Drive to attract Chinese golfers

JACK McConnell launched a drive yesterday to attract thousands of Chinese golf enthusiasts to play in Scotland.

The First Minister, in Beijing to promote Scottish interests, teamed up with British Airways and VisitScotland to promote the first golf packages to Scotland from China.

The launch came as it emerged that Donald Trump, the billionaire American property tycoon, is close to signing a deal to develop part of an Aberdeenshire estate into a flagship golf links development.

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Officials estimate that Chinese tourism could be worth 70 million to Scotland over the next four years, now that many of the travel restrictions on Chinese citizens have been lifted by their government.

Mr McConnell, a keen golfer himself, with a handicap of 16, believes that Scotland can take advantage of what is potentially one of the biggest tourist markets in the world for golf tourism.

The packages are the first to be offered to the Chinese since last year's removal of restrictions on Chinese tourists travelling to the UK. They will include stays of up to five nights around Scotland, including courses at St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns,

The package is being promoted by the airline, VisitScotland and by selected Chinese golf clubs.

The game is booming in China, where the number of courses is expected to almost double this year.

Mr McConnell said: "The whole world is trying to target the massive Chinese tourism market that is opening up. We need to play to our strengths and golf is certainly one of them."

He continued: "There are many fantastic facilities being developed at present here in China, but I believe that any golfer who never plays in Scotland is a golfer unfulfilled. There is something special about playing at the home of golf.

"The Chinese have a strong attachment to traditions and history and I know that the birthplace of golf will hold a very strong appeal."

Mr McConnell stopped off in Beijing on his way back from the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne to build on relationships he developed on his first visit two years ago.

Meanwhile, officials of the Trump organisation's golf development wing, Trump Golf Properties, are understood to be in detailed negotiations to buy the Menie Links, close to the mouth of the River Ythan.

The site, about seven miles north of Aberdeen, will be the company's first luxury golf development outside the US.

The Menie Links are on the Menie Estate, owned by businessman Tom Griffin. Part of the site, which lies on the coast between Balmedie and Newburgh, is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Ashley Cooper, the managing partner of Trump Golf Properties, said yesterday: "At this point we own nothing in Scotland and have no comment to make." And a spokeswoman for the Menie Estate said they would not comment on the speculation about a possible prestige golf development at the site.

However, Scottish Natural Heritage has confirmed the agency was approached by planning officials from Aberdeenshire Council in October last year about the possibility of a golf development at the Menie Links.

The approach was made by council officials as part of pre-application discussions by an undisclosed developer.

SNH has raised concerns about development in the area as it would overlap Foveran Links, a protected stretch of sand dunes listed as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. There may also be otters and badgers in the area.

A spokeswoman for the agency said: "We are still talking to the council and the council are still asking our advice about it."