It's one of Scotland's finest courses, sitting right next to one of the most famous golf resorts of them all – but it's lying empty and all but unused. Sandra Dick investigates the mystery of gWest

A well-aimed tee shot away from the perfectly manicured fairways of Gleneagles, carefully designed and lovingly tended, lies what could well be one of Scotland’s finest golf courses.

Stretching across rolling Perthshire countryside and designed by one of Scotland’s top golf architects, it should be a magnet for players from all over the world.

Instead, it lies unused and largely unknown, its fairways mostly untested and its eye-catching three-level clubhouse with its two large restaurants, silent.

Less than an hour’s drive from Edinburgh and Glasgow, the so-called gWest course was once heralded as a potential rival to its five-star neighbour.

Backed to the tune of £500 million by its Dubai-based family owners the Al Tajir family who also own water company Highland Spring, it was to be the main attraction amid a lavish resort, with a six-star, 180-bedroom hotel and 250 houses priced at £500,000 to £3m.

A shining example of high-class leisure, early marketing material crowed loudly of plans to offer its residents and guests “exceptional levels of service”.

“The atmosphere will be one of refined relaxation among like-minded people in truly luxurious surroundings. Residents and guests will enjoy flawless service and first-class leisure facilities,” it promised.

Said to hold the prospect of creating more than 1,000 jobs and injecting millions in the local economy, locals may well have been forgiven for thinking gWest was set to propel the village of Blackford on to the global golf map.

But despite the course being designed by leading Scottish golf architect David McLay-Kidd – whose courses include the Castle Course at St Andrews – and completed in 2009, gWest’s greens have been played by only a handful of golfers.

Now, after being shrouded in mystery for years, a member of the fabulously rich al-Tajir family has broken the silence to suggest the Scottish independence debate and Brexit turmoil are behind the resort being “bunkered”.

Speaking on BBC podcast The Patch, Mohsin al-Tajir, son of Highland Spring owner Mahdi Mohammed Al Tajir – whose fortune is estimated to be at least £1.66 billion – laid blame for what seems to be a decision to mothball the resort, on political issues.

“At the moment Brexit has come along, Scotland’s screaming for independence and the next phase of gWest is another £50, £60, £100m, and as a family we’re not willing to put that sort of money in if we don’t know what the future is,” he said.

“If tomorrow Scotland got independence and they decided to turn it into a tax haven like Monaco, we’d be the first there to put the money in. In fact, we’d put three or four (golf) courses in and build another two hotels,” he added.

“But the way we are today where it looks like taxation is going to go up, the local councils and local villages are going to control everything around them ... maybe it’s not the place I need to put my money. There are better places to put it.”

Along with his comments about the gWest site was a suggestion that complaints and objections to an extension to the Highland Spring business had had a detrimental impact on the family’s view of the area.

“It’s like they have this thing they don’t like to see successful people,” he added. “They’d much rather hear that he has gone bankrupt rather than he has made money or become big.

“When we built the extension to Highland Spring, the amount of people that objected ... I was feeding your family for past 30 years, why would you object?” he added. “Why are you objecting, it’s your livelihood for God’s sake.”

The comments have stung locals in the village of Blackford, which sits at the heart of the Al Tajir family’s estate, and who have watched the area change dramatically.

It is claimed that since the golf course’s construction, once familiar rights of way are no longer as accessible as they once were.

There have been whispered complaints about over-zealous security guards, bulls seemingly deliberately put in fields to deter walkers, and a sense that the land is “out of bounds”.

“We have core paths and assorted rights of way across the land but they don’t want members of the public going anywhere near it,” said one local resident, who asked not to be named. “There are gates but if you try to walk through, you’ll be challenged by a security guard. He will say you have no right to be there, that it could be dangerous.

“If you are building a resort with multi-million-pound homes, you don’t want a core path running outside the houses.

“It feels like it’s them and us.”

According to Iain Paton of Blackford Community Council, the “ghost” golf course has left people wondering what its purpose is, if it doesn’t have any players.

“People are mystified,” he said. “It is curious that there’s a golf club that seems well-maintained but hasn’t been used.

“There are rights of way across it, but when people last year tried to exercise their right to cross, they were apparently being chased off.

“There was a security guy there – I think ‘intimidating’ is a good word for it.

“It’s not like the course is surrounded by wire fencing, or that people aren’t able to go on it at all. It just not exactly welcoming.”

Plans for the resort were well under way when the global markets crashed in 2008. That crisis is thought to have led to the vision being reviewed. However, by 2013, plots at the gWest resort were being marketed for sale and businesses offered the chance to play the course.

However, political uncertainty caused first by the independence referendum and then Brexit is now said to have put off international investors and led to the development being mothballed.

However, local Perthshire and Kinross councillor for Strathallan, Tom Gray, wonders if there’s another, even harder problem to solve that may be a factor. “The climate here isn’t the best to place for a resort, not unless you want to go fishing or get wet,” he says. “This is Blackford, it’s not St Andrews where they can probably play golf all year round. I think you’ll find lots of puddles on a course around here.

“Climate change is definitely having an impact here. Even in my lifetime I’ve seen huge changes. Agriculture has changed – this used to be mixed arable and stock rearing area. Now it’s too wet for crops.

“There was surprise at how ambitious the plans were for the site. The sums being spent were very large. That took people by surprise. Blackford was never a huge destination. It was just a stopping-off point on the A9.”

For golfers who dream of the next challenge, gWest must feel so close, yet so far away.

One of the few people to have struck a ball there is Al Tajir himself. Speaking on the podcast, he said: “I have played gWest 20 or 30 times. It’s different, it’s a modern course. Anything hard, I don’t like.”

As to the future, perhaps all is not lost for golfers hoping to challenge their swing at Scotland’s “ghost” golf club.

“Eventually when the economy picks up in Scotland and we can see what is happening in the future, we will develop it properly,” he added.