The Old Course, Royal Dornoch, Muirfield, Turnberry. Carnoustie, Kingsbarns; the list of world-class links courses in Scotland goes on and on.
Soon though, that list will get even longer as another ‘bucket list’ worthy course – if the pictures and words of its designer are anything to go by – is set to open in the home of golf.
Step forward, Dumbarnie Links.
Located at Lower Largo on the south coast of Fife, a little more than ten miles from St Andrews and directly across the water from Muirfield, the course already has all 18 holes shaped – 14 of them featuring sea views – less than six months after construction got underway. It is scheduled to open in spring 2020.
The course has been designed by Clive Clark, the 1973 Ryder Cup player and former BBC golf commentator. Clark previously worked with Peter Alliss, his TV colleague, in designing more than 20 courses in the south of England – notably the Marquess Course at Woburn – but Dumbarnie Links is a solo project and his first in Scotland.
It begs the question: what took him so long?
“My grandparents were from Aberdeen and I’ve always loved coming to Scotland,” Clark, who now resides in La Quinta, California, tells bunkered. “The opportunity just hadn’t presented itself to build a course here until this project, but it has certainly been worth the wait as the site is something truly special.”
Now, before we go further into details about the golf course, there are probably some things you’re keen to find out. For example, is the course open to the public? How much will it cost to play there? Will it have members?
Well, the course is pretty much following the model of Kingsbarns, located 15 miles along the East Neuk of Fife coastline. So yes, it’s open for everyone to play and no, there won’t be any members.
It is, quite simply, going to be a golf course with a clubhouse. As far as the green fee is concerned, Clark said a price has yet to be decided. That’s something that will happen closer to its opening. What he did say, though, was that it would be ‘high end’.
Clark spent four months in Fife in the summer overseeing the early stages of construction at the 345-acre site on the Balcarres Estate aided by Paul Kimber of Auchterarder-based KimberGlen, who is the project manager.
When he first set foot on the site, Clark got that ‘wow’ factor of what could be achieved with the land at his disposal and he believes the natural topography of the site makes Dumbarnie Links unlike any other links course in Scotland.
“It’s unusual because it’s a genuine links site built practically all on sand and it’s also on two levels, which is incredibly rare for a links course,” he continues. “If you think of a traditional links, they tend to be on a very long, narrow piece of ground and the holes run parallel to the beach or coastal dunes. This is a little different because there is a coastal plain that makes up the larger part (75%) of the site and the elevated part (25%) is 100 feet above sea level, so you get some wonderful panoramic views. The two pieces of land are connected together by a flowing escarpment.”
As well as its stunning location, another of Dumbarnie’s key attractions will be its playability. It will measure anything from 5,300 yards to 6,900 yards and the fairways, on average, are 45 yards wide. When Clark studied courses on the Open rota, excluding the Old Course, their fairways averaged 28 yards in the landing area.
“We don’t want to intimidate golfers, we want to inspire them,” he adds. “Having said that, we do have another dozen tees hidden way back so we can stretch it beyond 6,900 yards if we want to. Say Dustin Johnson turns up with a few of his mates one day. If he plays off the very, very back tees, it’s sure to catch his attention.”
The course will also be characterised by a hallmark of Clark’s designs to date: driveable par-4s. There are up to three of them at Dumbarnie Links if the wind is blowing in the right direction. The greens, meanwhile, will be subtle with no ‘buried elephants’ and huge undulations, Clark says, due to that wind factor.
“In my experience as a designer – and I’ve worked on around 35 courses now – golfers love short par-4s,” Clark continues. “For high handicappers, it gives them the belief that they can make par; for mid-handicappers, they think they can make a birdie; and, for low handicappers, it raises the possibility of them perhaps making an eagle. I liken it to shopping at Harrods when there’s a 50% discount – everybody enjoys it!
“Peter Alliss once said, ‘I’ve never heard anyone come off a golf course and say they’ve had the most wonderful time because they three-putted seven times and lost seven balls’. That sums up what I believe when it comes to designing a golf course.”
With Fife home to more than 40 courses, some may argue that this is a course that Scotland doesn’t necessarily need. Project manager Kimber, however, disputes this, referencing the success of the golf tourism industry in the region as to why Dumbarnie Links will prove incredibly popular with visitors.
“It’s hard to explain to most people in Scotland and the rest of the UK the draw that St Andrews has internationally,” he says. “The market in America, the rest of Europe and Asia is huge. It’s the Mecca for golf.
“In the summer, you can have 300 people disappointed that they’re not in the ballot and they’ll want to go and play somewhere else so, like Kingsbarns, we’ll be on-hand with another high-quality golf experience.”
Clark goes one step further than Kimber in his belief that Dumbarnie Links can become one of the best links courses in the world.
“If you study links courses, there are probably only 40, globally, that stand out as being world-class,” says Clark. “I would like to think that Dumbarnie Links can join that group. But above all, it’s just going to be a really fun course to play.”