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 four 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.”
In March 2021 – less than a year after first opening its tees for play – it was announced that Dumbarnie would host the Women’s Scottish Open. “We are honoured to have been selected to host the 2021 Women’s Scottish Open and look forward to welcoming the players to our genuine links course,” said Dumbarnie Links Founder and architect Clive Clark.
When we played Dumbarnie in May 2021, the course had been open for play for around a year. I was looking forward to seeing the course as had heard comparisons to Kingsbarns and Castle Stuart, so I knew it would be one of Scotland’s finest new courses. The initial impression from the first tee ran true throughout, with visually stunning bunkering and invitingly wide fairways. Clever positioning of the teeing areas gives superb views across the Firth of Forth with many holes playing towards the sea from elevated tees. With this being such a young course, I was surprised how well the turf had bedded in, providing tight lies through the green. If you haven’t played on tight links lies for a while, hitting the irons from the fairway can take a bit of getting used to as any slight miss from the clubface will be found out. The approach play is of a premium here, as every green site is protected by numerous run-offs and multiple choices of pin placement the variety of short game shots and creativity required is endless. From the black tees, a golfer who can carry the ball over 230 yards is offered many risk and reward options to shorten the approach. This is first noticeable on the 3rd hole, where a brave drive over the left bunker can leave a short pitch to the green. These opportunities continue throughout, particularly on the par 5’s, providing excitement and making the course great fun to play. There is an unusual mix of bunker styles. The revetted and blow-out bunkers are intelligently placed throughout without any set formula to which goes where. This is unusual as the recent trend tends to be blow-outs on the fairways and revetted closer to the green, yet the design style worked well for me and made the course interesting and individual. The two most memorable holes for me were the 13th par 5 and the par 4, 17th. The 13th is a stunning design, dogleg left and an elevated green heavily protected by bunkers in front. The 17th will be talked about for years to come as it totally defies convention. The brave and aggressive player has a high-risk shot, requiring a 230-yard carry over a wall to the second half of a hole, consisting of 10 bunkers surrounding a severely undulating green site. The more conservative play is up the left side to a fairway which is much wider than it looks from the teeing ground which leaves just a 110 -140y approach. The theme of risk and reward runs through to the 18th with the longer hitter having a chance to fly the right-hand bunker and catch a downslope which could shorten the approach by over 100 yards. The green fee here comes with a hefty price tag which is becoming the norm for top-end courses in this part of the world, and I think it’s justified it when compared to the aforementioned Kingsbarns and Castle Stuart. Although the designer, Clive Clark, may not have an extensive portfolio of top-rated courses, what is clear is the course is designed by a golfer, making it a playable and enjoyable test with rewards for good shots. Furthermore, it has character in abundance and doesn’t try to emulate others in pursuit of greatness.
I think Kyle Phillips and his brilliant team of shapers brought the first “manufactured” Scottish links course to life at Kingsbarns in St Andrews. Since then a few other designers (and their shapers) have pushed sand around to create naturalistic links layouts, Gil Hanse in Inverness, Tom Doak at North Berwick, Martin Hawtree at Balmedie and now Clive Clark joins the party at Upper Largo. I’ve yet to play the course at Balmedie, but I teed it up at Dumbarnie on Tuesday and I liked it so much more than I thought I would.
It’s easy to criticise, so I’ll get the negatives out of the way… First, I too am not keen on the conically shaped dunes – they look unnatural to my eyes. I can only think they were built that way to stand out (in photos) from the crowd and I hope they eventually calm down. Second, there are some long(ish) walks between greens and tees. Third, I found the mix of revetted bunkers (shame they used eco bunker) and blowouts rather awkward on the eye and a smidge jarring, where (on some holes) you could see both styles competing with each other from the tee. But apart from the usual issues with new course grown-in, I found little else to fault (although I didn’t love the water-laden 10th).
Dumbarnie is set within a vast tract of land, the expansiveness of which is staggering. Clark was very clever in the way he used perspective to create illusions – on a number of occasions we were well and truly deceived by distances. There’s width to spare on most holes and the huge green complexes are all well done. Every tee shot, perhaps with the exception of the inland facing par three 14th, grabbed my attention. I loved the split fairways on #5, #13 and #15 and #17 made us all scratch our heads and reach for the course guide.
The 17th is a unique short par four that played tricks with our minds. It reminded me more of a moorland hole than a links with its dry stonewall and sharp dogleg right. I couldn’t decide whether I liked it or not, in the end I decided I loved it. It reminded me slightly of a more extreme (and reversed) version of St Enodoc’s 4th.
I’m sure the traditionalists will sniff at Dunbarnie’s in-your-face boldness, but if these naysayers can park their inverted architectural snobbery they too might laud Clive Clark’s finest hour.
With a couple of year’s grow-in under its belt, Dunbarnie will be a World Top 100 contender – it’s already wall-to-wall fun from the first tee shot to the final putt and there’s also a pretty impressive outlook from the brand spanking new clubhouse.
Sounds as though Scotland now has a quartet of World Top 100 calibre 21st century links at its disposal.
Does Dumbarnie emphasize the fun factor more than the others 3?
@BB, I can't think of many Championship links that are as much fun as Castle Stuart. Before CV I played it twice a year and looked forward to it every time.
Dumbarnie opened to rave reviews just after lockdown and I was fortunate enough to play it 3 times in June and July. As new courses go I hadn’t thought Kingsbarns or Castle Stuart could be bettered but I think Dumbarnie has done it. Fabulous views, drivable par 4s, holes that give you choices and make you think, regular changes of direction and evaluation – Dumbarnie has it all.
The course has clearly been designed to be playable and enjoyable. From the normal visitor tees it is not the toughest test in Scotland. Fairways are reasonably generous, allowing you to take driver off most tees and the rough is (currently) not that penal. The greens are well contoured without having any elephants buried under them (unlike the Castle course) and they rolled very well, especially given the course had only just opened. No two consecutive holes play in the same direction which is very welcome on a course where the wind will typically be a significant factor.
Having three drivable par 4s (3rd, 11th and 17th) is very unusual but a welcome initiative. It adds to the excitement to try and drive a green and have a putt for an eagle, which is a rarity for most of us. There are also a couple of holes (5th and 15th) that offer the choice of two fairways to aim at, meaning the holes can be played in different ways. The par 3s are excellent and varied with the pick of the bunch the short 8th, a great example that a hole doesn’t need to be long to be interesting.
It occurred to me on my first visit that this would be a very easy course for the pros but on my second visit I paid more attention to where the back tees are and realised that it can be a completely different test. For example, the 17th is a drivable dogleg at 316 yards from the blues but completely different at 462 yards from the championship tees.
Purists may be critical of the amount of earth moved and the artificial nature of some of the dunes. These were pretty obvious when I played there but will undoubtedly bed in over time. The current lack of a clubhouse is also a negative that will be solved shortly. Once global travel returns then I suspect American golfers will include this on their itinerary. Hopefully this will still leave room for Scottish golfers – the current £110 rate is within reach of most, mainly as a treat, and I’m hoping we don’t get priced out, as has been the case at Kingsbarns.
It would be hard to argue that this is the best course in the UK but it already has a decent shout at being the most enjoyable. That counts for a lot in my book. My second and third visits were when I was on a family holiday nearby and I played the course on my own, first tee time of the day on beautiful July days. Absolute bliss! Well done to all involved.
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.
If you were paying the full English price your four ball would have been £1032.
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.