Confidence in the ambitious plan to breathe new life into Musselburgh Old Links has attracted backing from the country which has the biggest growth on golf in the world.
“We have just secured some investment from China,” revealed Robin McGregor, director of Blue Thistle Ltd, which is set to spend £10 million over the next seven years on the project.
It involves a “sympathetic regeneration” of a course that staged The Open six times in its early days, as well as various improvements aimed at informing visitors of ‘The Musselburgh Story’.
“We are not having any problems getting money for this project,” added McGregor, a former Musselburgh Old Links club secretary, “and our new Chinese investor is going to be particularly useful in terms of contacts in taking our story to the large and quickly expanding golf market in that country.”
The aim is to make people all around the world more aware of the fact Musselburgh Old Links is one of just 14 courses to have staged golf’s oldest major.
The size of holes cut on every green in the game was also set by the East Lothian course while five Open champions, winning the event 11 times in total, were Musselburgh men.
“Of the 14 golf courses to have hosted The Open, this is the only one which hasn’t made the most of that fact. It is the only one that doesn’t have the profile of the others,” said McGregor.
“It is astonishing to think that it is on par with Carnoustie and Turnberry in terms of the number of times it hosted that event, albeit a long time ago. It really doesn’t sell those USPs [unique selling points] as well as it could and we have seen an opportunity to get involved.
“It is an opportunity to take those USPs and put it out into the golf world and take advantage of that, for the local community and Scotland also gets another prized piece of history for visitors to come and play and enjoy. It adds so much to the story that is already there. It is a missing piece in the jigsaw at the moment.
“St Andrews gets all the limelight just now but, if you look back at the annals, you will find Musselburgh playing as big a part, if not bigger, than St Andrews was at that time. That has all been forgotten, yet the golf course is still relatively as it was going back 400-500 years.”
Renowned architect Tom Mackenzie has been commissioned to carry out that “sympathetic” course work, which has been earmarked to start next winter, but the main part of the project is improving the visitor experience.
“We want to create a feeling of people walking in the footsteps of champions,” said McGregor. “We want people to feel excited and that’s important as soon as they arrive.”