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.
A collection of 18 visually stunning holes, but difficult to keep track of where on the property you are or have been.
A real championship test with lots of variety, but easy to play as a resort course should be.
Easy to walk, but still takes 3 ½ hours to get round when empty.
These three contradictions summarise my first two rounds at Dumbarnie, so would not be surprised to see it quite high in the GB&I Top100, but perhaps not at the very top.
What I am very sure of is to recommend you to have a go yourself, at least if you like modern layouts and if budget is not a word you associate with your golf travelling.
If you happen to visit during a major tournament at St Andrews (like we did this time), by all means combine it with nearby Lundin, Leven and/or Elie for a nice mini-tour without much time behind the wheel if you also decide to stay nearby.
I love Castle Stuart (played it 5 times) and feel that Dumbarnie is just as good – as such it is a top 20 calibre course in GB&I. It is visually stunning with the use of elevated tees to enable a view of most of the course from a number of tees.
The design is clever using very generous fairways that enable anyone to play and enjoy the course (as long as the correct tees are used). The difficulty / challenge of the course is found in the green complexes with the combination of fast sloping greens and undulating, tight lies on the surrounds, both of which are undoubtedly Tour quality.
There is little point nominating standout holes as they are all aesthetically superb and most have a manifestly strategic element, including a wonderful first hole which rivals the 1st hole at Doonbeg. There is one hole however that warrants some additional narrative. It has been a week since I played Dubarnie and I wanted time to reflect on this hole to ensure the likely scenario of me just not “getting it” is considered in depth. The hole is the “risk & reward” par 4, 17th.
Looking at this hole horizontally from left to right from the tee, it is essentially split into 3 sections. 1/. Fairway, 2/. General scrub land, gorse and a very large dune bunker 3/. Fairway (which requires a 200+ yard carry to reach) and a number of bunkers. My two issues are:- 1/. You can only see a sliver of fairway to the left so if this is the “safe” option to play the hole (leaving a longer approach), then in my view it should be more accessible from the tee, and 2/. The right side “reward” element, in my view, is just not worth the risk as there are 6 fairway bunkers in play off the tee in addition to 4 greenside bunkers. All 10 bunkers are penal and to miss them seems more down to chance than skill. The picture of this hole on the course guide illustrates clearly the design philosophy I just don’t believe there is enough “reward”. This hole contrasts with other “risk/reward” par 4s including the 5th hole, where hitting to the risk side of the fairway gives you a length advantage of 40-50 yards (if you hit a 25 yard wide fairway) compared against the safe route where you hit to a 45 yard wide fairway and the drivable par 4, 11th where the shortest route to the green is more fraught with trouble.
I also agree with Keith Baxter’s comment that the riveted bunkers were perhaps incongruous with the general natural appearance and flow of the course and too numerous on occasion (possibly required for the course to host tournament play)
After the round I had the privilege of spending 25 minutes with Clive Clark and General Manager David Scott. They explained the design philosophy in general terms as “interesting, entertaining with strategic choice”. We talked about the 17th hole and it was mentioned that this type of hole was designed specifically to ask questions towards the end of the round and the answer would be predicated on the state of the players’ scorecard or match. I get that but would maintain that the reward is not worth the risk. I appreciate other reviewers love the hole and maybe upon further plays, I would change my opinion.
My comments on the 17th hole should not detract from what has been achieved by Clive Clark and the team of shapers here. The course is off the charts good with many “wow” moments. The green fee is high but you are getting a high end golfing experience so in that respect represents good value. I do not believe any course is "perfection" however I have given a 6 ball rating. In summary, a must play course.
Incredible tbh. Not the stand out I expected with Carnoustie, Cruden, Trump Aberdeen and Dumbarnie on the itinerary - but it was. Definitely the most playable, enjoyable, spectacular course I’ve played. Carnoustie better, the Old Course more atmospheric, Wentworth tougher, Birkdale just Birkdale.
However, tee shots that allowed a miss from the blues. True greens. Fantastic fairways that were true and pure. Views I’ve not seen before. 12-15 tee boxes that gave you a view of perfection.
Loved the opening 4 holes. A welcome and chance to score well. The first par 3 great. Back 9 much much tougher and a bit more exposed to the elements. 18 book ends the first actually with a similar aesthetic feel.
Outstanding course. Just a wow.
#601 Dunbarnie Links, sometimes I think clever marketing can create unfound hysteria about a new golf course, so despite a first class service whilst engaging with the reservations team I arrived with a little apprehension whether the course and facility would live up up the anticipated high standard. Greeted on the car park early morning we were immediately made to feel welcome and shown exactly where to go (temporary Covid routing) After signing in at the pro shop and grabbing a quick coffee in the classy restaurant we went on the range only a short walk from the clubhouse. The range is first class as you would expect, copious amounts of balls all clean and piled high for you to warm up, pre round. Also available is an impressive short game area along with a more than adequate putting green. The practice putting green excites the prospect of putting on great links greens, great pace, not super quick on the flat, but a pure true surface.
