Debate has raged in the last week since Angus councillors gave the green light to a plan to extend the golf centre at Carnoustie links.
On Thursday councillors passed a motion to allow the Carnoustie Golf Links Management Committee to further develop the existing golf centre to the tune of more than £4 million, but not without fuss.
Independent Carnoustie councillors Brian Boyd and Bill Bowles, along with a delegation from the town’s hostelries attempted to have the plans debated and presented amendments which were both ruled incompetent by Angus Provost Helen Oswald.
The plans, which include a large cover restaurant and a bar, have attracted criticism from objectors who believe it will have a negative impact on the town centre economy.
In a statement Councillor Brian Boyd said: “The business case is weak. In the last five years £2.1 million was spent on a new pro centre which is now found to be not fit for purpose. No data has been presented as to increased revenue from the extant centre and the assumptions informing the new business case are just as tenuous.
“It disingenuous to call this new investment. This is money that is generated by the golf course and if it did not go into extensive building work would be available for wider projects of community and golf development as per the mission statement of the charitable trust it now is.
“There is no shortage of hospitality space already looking over the golf course - a more pragmatic development would look to improve the golfing facilities, driving range etc, and build better soft infrastructure to direct patrons to hotel, golf clubs, pubs and hotels.
“The Council has a duty of care. Revenues are ultimately derived from a public asset - if the council assents to this expenditure it approves using public assets to subsidise competition with the existing local hospitality trade. Local businesses have stressed that this development will be detrimental. As a council we need to ensure we increase the hospitality trade not simply redistribute it.
“I worry we are operating under a false impression that this development is necessary to keep The Open. There is no evidence that this development is necessary to keep the open – of importance to the Open is the success of the Golf Hotel – the report clearly states that this development will see business migrate to the most attractive venue, we need a fuller understanding of what impact this will have on the Golf Hotel and other businesses in Carnoustie.
“We have made hard financial decisions over the last four years and we risk looking out of touch is we approve spending millions of pounds on a council owned golf course after we have voted to close public swimming pools & toilets, cut back on wardens in our sheltered houses not to mention the threatened closure of our public recycling centres.
“The parameters and costs, which are up from £3 million, have changed from the original public consultations. It has moved from being built to improve the visitor experience to “let’s make it a golf club for all”.
“The meaning of the charity is in the title, Carnoustie Golf Links Management - managing the links - not to turn yourself into a super golf club at the Cost of £5 million underpinned by a public asset that should be there to serve the whole community.”
In response to the objections Graeme Duncan, general manager of CGLMC, said: “We have produced a full Business Justification Case for this project. All the evidence shows that the Golf Centre extension will attract new business, rather than compete with the existing pubs and restaurants.
“A large number of golfing visitors bus in to Carnoustie from St Andrews and immediately bus back after their round. We hope to retain these golfing tourists in Carnoustie and, by doing so, generate more business for the town as a whole.
“Under our Minute of Agreement with Angus Council, the funds of Carnoustie Golf Links can only be spent on maintaining and improving the golf courses and related facilities. However, as a charity we are now able to provide significant grants to local community projects and we will be doing that again shortly. Our charitable donations will be sizable and will not be affected by this project.
“We are currently investigating the provision of a driving range at Carnoustie. This is a very complex project and one that requires detailed, professional analysis and advice. If we can provide a driving range in the future, then we will do so. It is not the case of choosing between one project or the other. However, the Driving Range project is very challenging and is likely to take a considerable time.
“It is completely untrue, and deliberately misleading, to suggest that Carnoustie Golf Links do nothing, or could do more, for the town of Carnoustie. Aside from the obvious fact that we provide well-paid, secure employment for 60 permanent and 20 seasonal staff, we also employ around 80 caddies during the summer months. These people live, and, more importantly, spend the money they earn, in Carnoustie.
“We run the Craws Nest Tassie and Carnoustie Classic tournaments, which bring golfing tourists who stay in Carnoustie and use the pubs and restaurants. The Tassie, in particular, brings 300 visitors for a week. Nearly all staying in the town.
“This year we are staging two professional events. The British Seniors Open and the Dunhill Links. Again, these events bring many people into the town to stay and spend.
“Anyone who thinks we do not have to invest in our facilities to retain our place as an Open Championship venue is just naïve. I would suggest they go and visit Portrush or Turnberry or Birkdale or Troon and see the massive investment taking place at these venues. If we don’t invest and keep up, then we will lose our place on the rota, just as we did for 24 years between 1975 and 1999. It is that simple. Without the Open, we lose visitors. In turn we then lose income, and so on in a downward spiral.
“It is very frustrating to hear people talking Carnoustie down and being so negative. We constantly hear the cry that we are not St Andrews and never will be. We believe that Carnoustie can be as a good as anywhere.
“It is difficult to understand why two of our local Councillors in particular are so against investment in town, and why they should not want visitors to Carnoustie to have the best facilities possible.
We believe this will be a great project for the whole town of Carnoustie and think it is supported by the majority of townspeople.”