links, located near Royal Dornoch in the Scottish Highlands.  (Courtesy photo)

Could Coul Links help Scotland's Highlands become as popular as St. Andrews?



Now that the Coul Links has been approved, what does it all mean for Scotland's links landscape?

No doubt, Mike Keiser's project in Embo two miles from Royal Dornoch in the Scottish Highlands could end up being a game-changer. With the unparalleled success of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw paired with Keiser, it's not a stretch to think that Coul Link could cause a disturbance in the force for every links destination in Scotland. Traffic patterns of American links lovers could shift away from the Ayrshire Coast in the west and East Lothian in the east. Heck, maybe even tour operators who sell only St. Andrews, the "Home of Golf," should be a little nervous.

Could adding another bucket-list links help the Highlands overtake St. Andrews as Scotland's No. 1 golf destination? It's not as preposterous as it sounds.

Video: Ginella talks Coul Links project on Morning Drive



The Coul Links project

Coul Links could be the last major links ever built along the Scottish coast. Few developers have the money or the patience to sift through the approval process that took Keiser and his partner, Todd Warnock, years to navigate. Donald Trump's contentious relationship with the locals while building and now running Trump International Golf Links Scotland in Aberdeen certainly hasn't help Keiser's plight. The Times has reported that opposition still exists:

"A petition opposing the course, which would be on a site of special scientific interest, gathered more than 90,000 signatures. A coalition of environmental groups also spoke out against it."

Golf fans, meanwhile, couldn't be more stoked. Consider the star-studded list of courses Coore and Crenshaw have already built for Keiser - Bandon Trails (2005) at Bandon Dunes in Oregon; Lost Farm (2010) in Tasmania; Bandon Preserve (2012), a 13-hole par-3 course at Bandon Dunes; Cabot Cliffs (2015) in Canada; and the Sand Valley Course (2016) and its 17-hole par-3, The Sand Box (2018).

“Bill and Ben will pour everything they’ve got into this site,” Keiser told Golf Advisor in 2017. “Especially considering its proximity to Royal Dornoch. It’s nice to have that as competition. Will they rise to it? We will see.”

The Coul Links impact

The Highlands becoming more popular than St. Andrews? Balderdash. Or is it?

I toured the Highlands in 2015, a golf trip that easily rates among the top five I've ever taken. I loved the sense of adventure as our 10-person bus explored its back roads and tiny towns.

St. Andrews does have its inherent advantages - it's easier to get to, the vibe of a seaside, college town, an endless supply of links in a compact area and The Old Course, of course. You can handpick an awesome itinerary among the seven courses run by the St. Andrews Links Trust; the spectacular Kingsbarns Golf Links; two courses at the Fairmont St. Andrews; and perhaps the most difficult links in the world, Carnoustie Golf Links, host of The Open in 2018. But not everybody is enamored with the Old Course.

The Highlands has that mystique of a land lost in time. Visiting Dornoch, the birthplace of Donald Ross, is akin to religious pilgrimage. Royal Dornoch might be the best combination of scenery and shot-making in the world. It's like Pinehurst No. 2 with more elevations next to an ocean. Castle Stuart might be the most fun links in the U.K., and Brora Golf Club the most unpretentious. My foursome played through grazing sheep and one large cow resting in the fairway.

The Tain Golf Club, with roots to Old Tom Morris and a statue to prove it, punches above its weight class for the honor of the most underrated links in Scotland. Nairn Golf Club shouldn't be overlooked with its pure greens and warm hospitality.

Even today, if I had to choose between a return trip to St. Andrews or the Highlands, I would be hard-pressed to pick a favorite. Adding Coul Links in 2020 (or soon after) would make that decision even harder - for me and probably countless others heading to Scotland.

Will your group choose the Highlands over St. Andrews when Coul Links opens? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Jun 25, 2018



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VGolfer's avatar
VGolfer wrote at 2018-06-29 19:54:57+00:00:

Love the links. Got an ace at Musselburgh and hit the St. Andrews Lottery for a tee time 2 days after playing Brora and Dornoch. All of that is to say that it is ridiculous to think Could Links would have a dent on St. Andrews traffic. Oh wait, haha, you're just trying to start a ruckus with this nonsense. You kidder you. you got me!

