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.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed and photographed more than 1,000 courses and written about golf destinations in 20 countries 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 Instagram at @jasondeegangolfpass and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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Two miles from Royal Dornoch on a site of Special Scientific interest. This, so a bunch of wealthy Americans can use our country as a playground, with green fees, no doubt, way beyond the reach of locals or most British golfers. No thank you. This is a disgrace.

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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!

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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!

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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......

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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.

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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!

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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