Outgoing Royal Portrush boss linked to new hotel plan next to course

Royal Portrush Golf Club. Picture by Justin Kernoghan
Ryan McAleer

THE outgoing boss of Royal Portrush has launched a bid for a new hotel next to the world famous golf course.

Wilma Erskine, who is set to retire as secretary manager of the club after 35 years, was one of the key figures credited with helping bring the British Open to the north coast resort town for the first time since 1951.

Last month she set up a new real estate company with US entrepreneur Jonathan Harper (42).

Ballykeel Beg Holdings Ltd has now notified Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council of its plans to replace a house on the edge of Royal Portrush with a hotel.

The bid remains at the pre-application stage, but the new company has lodged a proposal of application notice (PAN) with the local authority.

In May, the Galgorm Spa and Golf Resort announced Ms Erskine as a new non-executive director. The move was seen as an effort to boost the Co Antrim resort’s golf offering.

It’s not believed there is any link between the new Portrush bid and the Galgorm Collection hospitality group.

It’s understood the hotel bid is being backed by US investors.

The house at the centre of the proposal is located just across the Dunluce Road from the site of an ill-fated £30m hotel proposal by Texas-based Arc Investments.

The US investor, which lodged its bid as North Coast Ventures, withdrew the application in November 2018 after significant community resistance to its plans for the ten acre site.

Just over 430 people registered their opposition to The Dunluce Resort & Spa.

The company’s so-founder Gavin Boyd said his firm had pulled the proposal after listening to the community feedback.

“We understand those concerns and accept that the initial plans outlined weren’t appropriate,” he said at the time.

It’s understood that Ballykeel Beg House at 109 Dunluce Road was built in 1936 for Mr and Mrs Eustace Stanley Dashwood.

The house, which overlooks the fourth fairway of the championship course, was designed by Young Mackenzie, who at the time were considered one of the most successful architectural practices in Belfast.

In more recent years, it was owned by Ballymoney solicitor Hugh Clarke, a past president of the Royal Portrush Golf Club. It’s understood that the site was recently acquired by US-based investors for around £2.5 million.

In all, the site at 109 Dunluce Road is approximately 8.5 acres. Much of the site is covered by mature trees, which enshroud the house from view on the Dunluce Road.

More details of the hotel proposal are expected to be outlined at an event at Portrush town hall on December 12.

It’s understood that the developer intends to submit a full planning application in early 2020.

The development comes just two weeks after the High Court quashed planning permission for a new £20m hotel and leisure resort on the north coast.

North Antrim TUV MLA Jim Allister had challenged the legality of the planning approval for the four-star 120-bedroom complex near Portstewart.

In January, the planning committee of Causeway Coast and Glens Council voted to approve a £6.6m bid to redevelop the former Londonderry Hotel in Portrush, against the recommendation of officials.

Belfast-based Andras House is behind the plan for the new 87-bedroom hotel.

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