Robert Heller's avatar
Robert Heller wrote at 2018-06-28 17:26:15+00:00:

No way the Dornoch area will rival the St. Andrews area. They don't have the infrastructure to handle a lot of overnight guests. Most of the coaches come for the day and then the golfers go back to Inverness where there are plenty of hotels and places to eat. The locals of Dornoch would like to see more commerce come to their town, but you maybe looking at 20 plus years before the area is built up enough to rival a major Scottish golf mecca. They have to first pass the Sutherland council which won't be so easy. I'm sure Keiser and Warnnock would love to build some type of lodge. That's what Mike does best. Someone should buy the Dornoch Hotel and renovate it first. I think the charm of Dornoch is the smallness and it being untouched. But, i do feel another golf course would be great!

longhorn812002's avatar
longhorn812002 wrote at 2018-06-28 01:11:59+00:00:

Being a McDonald, I am biased to the highlands of course. Played Dornoch 3 times and after the first go around, it became my favorite place in Scotland to play - bar none. I am a huge fan of C and C and have played several of their designs from Oregon to Texas. They get it in my opinion and a spot up North would be awesome. If I hadn't got remarried, I would be in Dornoch every other year......

u4860302's avatar
u4860302 wrote at 2018-06-27 19:02:09+00:00:

Just completed a 9 day trip that started in the Dornoch area and ended up on the Fife links at St Andrews. The northern route is wonderful and will only be enhanced by this addition from Mike Keiser. I have played most of his developments, including the Lost Farm in Tazmania, and all are world class. I have yet to go to Nova Scotia but will some day soon.

Royal Dornoch needs to be played. The others, Fortrose, Tain, Brora, Nairn are to be celebrated every day. The choice between them and Fife is tough, but history and more great courses condensed around such a small area makes Fife a perfect choice. Not usually mentioned but the two courses at Crail shoudl be included in every trip to Fife. The local links courses of Elie, Lundin Links and Leven Links are all Open Qualifiers and wonderful experiences.

There is a much more laid back in the northern counties but for golf, Fife is the place.

There has been a favorable mention for Cruden Bay and I have to agree with the comments. It is a very diffcult track and itbeat me up both times playing it. It is often included on the list of great golf courses in the world and should be. Tough, quirky, intesing challenging, and lots of fun to play. If you are looking to play in the wind, play here.

While I favor Fife, there is no downside to going on the northern route and you will be favorably surprised by the weather which is much nicer than expected by heading that far north.

Richard's avatar
Richard wrote at 2018-06-27 07:15:18+00:00:

I have had the pleasure of the work of Coors and Crenshaw on a recent visit to Pinehurst at the Dormie Club. Using natural terrain they created a delight, given what they will have to work with here they will be pushed to mess this one up. A await with anticipation this region is my favourite part of Scotland. We are blessed in GBand I with many fantastic Links golf courses and often it is not the named ones we wax lyrically about but the hidden gems. Their famous friends attract the tourist golfer the must play bucket list golfer and as the comments below often they are underwhelming and pricey. A once in a lifetime trip should include some of these but do not miss out on the local courses they are a delight and your wallet will be heavier, extra whiskey tastings!

DJB's avatar
DJB wrote at 2018-06-27 03:00:10+00:00:

Just got back from a 13 course trip up the East coast Scotland trip starting at St. Andrews and ending at the Royal Dornoch. Aside from the history the Old Course does not hold a candle to many of the others in terms of pure golf, design, challenge, conditioning or views. Dornoch, Kingsbarns, Cruden Bay and Trump were all outstanding. The Old Course, Carnoustie and Jubilee were very underwhelming given their reputations. Glad I played them once but that is enough. I would go back to Dornoch in a heartbeat.

