ONE of Scotland’s richest women is heading a consortium that plans to create an exclusive golf and country club in the grounds of her Highland castle estate.
The 20 million plan for Beaufort Castle, near Beauly, which is owned by Stagecoach millionairess Ann Gloag, would create a rival for the luxury Skibo Castle in Sutherland and provide a huge international tourism boost for the area.
It was revealed yesterday that an outline planning application has been lodged with Highland Council to establish Beaufort Castle Golf and Country Club on 399 acres of land at the Kiltarlity end of the estate.
A report by independent consultants predicts the development will create the equivalent of 51 full-time jobs, and possibly a further 180 in the long term.
Mrs Gloag bought the castle and 19,500-acre estate from the family of the late Lord Lovat for around 1.3 million in 1995. She is heading a consortium known as Beaufort Castle Golf and Country Club Ltd which also includes the Inverness-based Tulloch plc and Perthshire property developers King.
The castle will remain her private residence and she will retain the remaining 97 per cent of the estate which lies on the north side of the river.
It is predicted that the planned 6,551-yard championship golf course, with a par of 71, will be of a quality to attract golfers from around the world. The design will use the existing contours of the land, which course architects feel is of such a quality as not to require any major remodelling.
The country club will be situated at the heart of the course, close to the ninth green and tenth tee, and will be focused on the existing Home Farm, a listed building, which will be converted into a clubhouse, restaurant, bar, cafe, swimming pool, spa, steam room, gym and beauty-care facility. It will also have nine guest suites.
There will be 82 luxury guest lodges, some for purchase and some for timeshare, built in the woodland. The final phase of the development will be a hotel capable of hosting conferences and seminars.
Mrs Gloag said: "We think this can bring visitors from all over the world to the area and be a great stimulus to the economy of Kiltarlity and Beauly in particular but also to the Highlands as a whole, as these golf visitors will want to spend time in other parts of the region.
"I have been made very welcome since making my home in this area and I think this development will help put something back in to the community.
"The consultants are projecting an annual off-site visitor spend of 1.5 million in shops, restaurants, visitor attractions, etc," she added.
"Along with the 231 full-time jobs identified in the study, the complex has the capacity to be of great social and economic benefit locally."
She said the plan includes an area set aside for the future housing expansion of the village of Kiltarlity, including lower-cost housing.
It is hoped that work will begin on site next autumn, with the golf course taking two years to establish. The clubhouse and country club will open at the same time, with the guest lodges introduced in phases of 20 a year.
"This is an ambitious development not being driven by people from outwith the area, but by Highland and Scottish input and investment and we’re rather proud of that," continued Mrs Gloag.
David Sutherland, the chairman of Tulloch plc, said the Beaufort club will be run on a membership basis similar to the Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle and will be a significant new asset to Scotland.
However, he added: "Despite its exclusive nature, we are keen to make an arrangement by which local people can gain access to the course on a pay-and-play basis, which is not the case at other members-only clubs in the country."
Mrs Gloag bought the 23-bedroom castle and contents nine years ago, amid reports that debts of 7 million forced the Lovat Frasers to put the local landmark and surrounding land on the market.
Last year, the young chief of the Lovat Fraser clan told The Scotsman of his burning ambition to rebuild the historic family estate and reclaim its ancestral seat.
Simon Fraser, the 25th chief, said that one day, he wants to buy back Beaufort Castle, which was the Lovat's base for more than 500 years until 1995.
Mrs Gloag’s new plans appear to have the backing of local residents.
Hamish Maclennan, the chairman of Kiltarlity Community Council, said: "This has been rumoured for some time but we have not seen the details yet.
"But I think people will generally be happy about it as it will bring more people into the area and create a bit of employment. It can only do some good for the parish."
Graham Smith, the customer service manager for the Highlands of Scotland Tourist Board, said golf is a key element of the national tourism strategy and added: "These types of developments have pretty much all been successful so we would welcome such a proposal which would be within striking distance of Inverness.
"It’s difficult to see a downside from a tourism perspective."