Carnoustie faces 'disaster' over hotel's tee time deal

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The Independent Online

All is not well on the greens of Carnoustie.

All is not well on the greens of Carnoustie.

A year after the Scottish town hosted the British Open Championship, it should be experiencing a boom but has ended up instead with a dearth of visitors and an unseemly row over golfing conduct. Irate hoteliers and business owners in the Tayside resort, 10 miles east of Dundee, are up in arms over a deal which, they claim, has given one hotel an unfair dominance over access to its famous links.

The focus of the dispute is the £6m Carnoustie Golf Course Hotel, opened last year in time for the Open and billed as the salvation of a town that, until then, had not hosted a major tournament for 24 years.

Such was the anxiety of local politicians, the managers of the course and the hotel to secure success that they struck a bargain which, other businesses say, has now driven hundreds of visitors away. The hotel was granted first refusal on five hours of teeing-off times every day, five days a week for the next 34 years. According to opponents this, in effect allows it to dominate half the play of every day.

With one game teeing off every 10 minutes, officials at Angus District Council and Carnoustie's Links Management Committee calculated that the championship course would be full to bursting by high season. But local traders say the hoped-for glut of 2000 has turned into a drought because the Golf Course Hotel has been unable to fill all its slots on the course - leaving precious few for visitors staying elsewhere in the town.

Joe McClory, a committee member of the Carnoustie Hotelier and Businessman's Association, said: "The town is deadly quiet. People cannot get tee times on the course, so they are simply not coming. This should be one of our busiest seasons ever but instead Bed and Breakfast places have just a handful of bookings and three hotels are up for sale. We're on the brink of disaster." One golf shop owner claims her takings for June have been cut by two-thirds to £3,000 compared to last year, while another hotelier says he has lost £1,500 of bookings because he cannot guarantee a golf round.

Mike Johnston, owner of the 85-room Golf Course Hotel, hit back at the criticism saying that the hotel was occupying 90 per cent of its tee times and the town was experiencing one of its busiest years. He said: "We have players for the vast majority of the tee times that we have an option on. We employ 120 people and the hotel relies on local producers - it is not right to suggest that we are taking business away. If anything we are encouraging more people to come to Carnoustie."

Angus Council said the deal had been vital. A spokeswoman said: "The council believes it is still too early to judge if it is meeting its objectives."