Howard Sealey's avatar
Howard Sealey wrote at 2018-06-26 17:18:43+00:00:

Why do we need another golf course? Can't we leave open vegetated space alone for a change?

wfwallace's avatar
wfwallace wrote at 2018-06-26 15:02:33+00:00:

This article, and the comments just made me sit back at gaze dreamily out of my office window for about 10 minutes. Made the pilgrimage to Scotland in 2002. and played North Berwick (west), Dunbar, Gullane, Kingsbarns, St. Andrews (old), St. Andrews (new), and Carnoustie. Drove north to play Cruden Bay (twice), Royal Dornoch, Brora, and Nairn. Each course, and each location has its' own charm, and its' own challenge, and there are still so many well known, and less well known courses to play in that beautiful country. How do parents pick a favorite child? How do golfers who appreciate history, design, challenge, pick a favorite among these links? I trust Coore and Crenshaw to do justice to one of the few TRUE linksland locations remaining on this planet (Linksland being a defined geographical piece of land with definitive characteristics, and also in short supply on this earth). My only worry is that, with all of their designs, it will be built to keep most golfers away with Trumpian green fees. Finally if I could predict my time of dying, and could arrange for it to happen at Cruden Bay, or Royal Dornoch, I would be fine with that.

John's avatar
John wrote at 2018-06-26 17:48:52+00:00:

Played a similar tour in 2004( St. Andrews, Kinsbarn, Nairn, Gleneagle) and fell in love with Royal Dornoch. At the time many believed to be the finest course in Scotland and should be an Open site...but the lack of accommodations was a "handicap". It was a long bus ride from decent hotels. An anecdote: Put my approach in a bunker and my chip out went across the green into another bunker...after repeating this 3 times my caddie said "I'll wait here (by one of e bunkers), you'll be back" Still would go back.

Graham's avatar
Graham wrote at 2018-06-26 13:54:09+00:00:

While you are on the A90 stop off at Edzell and try 18 holes of Scottish devilment. All looks nice and simple then snap the strange bounce a bunker you did not see a gentle grass slope that brings the ball back to your feet so slowly that everyone can enjoy your embarrassment. It is great fun and locals are friendly too, never completed a round on my own yet. The town is worth a walk round as well. Then of course there is the drive up the Glen. Now where were you going.

John Hamilton's avatar
John Hamilton wrote at 2018-06-26 13:19:12+00:00:

In 2014 I played Royal Dornoch, Struie, Tain, Golspie, and Brora. In 2017, I played Skibo Castle, Castle Stuart, and Nairn. If I had another week in the Highlands I would play Moray Old, Boat of Garten, Fortrose and Markie, and another five or six around Inverness.

Phil H's avatar
Phil H wrote at 2018-06-26 11:46:15+00:00:

Having had the opportunity to visit both the Highlands and St. Andrews multiple times I totally agree with the writer Mr. Deegan, I would be hard pressed to say one is better than the other, arguably they are the two greatest golf destinations in the world. A few years back I turned 70 I chose to celebrate with a round at Royal Dornoch. I played a warm up round the day before at Brora along with sheep, cattle, and impenetrable fog. Royal Dornoch was gorgeous, challenging and just plain fun, the naturalness of this is fabulous, twas a great birthday. We (my wife and I) golfed our way to St. Andrews enjoying Castle Stuart, Moray, and Cruden Bay and Royal Aberdeen along the way. Actually played Cruden 2x as it is perhaps one of the most dramatic courses in the world. It chewed me up both times, and I laughed all the way, can't wait to get back. St. Andrews was scheduled just to be a resting stop on the way home, but having lunch in Dunvegan's (the greatest golf bar in the world?) I was overcome with a feeling that I must try to play one more round at St Andrews if possible. I checked at the New Course clubhouse and they said if I could be on the tee in five minutes I could play. I was ready with two minutes to spare and had a delightful trip around the New Course with the magnificent views of St. Andrews always in sight. The Highlands and St Andrews are both wonderful places I hope to visit again. The first time I played St. Andrews back in the 90s. I played with an older gentleman from the U.S. who was in his eighties and had been coming to Scotland regularly for thirty years. I didn't yet understand the magical lure of Scottish golf, I do now and I should be so lucky as that man.

bjorn halderssonn's avatar
bjorn halderssonn wrote at 2018-06-26 11:36:34+00:00:

NFW.....nice corner of the earth, Dornoch is. No Uni, No real history, no real conflagration of internation golfers, only 1 restaurant (Luigi's). A good diversion every 5 to 10 years, but not a mainstay. Manchester UK, Ayr, East Lothian are all better stops.

