Dundonald Links originally set out to be part of a golf and residential complex called Southern Gailes but when that didn’t happen, Loch Lomond Golf Club stepped in to snap up the course for its members in 2003, commissioning Kyle Phillips to put the finishing touches to the design.
Dundonald translates to “Fort Donald” and fortifications have been located near here dating as far back as 200 BC. A golf course existed on the site in the 1900s but this was later turned into a military station named Dundonald Camp. It was here that D-Day landings were rehearsed during the Second World War.
Lying next to the long established courses of Kilmarnock Barassie, Glasgow Gailes and Western Gailes, Dundonald is obviously situated in prime golfing country. The course yardage can vary from 6,415 to 7,300 yards so it can be played as a comfortable member course or as a championship venue.
Only opened in 2005, Dundonald has since proved to be a links of some repute and was the proud host venue for the 2017 Scottish Open, which Rafa Cabrera-Bello won in a play-off. If you like the pampering that goes with golf at the top tracks then this is the place to enjoy such millionaire’s golf for a relatively modest green fee.
The Dundonald experience begins at the gatehouse when the security man lifts the barrier to let you in – everyone from then on seem to know your name. It’s a mirror of the treatment you get at Loch Lomond, but the course here on the Ayrshire coast is a true links layout and the polar opposite of the private layout on the shores of the famous loch.
I agree with most of the writers observations. The course did set up well for the Ladies Scottish Open, and will host the Men's next year, when we will see the back tees come into their own, setting a stiff challenge for the professionals.
Inevitably we have the Loch Lomond brand and dynamism of Kevin Gyle competing against the established tradition and natural wonder of Western Gailes. Off the record, we were informed that the owners are trying to sell the Dundonald. It’s no secret that Loch Lomond is struggling financially and it is likely that they are trying to offload what is considered to be the member’s winter course. Read what you will into these rumours and stories but if the outcome is a £30 green fee (applicable Monday to Friday for post 15:00 tee times) then you won’t catch me complaining.
The course itself is a delight to play. Previous complaints about immaturity can be dismissed as you would never now that Dundonald is a relatively young course. It plays like a dream and seems to naturally unfold as you meander through the fairways and surrounding dunes. The greens are of exceptional quality and struck me as being extremely versatile. The pin positions were rather conservative during my visit but the potential to crank it up a notch was more than evident given the complexity of many of the greens.
You cannot review Dundonal without mentioning the bunkers as it presents some of the fiercest, cavernous, gaping black holes that I have ever come across. Truly daunting and wickedly located. There is a plentiful abundance of potential to hold a EPGA event on this links. Contrary to what some may suggest there is nothing overly contrived about Dundonald. Granted it does not have the sea views of Western Gailes that seem to augment the organic experience but it does not play or feel like a manufactured links.
There are plenty of memorable holes with three of the four par 3’s being of exceptional quality. The 6th. 11th and 16th demand the type of shot that makes me play this beautiful game. As you stand on these Tee’s you are presented with a jaw droopingly inviting shot full of risk and reward. Exactly what a par 3 should offer. I all too easily fell into the trap of grabbing the driver out of the bag and blasting into the unknown when faced with the unfamiliar. There is far more to this course thatn meets the eye and in retrospect I wish I had thought a touch more strategically from the tee and I may of kept the ball in play and carded a half decent score. It’s tough in parts with the back 9 being much harder. I didn’t play anywhere near my handicap but still cannot wait to return. Given time this course will close the perceived gap between its alleged more illustrious neighbour and it will certainly rise up this top 100 list.
The short holes are an excellent mix and it is worth highlighting the 15th - A long carry with a fearsome greenside bunker located deep beneath the raised putting surface. This would grace any open championship track and would be the potential "card wrecker" for any great score coming in. The shortest of the par 3's are the 7th and the 11th. Both are well protected, but the 11th plays straight into the wind (as you head toward the sea). Taking a wedge and lobbing It high in the air is not the shot, but from a tee not much more than a100yards it is hard to tell yourself to do any different!! As you head down the 12th you only see glimpses of the sea, however what the Gailes loses and Dundonald gains is its abundance of pine trees which provide an attractive routing and backdrop to many of the holes. A number of par 4's and 5's are framed beautifully and are toughened by the meandering burn which is a feature of the course. The 2nd, 9th, 14th and 16th capture the pleasure of pine mixed with links with clever use of bunkering along the fairways and around the greens.
As a course we were left feeling that Dundonald rightly commands its place in the Top 100 and compliments the traditional Western Gailes experience. The staff at Dundonald made us feel very welcome and as a package it should be on your play list when visiting the west coast of Scotland. Ian Henley