Analysis: Patches make way for pars

The inventor of nicotine pads has golf in his sights, writes Jason Nisse
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The Independent Online
Don Panoz is in a hurry. The businessman best known for inventing the nicotine patch had just arrived in Paris on a whistle-stop tour that started in Georgia, moved on to Ireland, took in Scotland and will end up in Australia. En route the hyperactive 64-year-old is taking time out to talk about his new pounds 50m golfing and conference development at St Andrews Bay, just up the coast from the famous Fife golfing town.

"It's gonna have two championship golf courses, 209 hotel rooms, three restaurants, conference facilities, a health spa and tennis courts," he enthuses. Will the tennis courts be indoors? "I don't know yet," he says. "They could be outdoors. Not all tennis players are woosies."

St Andrews Bay will be an all-inclusive conference resort aimed at companies who want their executives to "have fun while they work". The project, due to open in 2001, is based on a 520-acre site on a clifftop overlooking the famous Old Course at St Andrews. It promises to create 775 jobs.

The project has been bolstered by about pounds 14m of government money and is the latest venture for one of the most extravagant and innovative entrepreneurs around today.

Most people know Panoz because of his creation, Elan Pharmaceutical, which is Ireland's most successful drugs group, which he set up in 1969 after selling his first company, Mylan Laboratories.

Elan is best known for its work on nicotine patches. "Yeah, that got a lot of people's attention," says Panoz. "But Elan did lots of other great things."

Since leaving Elan, Panoz has been involved in a whole series of wild and wonderful business ventures.

The first was a vineyard 30 miles north of Atlanta in Georgia. No one had grown wine-producing grapes in Georgia since Prohibition, but Panoz's 3,500-acre winery, Chateau Elan, has since won a series of national and international awards.

In the way that Americans do, Panoz decided to find other ways to develop Chateau Elan, and opted for tourism. He thought golf might be a good attraction and set about building a golf course on the site. This has now expanded to a 63-hole monster of a golf complex, with a 25,000 sq ft conference centre, seven restaurants, an equestrian show centre and, as befits a man who lived more than 20 years in Dublin, an Irish pub.

After Chateau Elan came Diablo Grande, a similar project based around a 36-hole golf complex in northern California. There are also the leisure resorts, Granite Steps and Elan on Bay in Georgia, and the Lodge at the Sebring Raceway in Florida.

Other interests include a joint venture with the Le Mans raceway in France to develop the American Le Mans series, Elan Natural Waters, a mineral water company, and Campus Critters, a corporate and college mascot maker.

With all that going on, one would have thought Panoz had no time left for backing one of the largest leisure developments seen in Scotland for some time. But none of it.

Panoz brought his golfing conference centre ideas to the UK after noting the success of Scottish golfing holidays and the difficulty of making bookings to play the Old Course. The two courses, simply called the East and West courses at St Andrews Bay, have been designed by the veteran US golfer Gene Sarazen - apparently known as The Squirrel - and the Scottish star Sam Torrance. They should be ready in the summer of 2001 ("grass grows slowly," says Panoz).

Panoz says he is already receiving bookings for St Andrews Bay. Despite some local objections, mainly from conservationists, he is confident. "We've got a lot of supporters ... and some detractors," he says. "But I don't know where you don't get detractors when you're trying something new."

And Panoz is always trying to do something new.