Jerry's avatar
Jerry wrote at 2018-06-26 11:06:29+00:00:

Golspie is one of the hidden gems of Scotland that many have never even heard of or simply skip over. It has 5 top notch par 3s, is beautiful links along the sea as well as some heathland and parkland holes. Everyone I know who has played it says that they would certainly go back whenever they are in the area as it is but a few minutes from Dornoch.

David Walker's avatar
David Walker wrote at 2018-06-26 08:57:56+00:00:

In agree Coul will add massively to a very special corner of Scotland for golf and will give any visitors an excellent choice for playing golf on a more natural element rather than the 'experience' which can be gained at St Andrews. I must tale slight exception to your list of courses when you omit to mention Golspie which is between Dornoch and Brora this has to be played and is a great challenge and more interesting than Brora.

Colin's avatar
Colin wrote at 2018-06-26 07:23:49+00:00:

Nairn Dunbar has better greens than Nairn and a friendlier atmosphere and all at a fraction of the price. A much overlooked gem of a course.

Peter's avatar
Peter wrote at 2018-06-26 06:50:58+00:00:

Been there done that, never again. Weather and distance too much. West coast of UK just as good.

Jeff Arenson 's avatar
Jeff Arenson wrote at 2018-06-26 05:14:01+00:00:

Been to the Highlands three times and St Andrews once so I already prefer the Highlands. Probably my favorite region in Scotland. St Andrews is way too crowded. Coul might get me back to Scotland instead of exploring the rest of the UK and Ireland

Eric's avatar
Eric wrote at 2018-06-26 04:33:40+00:00:

Having been fortunate to play Royal Dornoch several times and Brora GC, I’d like to go back but it’s a long drive North, If another course was built that rivaled Royal Dornoch, I’d definitely go back because there are more choices. Old course is a must but the difficulty to get on is a problem. Kingsbarns, Muirfield, West Berrick, Guilame, and of course Carnoustie are all fabulous of course but the incredible beauty of The Highlands with another world class golf course, would make the decision to make the drive much easier

Mike Iker's avatar
Mike Iker wrote at 2018-06-26 04:15:37+00:00:

Dornoch is my favorite course in the UK and we love Nairn and Aberdeen and enjoy Castle Stuart. It will be great to have another reason to travel to the north, but it will probably mean that the bargains for B&B lodging in the area will be a thing of the past.

pauleblack45@gmail.com's avatar
pauleblack45@gmail.com wrote at 2018-06-26 04:14:55+00:00:

Let's give it 3 or 4hundred years and check back.

Rick Vogel's avatar
Rick Vogel wrote at 2018-06-26 03:16:30+00:00:

Never having been there, I will always want to play the Old Course. From the pictures, I would definitely endorse the Coul Links. You cannot have enough great examples of the "true" golf. Maybe it will take a little pressure off the Old Course - (I understand that they do not exactly have a lot of openings in their schedule). My dream has always been to play the Old Course. However, the more opportunities to play a true Scots Course, the better. For the love of Golf, let this course be built.

Paul Quella's avatar
Paul Quella wrote at 2018-06-26 02:17:15+00:00:

Went to North Scotland in 2013 on first OS trip. Went on my 5 trip in May this year to St Andrews. I don't have to go back to St Andrews again, Brora and Tain interest me more.

Al Gordon's avatar
Al Gordon wrote at 2018-06-26 01:57:23+00:00:

I have done the northern swing, playing both courses at Royal Dornoch, Brora, Royal Aberdeen and Nairn, among others on the way north. An amazing area aside from the wind the weather was terrific in late September early October, would highly recommend playing in the highlands and looking forward to another trip. In closing I still would have to have Carnoustie on my itinerary if I am visiting Scotland by far one of the best courses I have ever played.

