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Carnoustie is dead - It may be the end for many traders
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Carnoustie finds itself paying price for hotel's golfing deal

James Rougvie, The Scotsman, 19 June 2000

It should have been the best of times but instead it is the worst. Piles of Pringle sweaters, carefully-arranged boxes of golf balls and expensive golfing paraphernalia are gathering dust.

In her shop overlooking the first tee of the Carnoustie championship links, manageress Brenda Goddard totted up her sales receipts. Last year, the golf shop took more than £9,000 in the first week in June. This year it was only £3,000.

She pointed to the first tee of and the new hotel behind it and said: "That's the reason." The tee where the world's best known players addressed the ball in trepidation during last year's Open championship was deserted.

At the heart of the astonishing collapse of what should have been the best golfing tourism season since the Open returned to the Angus seaside town after 24 years, is an extraordinary deal struck between local politicians, the people who run the course and the owner of the new hotel, Michael Johnston.

The hotel last year clinched a deal of five hours of tee times every day, five days a week, for the next 34 years. Parties of four should be teeing off every ten minutes but they have not turned up.

Tour operators say no-one wants to stay in Carnoustie because nothing happens in the quiet east coast town. The result is the tees are booked for non-existent visitors. Casual players wanting a game can't get on because theoretically the tee is booked.

Local traders, small hotels, bed and breakfast establishments and shops had looked forward to 2000.

The wake of the Open always brings a boom but they are now staring at bust. Carnoustie is experiencing what many believe is the worst start to a tourist season in living memory. The twang of the early birds from the US is absent and droves of golfers from the east have never arrived.

The architects of the collapse, according to locals, are Angus Council, the Links Management Committee which administers the course, and the hotel owner.

The Open came back to Carnoustie because of the promise of the new hotel and the council, Scottish Enterprise and the Links Management Committee, put almost £1 million towards its £6 million construction cost.

But there is dismay and anger at how and why the secret tee time deal was struck. Local traders say there was no consultation and no discussion on the fine detail of the deal.

Joe McLory, a hotelier and Businessman's Association member, said: "Carnoustie is dead. This is the start of the season but it may be the end for many traders. The tourists aren't here because the hotel can't sell their tee times. If you want on the course you have to stay at the hotel."

Mr McLory said he and others had repeatedly asked to see the agreement on the times but had never been allowed to do so. "We are now at the stage where we are prepared to take political and legal action. The council and the committee have basically turned a public course into a private course."

SNP councillor David Selfridge, who joined the Nationalist-dominated administration on the council after the deal was done, said: "I have no idea who took this decision but the number of tee times which have been handed over is horrific."

Hotelier Joseph Martin said he had already lost £1,500 in bookings because he could not guarantee guests a game on the course. "Angus Council has handed over the birthright of the people of Carnoustie without letting people know what they were up to."

A council spokeswoman said the agreement on the tee times was a key factor in attracting the hotel development.

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