World’s oldest links could have a new management company
Musselburgh Links, The Old Course, which is regarded by some as the world’s oldest golf course for continuous play, is the subject of a bid that could result in £10 million being invested in it, according to reports.
However, at least one decision-maker has said he is opposed to the proposals.
The nine-hole course, which hosted the Open Championship six times in the 1870s and 1880s, is thought to have been a golf venue since 1672. The venue is on ‘Common Good’ land, surrounded by Musselburgh Racecourse, and is managed by enjoyleisure on behalf of East Lothian Council.
According to the Courier, a firm called Blue Thistle, which was set up for this project and a director includes Robin McGregor, a former club secretary at Musselburgh, has approached the council to discuss “a bold and exciting proposition” which would see the par 34 course “regenerated, restored and recreated to the style and reputation of its former glory”.
A Blue Thistle spokesman said it hoped to capture the heritage of the course and “broadcast” it to a global audience. It wants to return the course to its 1896 set-up, with lost features recreated and placed in new positions.
He said: “This will challenge the modern golfer as well as the traditionalist who likes to play with hickory-shafted clubs. Some new tees and greens will be built. A course with the quality of an Open Championship venue is the goal.”
He added: “The proposals would see £10 million spent over the next seven years on the course and surrounding facilities to bring them up to the necessary international standards. This includes more than £3 million on marketing the golf course and area. Locally, we expect to create 40 new jobs, ranging from administration to hospitality.
“Blue Thistle, through binding shareholders agreements, has secured the necessary funding to launch this project. The shareholders are satisfied the business plan would make a reasonable return on investment over the medium to long term.
“By working in partnership with the stakeholders, East Lothian Council, local and national tourist organisations, local town development groups and local business, we believe these proposals offer exciting and new opportunities which benefit more than just golfers.”
The company would look to obtain a long-term occupancy or management agreement with the council. The Stables Pavilion would be refurbished with a new restaurant and lounge which would be open to the public. The locker rooms and WC facilities would be upgraded. An information centre and shop selling customised merchandise would be provided.
New practice facilities would be created, a PGA professional and general manager employed, and juniors encouraged to take up the game.
The spokesman said: “We would introduce a local resident scheme where locals can access the facilities at costs similar to what they pay just now. If an agreement in principle can be reached with the council, we would then discuss with the existing clubs and stakeholders what their needs were and how we could work with them to improve their members’ experience.”
The course is currently open to the public all-year-round and has its own golf club, Musselburgh Old Course Golf Club, and old-style hickory clubs can even be hired to play the nine holes.
A spokesperson for East Lothian Council said: “Musselburgh Old Course is Common Good land and as such is protected for the greater common good. East Lothian Council is aware of a commercial desire to take over the Old Course but the council and local members are duly bound to protect the common good.”
Ward councillor John Caldwell was “vigorously” opposed to the plan.
He said: “I totally disagree with this project. It states they will work with the council; I have discussed it with some council officers who have not shown any support or agreement. I have also spoken to a number of golfers and the clubs who are also not supportive.
“Musselburgh Links is the oldest playing course in the world and is known in East Lothian as their ‘jewel in the crown’.
“Everyone who plays this course will agree with me that the course has never been in such good condition. There are thousands of rounds played on this course annually and I would say it is not far off reaching its capacity. Increasing the number of rounds played will put strain on the course in maintaining its high standard.
“The course itself is currently known as an international golf attraction, providing golf to our welcome visitors at a reasonable cost. This course does not require millions of pounds of investment to make it great – it is a fantastic course.
“The large financial investment proposed would change the character of this prestigious course completely.
“This golf course is not a commodity for someone to come along and make it a financial investment.”