Roger's avatar
Roger wrote at 2018-06-26 01:17:37+00:00:

Not any much better than Donald Ross and Dornach. Different every time I play it. Great links course and great sticky pudding at the hotel. And Brora is as old country as it gets. A Crenshaw/Coore addition would be a big boost for the area.

JOEL GOODMAN's avatar
JOEL GOODMAN wrote at 2018-06-26 01:11:00+00:00:

DORNOCH HAS THE FLAVOR OF REAL SCOTLAND. STAY AT THE HOTEL OVERLOOKING THE FIRST TEE. WE HAD THE DONALD ROSS SUITE, HAD EXCELLENT SCOTTISH FARE IN THE DINING ROOM. I HAVE PLAYED MOST OF THE FAMOUS SCOTTISH COURSES AND FOR MY MONEY THIS IS THE ONE I'D PICK IF I HAD ONE CHOICE ONLY. WONDERFUL COURSE MAKES YOU THINK AND PLAY ALL THE SHOTS IN YOUR REPERTOIRE, AND YOU DO NOT HAVE TO DRIVE IT 300 YARDS TO SCORE WELL..

Eye Know's avatar
Eye Know wrote at 2018-06-26 01:05:35+00:00:

This is Keiser’s ego run wild. It might destroy the Highlands. These are very small towns and the accommodations and getting in a restaurant might become impossible. I’m going to lobby RDGC to start restricting play for tour groups and tourists.

Gus Gurney's avatar
Gus Gurney wrote at 2018-06-26 09:26:25+00:00:

Good luck with that one!!

Jim Woods's avatar
Jim Woods wrote at 2018-06-26 00:28:35+00:00:

I have been to St. Andrews 4 times and each time is as special as the first! I have been to Ireland 4 times and Scotland 4 times so this golfing experience is high on my vacation list. I have only made one trip to the Highlands and Royal Dornoch but with Coul Links entering the picture I will definitely put this back on my travel plans as soon as they complete the course. I can't wait!

Maurice Miranda's avatar
Maurice Miranda wrote at 2018-06-26 00:17:56+00:00:

90K signatures against says a lot. Been to Scotland twice since 2006 and played over 40 courses there including the Old Course, Balcomie, Cruden Bay, Royal Dornoch, Tain, Brora and Golspie. I won't list them all but we drove to Campbellown to play Macrihanish twice. This was before the added courses and development. I would hate to see the North commercialized.

Dornoch is a championship course that could host the Open were it not for it's inability to handle large groups of spectators. Brora and Golspie are the best kept secrets in all of Scotland. Join Golspie as a overseas member and enjoy great discounts at Dornoch and several other courses in the North. I'm afraid a development like Coul would bring the masses and commercialization like the what's happened at St. Andrews.

Gus Gurney's avatar
Gus Gurney wrote at 2018-06-26 09:28:09+00:00:

Reciprocal deals at Tain make Country/overseas a better deal

David Robinson 's avatar
David Robinson wrote at 2018-06-26 00:12:46+00:00:

I would play the Old Course & Carnoustie before I’d play this one.

George G. Kitchens's avatar
George G. Kitchens wrote at 2018-06-25 22:50:35+00:00:

I just got back from an exclusive trip to the Highlands. It could not have been better. This was my 8th trip to Scotland, so I love it. Started @ Durhess, (the northern most course on Scotland,s mainland). Brora was wonderful, for my 1st visit & Royal Dornoch was beyon belief with the gorse in full bloom. The crowning blow was traveling south to Trump International. Maybe that’s not totally Highlands, but there are enough good courses in Aberdeen to support a 10 day trip. Dr. George G. Kitchens author of “Golfing Across the Ponds”

John Hamilton's avatar
John Hamilton wrote at 2018-06-26 14:02:12+00:00:

I would need a full year and unlimited funds to play all the great courses in both N and S Ireland, England, Wales, and Scotland. Trips in 2014, 2016, 2017, and this year in Aug/Sep have landed me on some of golf's greatest courses. Have have played 21 of the top 100 in the world and 19 or Scotland's top 20.

