Dumbarnie Links lies within the 5,000-acre Balcarres Estate, a property that’s been in the hands of Lord Balniel’s family for more than for hundred years. With holes set out a short distance from the shores of Largo Bay, between the links layouts at Lundin Golf Club and the Golf House Club at Elie, Dumbarnie Links is a Clive Clark design which first opened its doors to the public as a pay-and-play facility in the spring of 2020.
Course construction by American contractor Landscapes Unlimited was supervised by project manager Paul Kimber (formerly the lead architect for David McLay Kidd on the nearby Castle course at St Andrews) and it was he who brought a tight, 6-month build to completion prior to a lengthy grow-in period in advance of the official opening. Scottsdale-based company OB Golf Sports Management now oversee operations at the course.
The links occupies a 350-acre portion of the estate, with an out and back routing to bring holes tantalisingly near to the beach on both the front nine (at #4 and #9) and the back nine (at #10, #13 and #14). Like Kingsbarns, everything here was fashioned by man, including the separating low dunes and the softening contours that enable a smooth transition between the coastal holes and those laid out on higher ground further inland.
There’s plenty of movement in the greens, with ample run off areas to allow recovery shots to be played. There’s also a great mix of bunker styles as some are eco-bunker pots, some are irregularly shaped hazards, while others are basically large sand scrape areas fringed by native vegetation. And, for golfers who like elevated tee positions, holes 6, 8 and 9 all call for shots from raised platforms facing straight downhill towards the Firth of Forth.
The par four 1st hole sets out the stall rather well for what lies ahead, featuring a wide fairway bounded by sandhills on either flank leading downhill to a huge green protected by ragged-edged bunkers. It all looks rather innocuous until you take a closer look and notice the burn to the left which then cuts across the hole a short distance in front of the green – so it ends up not quite as benign as it might appear from the tee.
Other highlight holes include the doglegging 5th and 15th (where split fairways offer options on the best route to take to both greens). All four of the par three holes (the downhill 8th in particular is a little beauty) and short par fours at the 3rd 11th and 17th, with the last of these holes a “signature hole” contender, playing uphill to a heavily sand-protected three-tiered green that lies beyond a 300-year-old stone wall.
In advance of the course opening, Lord Anthony Balniel said: “There was an air of uncertainty when my family was first approached about building a golf course on our land. Fast forward several years and we simply could not be more pleased. What Clive Clark and his team have done is nothing short of outstanding. I have been struck not only by the beauty of what has been created… but also by the focus on the wildlife, plants and birds.”
Dumbarnie was the 2nd course I played on a three-day trip, which was bookended by Muirfield and North Berwick. It only added to the excellent variety on our itinerary – Muirfield being the old and traditional club and NB being the extremely quirky and fun course. Dumbarnie is more similar to NB than the 15-time Open Championship venue, with enjoyment being paramount as opposed to perfect architecture and tradition. The similarities between Dumbarnie and North Berwick stop there however, with Scotland’s newest course being perhaps more playable than anywhere else I’ve played, and I’ll explain why.
The fairways are extremely wide (60+yards at times), making life easy for a high handicap. Because of this you probably won’t lose any balls around Dumbarnie. Despite the wide fairways, it still manages to challenge low handicappers by using centerline bunkers, split fairways, some forced carries and blind shots. All of these features make the player commit to a certain line or side of the fairway to give them the best angle into a green. The best examples of these characteristics are found on 3, 5, 7, 13, 15, 17 and 18.
The playability and options don’t end off the tee though, with slopes around the greens giving golfers multiple ways of attacking flags and hitting chips. The greens generally act as bowls where balls will roll onto them instead of being repelled by them. You will find yourself on multiple occasions watching your ball roll towards the hole as opposed to rolling into a bunker for example. Because of this you might find you make more birdies than normal, which only adds to the satisfaction of the round.
There is a wonderful mix of short and long holes, which is another compliment to the designs variety. On top of everything, there are beautiful views over the Firth of Forth throughout the round, and there is enough undulation to keep it interesting. The holes also constantly change direction meaning the wind is constantly a factor and having to be reassessed.
My favourite holes are:
2 – A good par 5 with a brilliant punchbowl green. You could hit 50 approaches into this green and not get bored
3 – An all world drivable par 4 that is arguably the best hole on the course. It has beauty and strategy in spades, with a centre line bunker for those laying up, and a funky green for those deciding to take it on.
5 – A long uphill par 4 with a split fairway. The dunescape up the right side makes you feel like you’re playing golf on the moon
8 – A gorgeous short par 3 where anything from a 1-6 is in play. The best hole along with 3.
17 – A clever short par 4 with a stonewall running through it, and a crazy green.
13 and 15 are great par 5s with plenty of options that deserve a special mention too.
