SCOTS are at the heart of a new deal to build the first golf course and resort development in Cuba since the communist revolution more than half-a-century ago.

Esencia Hotels and Resorts, chaired by former Scotland Office minister Brian Wilson, is behind the Carbonera project, which will offer foreigners the rare opportunity to buy property on the Caribbean island.

The move comes five decades after Fidel Castro virtually eliminated golf in Cuba, which is undergoing a period of economic liberalisation, because he considered it "elitist". Soon after Castro came to power in 1959 the revolutionary leader began his march on Cuba's dozen or more courses.

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The tanks rolled in, and some were turned into military facilities. One became an art school, and Castro reportedly built a house on the fairways of another. By the time he was finished, only two courses remained.

However, now, more than half-a- century later, a more relaxed political regime and a thirst for tourist revenue has paved the way for the communist government to approve the course.

Foreigners will also be able to buy property on the developments, the first time this has been allowed in Cuba since a short-lived experiment in the 1990s.

UK development company Escencia, which has been working towards the $350 million project for nine years, has secured a joint venture with Cuba's tourism ministry to develop the 170-hectare site, which lies close to the country's only remaining 18-hole course at Varadero, which was originally built in the 1930s.

Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero said: "It will be a major complement to [the resort town of] Varadero and the start of a whole new policy to increase the presence of golf in Cuba."

The development will include around 800 apartments and villas, tennis centre, country club hotel, residential spa and aquatic activities as well as a Tony Jacklin-designed golf course.

Cuba currently has just 27 holes for golfers. The nine-hole Havana Golf Club survived the Castro regime as a venue for foreign diplomats and visiting businessmen, while Varadero, originally also nine holes, was extended to 18 holes in 1998 thanks to a $20m investment from the government.

Cuba is now planning to build "at least" 11 residential golf course resorts, Marrero said.

Last year, tourism officials said that Cuba was planning to build 13 golf courses by 2020; two years earlier, Marrero announced plans for "up to" 16 golf courses.

Esencia's chief executive, Scots-born Andrew Macdonald says he expects building to begin next year.

Mr Macdonald said: "Golfers are renowned for travelling to new places but the problem in Cuba is that, with only one course, it could scarcely be marketed as a golf destination.

"After our project, there are others in the pipeline backed by companies from Spain, China and Vietnam."

Scotland has long enjoyed strong links with Cuba, which has been called the Hebrides of the Caribbean.

The Scottish Parliament has an all-party group devoted to promoting links between the two countries while Glasgow has been twinned with Havana since 2002.

Mr Wilson said: "Change is occurring in Cuba at the pace determined by the Cubans. So long as their priorities and safeguards are respected, a great deal is now possible.."