We were again warmly greeted on the first tee by the starter, who gave a wee goody bag, containing a marker, tees, scorecard and course guide. He gave a good overview of the course and tips on reading the greens, along with taking a momentary interest in our story and golfing background. the option play off any tee is given, we chose the black tees which at 6950 yards provide for a real championship length test of golf. A you stand on the first tee, in awe of the manmade vast dunes aligning the first fairway and with a vast proportion of the course in view you quickly realise how good a course designer Clive Clark and his team have done.
There are so many good holes on the opening stretch, so much so you start to lose count as the next almost provides more wow factor than the previous. The wow factor enhanced on the front nine by clever routing that requires you to walk onto the back of the tee and not allowing you a sneak preview of the hole till you peg the ball up. There are certainly opportunities to score well on the early holes, and Mr Clark provides a number of risk reward opportunities to shorten holes and in some circumstances take the green on from the tee. Its fair to say that the course maturity in future years may dissuade more in the future from attempting to overpower so I ca imagine course strategy to be ever evolving.
A really good challenge with a card in hand presents itself on the final 2 holes with a tough risk reward par 4 on 17 followed by a tough long finishing hole. Overall for me Dunbarnie exceeded my expectations and delivered first class experience both on and off course and I would urge everyone to make an effort to play this magnificent development.
Having heard of Dumbarnie Links many years ago, I followed its approval and construction sort of as a counter-point to Mike Keizer and Todd Warnock’s failed attempt to build Coul Links near Royal Dornoch. I knew that both were going to be built upon good land with great seaside views, although the land used for Dumbarnie is much “flatter” and perhaps not quite as interesting as the land proposed for Coul Links.
Yesterday was my first chance to play Dumbarnie and like the other reviewer, I was fortunate to meet the architect, Clive Clark, and have a discussion for about 15 minutes. I found the conversation with him to be very helpful in understanding his final routing and design.
The course is built on a massive amount of land,350+ acres, and I wondered whether the owner has messed up if he wanted to build a second course in the future. One can see from the clubhouse the amount of land that sits between the holes and it prompts a thought of whether the holes could have been placed closer together. But then I was told there is another 250 acres left!
If a second course is ever built, there is a chance for Dumbarnie to become the equal as a “muse-destination” to Cabot Links, Sand Valley or Barnbougle Dunes. The first course is that good.
Much like Whistling Straits, the course is very contrived and is not natural. Massive amounts of earth was moved to create the course, particularly the dunes. I agree with other reviewers that the dunes have too many peaks and perhaps a bit too much height, but that is a small criticism as they do enhance the visual appeal of the course. In many cases, the provide a good target for one’s shots.
The course showed beautifully on television during the women’s Scottish Open and seeing it in person you feel the same way. The highest point is the clubhouse and the course flows naturally down the hill as you near the firth. The holes are routed in all directions ensuring the wind is never a consistent enemy or to one’s advantage.
I was told I would say “wow” every time I stepped on a new tee. While that did not happen, I counted 13 times where I said it such is the strength of the routing that created beautiful driving corridors and a wonderful variety of holes whether longer holes or the three short par fours. Unlike other courses, I found a very good balance of par 3’s/4’/5’s with none of the pars being better than the others. As I said the course is wonderfully balanced across its pars, moving uphill and downhill, straight or dogleg holes.
I will not do a commentary hole by hole until perhaps I go back again as the course matures,
Perhaps my only other two slight criticisms of the course are the using two different types of bunker styles on the same hole too close to each other seemed to detract from the visual appeal. Yet I did see the need for this for defensive purposes, Finally, the fairways are very generous which is what one would expect of a public resort course catering to golfers of all abilities.
Yet even with the wide fairways, there are a fair number of times when one has to make a strategic decision as to the line they want to play off the tee. I give a lot of credit to Mr. Clark for accomplishing that.
The green surrounds and green contours are very good with the greens on the back nine offering more inner movement and slightly more fall-offs. Overall, nearly all of the greens will give one pause before striking the ball.
While I have not yet decided whether there are any outstanding holes at Dumbarnie such as one can find at Castle Stuart or Kingsbarns, I think overall the course could be the equal of those two. I found perhaps only two-three weaker holes here but that is fine when the rest of the course is consistent in its offering of fun yet challenging golf.
Firstly, congrats on sneaking in a transatlantic golf trip.
Secondly, it caught my eye that you give Dumbarnie a 5 ball rating (& compared to CS & KB).
Does this mean that you feel it’s close to World Top 100 level?
I have one spare day in Fife next month & have a penchant for wide fairways…
I do not think it is worthy of top 100 in the world but part of that is due to me having played it only once. I have played Kingsbarns and Castle Stuart multiple times. I do think the wide fairways and the greens on the front nine will keep it outside but I will delay a decision for now. You should definitely play it.
