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Dunedin golf course to change name after legal threat from Scotland

DUNEDIN — For decades, this city's little par-3 golf course off Bayshore Boulevard has been known by one name: St. Andrews Links.

Nobody ever seemed to mind it. The name, a tribute to the world's oldest golf course by the same name in eastern Scotland, fit the city's tartan heritage. A local Presbyterian church and bagpipe band took the name, too.

Then last month came a big surprise. The city faced a devastatingly expensive lawsuit coming from afar: the owners of St. Andrews Links in Scotland.

Business leaders of the 15th-century course, classically regarded as the "home of golf," were readying for a multimillion-dollar merchandising assault on the American market. That meant securing their trademark — by any means necessary.

St. Andrews hired Washington, D.C.'s Nixon Peabody LLP, one of the largest law firms in the world, to notify the city it was infringing on that trademark.

The cost to keep the name: $75,000.

"We were, needless to say, stunned," Mayor Dave Eggers said. "We really pride ourselves on our connection to Scotland, never thinking for a moment we could be infringing on things."

The city hired Bill Larson, a Largo attorney specializing in patent, trademark and copyright law, to negotiate.

The city, Larson said, was on legally firm ground. The law allows for longstanding users to sometimes "grandfather" trademarks. To prove that in court, though, would have cost somewhere around $200,000.

"Sticker shock. It was just an insane amount," Larson said. "In the U.S., you're entitled to all the justice you can afford."

St. Andrews agreed to a compromise: As long as the city changed the golf course's name within 120 days, no money would have to change hands. The City Commission, fearing the price tag, voted to start thinking of a new name.

The local New World Celts, the Highland Games Committee, the Scottish American Club and the Dunedin Golf Club recommended a few ideas, most of which centered on the names "Dunedin Links" or "Stirling Links." On Thursday night, the commission voted for a compromise.

Golfers, welcome to "Dunedin Stirling Links."

The name change will be most significant for Billy Casper Golf, the management firm that in March began operating and marketing the city-owned course. The company recently registered the domain name "saintandrewslinks.com," adding on the website that the course "is not in any way affiliated with Saint Andrews Links of Scotland."

Vice Mayor Dave Carson said the legal threat was, in a way, a compliment to the work of Billy Casper Golf. Nobody objected to the name "until (Billy) Casper got involved," Carson said. "Obviously, Casper is doing some good marketing."

The new "Dunedin Stirling" name refers to Stirling, Scotland, Dunedin's sister city, and also the name of a local soccer club, skate park and fine arts gallery. Eggers recently called the provost of Stirling's council — a man named Fergus Wood, who serves as a kind of mayor — to see where the Scottish connection could get the city. (The answer: not far.)

Interestingly, the local "St. Andrews" name got its start in a courtroom, too. A company called St. Andrews Links, owners of the course then called the Oak Ridge Golf Center, sought to redevelop the land with a condo complex and a redesigned golf course in the summer of 1984.

When the city denied that construction, rezoning the land to "conservation," the developers sued in state and federal court, demanding damages of $30 million. Both sides settled the next year, and St. Andrews Links was born.

The course gained popularity over the years as its owners invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in its expansion. In 1989, course owners toyed with the idea of building a miniature golf course, featuring small Scottish castles and a replica of the original St. Andrews Royal and Ancient Golf Clubhouse in Scotland.

Attorney Larson, for his part, charged a discounted fee of around $5,000 to finish the case for the city.

"To me, it was kind of personal," Larson said. "That outsiders would come down here and try to bully a local municipality, I didn't think it was right."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 869-6244 or dharwell@sptimes.com.

Dunedin golf course to change name after legal threat from Scotland 01/21/11 [Last modified: Friday, January 21, 2011 7:49pm]
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