Mike's avatar
Mike wrote at 2018-06-25 22:40:36+00:00:

Cautiously optimistic! American designers and links are not always a great mix-- see Trent Jones' awful second course at Ballybunion-- but Coore and Crenshaw are reliable. The best new links are designed by locals who identify with the land. Pat Ruddy and Eddie Hackett's work in Ireland is breathtakingly flawless. However I dread more courses causing another uptick in green fees. I'll continue to play in Ireland especially Donegal for 50Euro fees!

Eye Know's avatar
Eye Know wrote at 2018-06-26 01:07:23+00:00:

Ruddy designs the most awful courses on earth. One round and you’ll never play one of his again.

Curt mull's avatar
Curt mull wrote at 2018-06-26 08:19:55+00:00:

Agree, for the money Donegal and Sligo are great value with few Americans showing up in that beautiful area. Have played Scotland several times as well including Carnoustie and St, Andrews. One of my favorite courses in northwest Ireland in Enniscrone. Wonderful greens, imaginative holes and varying winds. Weather can be an issue, but that’s why you go there

Gary Slatter's avatar
Gary Slatter wrote at 2018-06-25 22:16:54+00:00:

I agree 100% that it will affect the other courses, and another American course is the last thing Scotland needs.

Steven MacKenzie's avatar
Steven MacKenzie wrote at 2018-06-25 22:00:01+00:00:

No course will ever take away from the world renown St Andrews. To play where the great players of the game played can only be the trip and round of a life time. The town of St Andrews, it's people (the most golf knowledgable in the world) and the surrounding country side are deeply regarded as where it got started.........

Now, to offer the opportunity to play new great course and get to travel into the majestic highlands would be a drawing card for the golfer and historian alike.

I walked St Andrews with John Daly in 95 and Jack's final round and Tiger's win in '05 .... What could possibly top that.

Travis 's avatar
Travis wrote at 2018-06-25 21:31:23+00:00:

I have played St.Andrews, Troon,Turnbury & Kings & Queens at Gleneagles. I love Donald Ross & Crenshaw & Coore courses so why not go to new places. I really wish I had the time & would have played Carnoustie.Maybe 2020 will be the next trip. It was 1985 when I took my last trip &y game was much better.

zmoxx's avatar
zmoxx wrote at 2018-06-25 21:16:10+00:00:

Golf Channel fluff piece designed to add to the hype! Pump it up.....would yOU guys the course designers are asking? Free golf and lodging for ya if ya do? Isn't there enough golf courses ...apparently the locals think so....but let's ignore them right? I mean it's Americans god given right, as the British before them, to roll around the planet and do as we'd like.

Gregg Thompson's avatar
Gregg Thompson wrote at 2018-06-25 21:14:42+00:00:

Just returned from a trip to St. Andrews & Royal Dornoch/Brora. The Old Course has that magical history and ambiance that stimulates emotions & adrenaline. Some of us had our best rounds there, a few tears and great memories. Having said that, we're thrilled that we made the trip up to Dornoch. The town, bagpipers and surrounding area are all wonderful & highly scenic. Brora was sublime, beautiful and an incredible seaside links experience. They even let us play a five some. Royal Dornoch was absolutely the most gorgeous and fun layout I've ever seen....would love to play it again along with the other courses we didn't get to...Tain, Nairn, Castle Stuart. If Coul Links is open in 2020 or 2021, I will be compelled to return for sure!

Randy Cavanaugh's avatar
Randy Cavanaugh wrote at 2018-06-26 00:41:33+00:00:

Awesome news. Couldn't be 2 better gentlemen selected to develop pristine linksland into a pristine links. They have utmost respect for the land and this Game. Unlike many who play their masterpieces.


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Jason Scott Deegan

Senior Staff Writer

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.