Of the people I have spoken to face-to-face, none believe it is a top 100 course but they very much enjoy it.
I had read all about Dumbarnie, couldn’t wait to play it, and after two rounds there am full of praise for this excellent new addition to the Scottish golf scene.
Both rounds were in a competition on dry, partly sunny and relatively calm days, and good scoring from the blue tees was quite possible. Regardless of score, all golfers ended their round with a smile on their faces, having clearly enjoyed the experience.
As would be expected with the course being less than two years old there is still some bedding down to do, but the challenges are fair with many raised tees. The golfer can clearly see these challenges set out before him on fairways that are generous but with many strategically placed bunkers and periodic water hazards. I feel that Dumbarnie is a thorough examination of one’s all-round golf game, and sure enough strengths are magnified as are weaknesses!
Most of all, I like the feeling of open space. The course occupies an unusually large site, there is a lack of buildings other than the Clubhouse, and the golfer has only fairways, greens, sand dunes, the nearby Firth of Forth and his/her playing partners for company. This all helped to create a ‘good to be alive’ feeling and sheer pleasure of being at Dumbarnie on a pleasant late summer’s day.
The first hole sets the scene with a 400yard par four that requires two good blows if the burn in front of the green is not to be brought into play. The par fives at 2 and 16 are simply magnificent holes, and there are so many very good ones. If I am to be a little ‘picky’, I found the 7th to be by some way the best of 4 good, but not exceptional, par threes. My first round also taught me that as a mid-handicap golfer I am not good enough to take on the risk of the ‘risk-and-reward holes, particularly the uphill 17th where the drive over a stone wall looks so achievable from the tee, reality is very different.
Dumbarnie is surely destined to be a top golf course on any ranking list, and is already a ‘must play’ for all golfers who aspire to play on the best courses in the world.
I came across this course during construction and having read the first comments and news about it I felt it was going to be special. 2 years ago during a trip to St Andrews I did a sited visit and we saw every hole and this first feeling was confirmed: this is going to be a blast. I was not allowed to play that day in August and when back home I felt I was not brave enough to insist!
And on August 26th 8:30am this pending one to play was ticked on an unreal sunny morning. The Clubs goes in line with Castle Stuart and Kingsbarns: 5* service, extremely welcoming staff, first class modern facilities and views that you won’t believe. In my opinion this one outplays the other 2 in views and shocking images. The huge dunes contrasting the emerald greens on the playing field plus the views of the water and across to Edimburgh and Gullane/Muirfield are tough to describe in words
It is tough to go over the design when every single spot on the course gets you watch the views with the feeling that there can be anything nicer. But the design is very good, with a lot of holes giving chances of scoring BUT taking an aggressive line off the tee or where a severely sloped green will make you face problems if you are not in the correct side of the fairway. The course of course needs a little bit of maturity which I could see in my visit to Castle Stuart after the one in 2012 but trust me when I say this course will climb very high in the rankings very soon.
I would like to highlight my most liked holes on the course:
1st is a nice opener from a high tee box to a green protected by a burn.
3rd a great short 4 where you can reach the green over some wild bunkers but if short or left … big trouble!
7th a great 5 with the season your back, dogleg right to an elevated green with a small water spot before the green.
9th a very good par 4 from another elevated tee where downwind you can get close with a punchbowl feel on the left side.
10th is a beast, into the wind and over water for the second shot. Trying to lay up from a bunker I sent it to the water and it killed my round!
11th one of the best short 4s I have played. A 3 wood was 10yds from the two tier green and anywhere where they have put the pin it would have been very tough to birdie it.
15th a great par 5 where you can go right but need to be not longer than 250yds or go by the long safe way. One of the features Clive spoke about the course is the chances of playing the holes safe and longer or brave and shorter but with big penalties on the way.
16th the last par 3 facing the Ocean … false front with a couple of pin positions there, can’t be better!
The playing grass (tees, fairways, greens) was in immaculate shape, the wild areas needing maybe one or two more years of setting firm but in the end the course was a blast.
The morning ended meeting designer Clive Clark for a short interview in which he shared his first thoughts when he first saw the piece of line and how the process led to what is today a serious contender for the World Top 100 with no doubt. And he also had time to tell me a little story about the 1967 Open Championship won by my hero Roberto De Vicenzo where he ended in 3rd place shared with Gary Player. He played the final round with Jack Nicklaus and shared some of this sensations on a great day. There are 2 short videos in the We.Golf IG Profile which I recommend you to see and know a little more about this easy going humble man who created something that will be in everybody’s bucket list. Dumbarnie is a must play and one of those courses which you should play twice in your tour, first one to get familiar with the alternatives and in the second one go for the birdies!
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.