Erosion may put golf course tees out of bounds

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The Independent Online

For more than 400 years, golf has been played on the links of Montrose, making it one of the earliest established courses in the world. Generations of sportsmen have teed-off among the sand dunes that dominate the spit of sandy land a mile wide on which the east coast community is built.

However, changing seas and coastal erosion is now threatening to destroy part of the course and experts are worried public safety is at risk unless there is an urgent redesign. The dunes along the seafront are at imminent risk of collapse after recent high tides carried sand away from the bottom of the dunes and strong winds attacked the top, leaving them unstable.

After four centuries - the existence of golf at Montrose was recorded as early as 1562 - council officials have called for part of the course to be moved inland as increased sand-dune erosion at Montrose beach is making the sand dunes unstable.

It is estimated that to relocate just two of the tees, which are worst affected, could cost up to £1.5m. Although Angus Council has been considering plans to arrest the erosion, with the erection of fencing and altering the slope of the most affected dunes to make them more stable, engineers claim they are fighting a losing battle.

"Erosion in spring 2006 has made the dunes system at Montrose beach highly unstable and action has been taken to fence off the southern length along the golf course edge and erect additional warning signs," said Ronnie McNeil, Angus Council's roads director, in a report recommending that the golf course operator, Montrose Golf Links, relocates the second and third tees as soon as possible.

"Further action may be required to safeguard the public, including active intervention to stabilise sections of the dunes as the system goes through the erosion cycle," he said.

"This will impact on the golf course further and it is considered prudent to recommend to Montrose Golf Links that they relocate the second and third tees landward." Experts are concerned that as the steepness of the dunes has increased, bad weather expected over the next few months, along with high tides and rough sea conditions, will dramatically increase the rate of degradation. "They are now extremely vulnerable to further erosion during adverse weather and sea conditions over the next few months during the period of high tides, which will increase the degree of instability," said Mr McNeil. Proposals to tackle the problem of erosion with a coastal protection scheme for the area has been ruled out because the measures could affect an environmentally protected site of special scientific interest further along the coast at St Cyrus.

Any such project would also be unlikely to receive any financial help from the Scottish Executive because it would not be considered effective.

A spokesman for the council said that teams had been monitoring the beach and carrying out surveys but that further research, using all the available data on wave heights, wind speeds, beach and seabed contours and tide levels, was still continuing.

Eight years ago a study into the possible erosion of the coastline bordering the golf course indicated the shoreline could recede by up to 260ft by 2050.

Although golf has been played on the links since the 1500s it was not until 1810 that the golfers of Montrose formed themselves into an official club, to fight off a threat by the town council to build a school on the first tee.

A spokeswoman for the club said that it was unable to comment on the report until it had been before the council today.