St Andrews Links Trust, the charity in charge of the historic Old Course, has returned to financial health following a record-breaking year for revenue and profit.

Chief executive Neil Coulson said the organisation is "in good shape now" after repaying more than £8 million in debt accumulated during Covid lockdown and travel restrictions of 2020 and 2021. The trust's cumulative losses for the two years were in excess of £11m.

“I joined right at the end of Covid, really, and it was a case of trying to repair the balance sheet and the tremendous stress that caused the business," said Mr Coulson, who was previously general manager of Wentworth Club in London.

The Herald: Neil Coulson, chief executive of St Andrews Links TrustNeil Coulson, chief executive of St Andrews Links Trust (Image: SALT)

"I am pleased to say we have done that, we have repaid the debt and that we are in good shape now and have got our reserves back in place."

In addition to the Old Course, St Andrews Links Trust is in charge of a further six courses in the area: the New Course, Castle Course, Jubilee, Eden, Strathtyrum and Balgove. It also has a number of associated facilities including the St Andrews Links Golf Academy.

More than 283,000 rounds were played last year across all of its courses, beating the previous record of 254,000 in 2019. Course occupancy - the number of rounds completed as a proportion of available tee times - hit a record high of 78%.

Demand was replicated "across all facilities" with 7.6 million balls hit at the St Andrews Links Golf Academy, two million more than the previous record number. Retail operations reported a 20% increase in customer numbers year-on-year, while food and beverage was up by 29%.

As a result, a record £44m in operating revenue was generated in 2023, with an operating profit of £11.5m. This was up from revenues of £34m and a profit of £3.7m in 2022.

Mr Coulson said the trust is now "more aspirational" as it emerges from the financial shadow of Covid, with the recovery in the balance sheet and reserves paving the way to further investment in physical and digital infrastructure.

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"We need to invest in our facilities," he said. "We want to improve the experience we’re delivering, and to do that we need to find ways of trying to increase our revenues and our surplus.

"2023 is a result of a lot of that discussion and a lot of that strategic planning that has been going on for a couple of years. Hopefully it’s a sign of a direction of travel rather then a one-off – 2024 certainly seems to be backing the trend of levels of demand.”

The investment strategy includes upgrades to both the "front and back-end" experience. Following the introduction in March of the "Old Course Singles Daily Draw" for golfers looking to fill in any spaces alongside booked twosomes or threesomes at the ancient links, work is currently underway on a new app.

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Key infrastructure projects include a multi-year upgrade of irrigation systems across all courses, extensions and upgrades to the Links Clubhouse and the Golf Academy, and a plan to renovate the Castle Course to open all year round.

Mr Coulson said the trust will also continue dune maintenance and restoration work following the multiple storms this past winter that caused excessive damage.

“These unprecedented results for 2023 underline the renown in which the Home of Golf is held both here in St Andrews and around the world," he added. "The demand, not just on our golf courses but across all facilities, has been incredible and has significantly accelerated our recovery from a difficult period in 2020 and 2021."