My only criticism of the course is the pyramid shape dunes, which are extremely repetitive, and blatantly man made. A bit of imagination would have gone a long way in making the dunes look more natural. Nevertheless, everything else is first class.
Dumbarnie is a blast and a great addition to Scottish golf, and when it gets enough reviews, will be well deserved of its inevitable place in the GB&I Top 100. Make sure you visit, and instead of expecting a classic links, just enjoy it. You’ll find yourself trying to hit shots you never normally try to hit, and will definitely leave with a smile on your face.
Having heard incredible things about Dumbarnie Golf Links throughout the year, I was keeping my eye open for any deals to get a tee time on "Scotland's newest golf course." Noticing they were shutting for the winter I checked what the prices were for a Scottish Resident and was welcomed with a quote of £85. We decided to book then and there with the thought that when they reopened in 2021 they would be demanding a much higher fee.
The facilities were minimal but they had made a huge effort to be able to provide some services despite the clubhouse not being finished yet. BBQ bacon roll went down nicely and the Pro Shop within a portakabin was well kitted out.
Onto the course itself. The view from the first tee was nothing short of spectacular. The dunes towered over every hole and the fairways look immaculate. The highlights of the front 9, for me, were the 8th Par 3 hole and the 9th Par 4. Both holes tee off facing south towards the firth of forth and on a clear day you may be able to make out Muirfield, The Renaissance Club and North Berwick West across the water.
The back 9 was far more testing. Par 4 10th has a small lake/pond on the right side just before the green. Anyone who can drive the ball a fair distance seriously risks hitting their ball into the water here (I did), so worth with a conservative lay up before playing for the green. The 13th Par 5 was a very tricky hole, for my limited golfing abilities. The 17th par 4 was another highlight. An uphill drive over a centuries old stone wall made for a lovely penultimate hole.
Overall, I was completely blown away with the entire golfing experience. I still struggle to decide what my favourite hole was. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have played this course on it's opening year. Hopefully I'll be able to play again sometime in the future provided I can justify the green fee!
Fantastic course. Played off the Blue tees (at just over 6400 yards) on a calm day, that proved to be a perfect test for us. Lots of great holes set amongst the dunes and immediately loved the par 5, 2nd hole with its two burns and elevated two-tier green. Split fairways are a great feature of the course and with the drivable par 4s offers real risk / reward shots.
Best par 3 on the course is the 8th with the Firth of Forth as a magnificent backdrop. The back 9 is a bit tougher, starting with the very demanding and magnificent par 4, 10th hole and followed by tricky 13th, 15th & 16th holes. My favourite hole was the 17th hole which is a perfect risk / reward split fairway, par 4. Either play a long iron up the left and leave a 9 iron in or go straight at the hole, over a wall and 230 yard carry, avoiding the bunkers for a chance of an eagle or birdie.
Greens are in great condition and with excellent mix of naturalised and revetted bunkers, generous fairways and yet to mature rough, allows for a very enjoyable round.
Already Top 15 in my view, but as the rough matures and clubhouse opens, enhancing the overall experience, who knows how high it might reach.
Lucky with the weather, I played this course in sunny and calm conditions which made it very playable - in the wind it would certainly show its teeth. A real risk / reward course with the driveable par 4's a fantastic inclusion, especially the 3rd. Greens were outstanding and once the rough matures, this will be a top course. I enjoyed the seclusion the manufactured dunes provide on each hole and the course is only going to get better. Only disappointment being that for paying close to £500 for a 4 ball, we were presented with a plastic ball marker and four tees from the starter - in my view visitors deserve a better quality memento.
Played here recently. Very very good. Some great holes set amongst the dunes. Amazing what they have done to create a course here. All very new and just needs time to 'bed in' and establish. In 2 years will be superb.
I was torn between 5 and 5.5 for this course,. Its a great course full of great holes, infact a good majority of the holes would stand out as signature holes on most golf courses. Strangely I think this amount of signature holes makes you get complacent about how good the place is, you walk onto the first 5 tees and go "oh my god" on each one, but then as I mention you get a bit "oh well another stunning hole , so what" it may actually sound daft but it may be too good ! I am unsure if when we played it the wind was unusual but I felt for the longer hitter the blue tees at 6500 were not tough enough, I hit all the par 5's in 2 and reached all the 3 risk reward par fours. So I would say if you re not a big hitter play off the blue tees and if you are long play off the blacks at 6900. A really great design, very interesting, amazing scenery, great greens and the par 3's are great if a little bit samey.
My major criticism would be the 10th hole, there is a lake on the right with a brook running all the way across the hole meaning on a 470 yard par 4 you have to lay up otherwise you run into the brook. Fine but if you get within 30 yards of the brook it is all downhill and you will find a watery finish, which I did. So a hole with a lay up at 220 and then a 250 yard approach needs looking at in my opinion.
