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.”
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.
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