Belfast Telegraph

Tycoon dies before dream of 5-star golf resort on north coast is fulfilled

By Nevin Farrell

The Belfast-born businessman behind the controversial £100m Bushmills Dunes golf resort near the Giant's Causeway has died – but the major scheme will still go ahead.

Dr Alistair Hanna, known to friends as Ali, was 69 and had battled cancer for four years.

He had been undergoing treatment for his condition in New York.

He was based in the United States for more than 40 years but travelled home regularly and was committed to helping regenerate his homeland.

Dr Hanna was a keen golfer, and it was his love of the sport that spawned his wish to see a large swathe of land on the scenic north coast transformed into a golf course.

Work is expected to start on the 18-hole championship golf course and a 5-star hotel complex at Bushmills by the end of the year. When complete, the project is expected to create more than 360 jobs.

Dr Hanna's plan for the golf course was fought in Belfast's High Court in a case brought by the National Trust, which objected on grounds that the resort was too close to the Giant's Causeway, a Unesco world heritage site. Stormont's Environment Minister at the time, Alex Attwood, granted planning permission to the resort in February 2012.

The development, on a 365-acre site, includes the course, hotel and 70 holiday lodges.

Speaking in 2012, Dr Hanna said of the Bushmills Dunes plans: "This is a unique project which will be world class in every aspect. The dunes are phenomenal.

"Every course architect who inspected the landscape has raved about the place.

"They've said: 'This piece of earth is just made for golf. It's amazing. There just isn't anywhere else like it in the world'.

"With Royal Portrush, Portstewart and Castlerock (golf clubs) in the same area, I want this part of the world to become a golf resort on a par with Pinehurst and Pebble Beach.

"I know this is a difficult time economically, but times will get better. We are not building for today. We are building for tomorrow.

"Golf in 2020 will be in a different place from where it is today and I want this place to be among the top 10 golf destinations in the world."

He added: "Darren Clarke, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell have done their bit. Now it's my time. We're on the golfing map and this is going to make it even better."

Project architect Richard Hunter said it was a tragedy that Ali Hanna did not live to see his dream fulfilled.

"The Bushmills golf plans have been in the offing for 20 years and Dr Hanna and I first talked about it in 1994," Mr Hunter said.

"We have worked together all that period of time and it is a very sad situation for all of us that he has passed away. It has been quite a big team effort."

Mr Hunter said both he and Dr Hanna were members of Royal Portrush Golf Club, just along the coast from the proposed Bushmills course.

He added: "Ali was a very keen golfer and as a native of Northern Ireland and a member of Portrush he retained a very strong interest in Northern Ireland and was very keen to see the place develop.

"He will be missed; he was a great friend of Northern Ireland and put a lot into Northern Ireland, and on a personal note he was a good friend of mine for many years.

"Every year he brought businessmen to play golf. He was a very keen golfer. I played with him and I would describe him as a 'better than average' golfer." Yesterday Dr Hanna's wife Nancy described the Bushmills project as "the culmination of a life's dreams".

Mrs Hanna, a retired priest in the Episcopal Church in the United States, said: "He was one of a kind. Ali inspired and warmed almost everyone he met."

Bushmills Ulster Unionist councillor Willie Graham said he was saddened to hear of Dr Hanna's passing and said he was looking forward to the golf course bringing more jobs and visitors to the area.

Cllr Graham said: "I am very, very sad to hear Dr Hanna has passed on.

"His plans are going to bring great prosperity and a lot of jobs to the north Antrim coast. I am looking forward to the golf course opening and I hope that is pretty soon."

Golfers at Royal Portrush Golf Club, who knew Dr Hanna from his regular trips there, also expressed their sadness at his death.

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