Definitely definitely worth visiting, its a course that if you are miles off line it will kill you, but if you are moderately straight it is definitely not too penal and you could come off with an ego boosting score!
Brilliant course with fantastic views on most holes. Each hole looked great from the tee and there was nothing mundane about any of it. The course is in great condition although in some places in the rough there was a lot of stones from where earth had been recently laid. I’m sure this will disappear as the course matures. Only fault would be the cost. £235 to play a new course is a bit steep for me. I understand the business model and pricing was aimed at Americans, Japanese and Chinese but there is no clubhouse and food/drinks had to be eaten outside. Pro shop and toilet are Porto cabins. Maybe need to look at cost during Covid-19. The old course is £190 and on the same trip we also played ladybank for £40. Those 2 courses for less than the cost of dunbarnie was much better value.
Played this morning and have nothing but good things to say. A choice of 3 different tees (Men) and each hole provides you with a different challenge. The rough is extensive but fair and the quirkiness of the holes are a joy. As soon as we finished, we wanted to play again. This will become one of the top golf courses in Scotland!
What a good golf course!!!! A wonderful design and I'm sure it will be an impressive facility once the clubhouse is finished, with looks over the 18th green to the water.
The quality of the course was summed up by all of our group asking "if this was the best course in Scotland?" I fully expect it will be an immediate entry into the Top 10 in the country when the rankings are reviewed next.
The course itself, has a great mix of holes that each ask different questions and require different shots. A very strategic course, where avoiding deep bunkers and water features gives many options to play a hole. There are some great risk reward holes with drivable par 4's and split fairway par 5's. I'd be pushed to choose a favourite, but the short par 3 8th, with a very thin green and run off area and the drivable 17th, littered with pot bunkers and a slopping two tiered green would be stand out holes on any course.
In an area full of great golf courses, I'd choose to go back and play this one over the rest.
It’s always a thrill to front up at a new place where the course is still growing in, with temporary buildings everywhere, basic hard core access roads and only foundations in place for the clubhouse. It kind of strips everything back, reminding you that you’re there to appraise the golfing layout – not the of course amenities, the service, or anything else.
It’s also pretty cool to be able to play from whatever tee box you like as there were no markers (or any signage) set out to dictate exactly where you had to hit from. So, taking a lead from playing partner Paul Kimber who project managed the construction, we played from a variety of different tee boxes during our round.
I thought from pictures I’d looked at beforehand that I might not like the sculpting of the pyramid-shaped dunes (a bit like those for the Links course at WINSTONgolf in Germany) but they’re really not an aesthetic distraction at all because there’s way too much going on from tee to green to pay too much attention to the peripheral mounding between holes.
As far as I’m aware this was the first overseas project undertaken by the Landscapes Unlimited firm that constructed the course but they certainly knew what they were doing (and so they should do with more than 900 courses built in the USA) when they laid out the links here in a record time of around six months.
You’ll not find any flat “motorway fairways” at Dumbarnie. Instead, great care was taken to make everything appear as natural as possible, with nothing flat or bland to be found on any of the holes. Also, in order to keep the holes on the higher ground at 6,7 and 8 as authentic as possible, each of them was sand capped to ensure they play firm and fast, just like the others.
For me, the most notable holes on the front nine were the 5th (with its wonderful split fairway) and both the downhill par threes at the 6th and 8th, though I probably played the first of these two from a forward tee position so they both measured around 160 yards – the sort of distance all short holes should be played at!
The longer back nine is also tougher and I really liked the challenging par five 15th (with another split fairway) and the uphill 17th, which requires quite a carry to get over the dyke if the wind is against. Both par threes on the inward half are feature holes, especially the downhill 16th with an enormous swale in front of the 2-tiered green.
Some traditionalist might wince at the extent to which eco bunkers have been used (though already the gaps between the plastic liners are grassing over), especially when the blown-out styling of the fairway hazards is so easy on the eye.
Even more contentious is the sight of a pond to be negotiated on the right side of the 10th hole, where the routing comes into close proximity with the SSSI wetland areas in the south east section of the property, near to the coastline – it’ll be interesting to see what sort of reaction this water feature provoke from the first wave of visitors in May.
Funded by fourteen American investors and designed by an American-based architect (albeit one of British origin), Dumbarnie proves to me yet again that golf people from the other side of the Atlantic know exactly what they’re doing in terms of high-end links golf provision in Scotland – as already witnessed at Kingsbarns, Machrihanish Dunes, Castle Stuart and Trump International.
Welcome to the party, Dumbarnie Links!
Photos from Martin Jordan