Image by Kevin Murray.
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Dumbarnie opened in 2020 and is the latest world class modern day links course to be added to Scotland’s ever growing and impressive portfolio. Situated on the Largo coast of Fife, the model that the developers have put their faith in is very much that of Kingsbarns a few miles up the coast. The course won’t have an annual membership structure and is instead a commercial pay per play proposition, albeit the pricing is perhaps closer to that of Castle Stuart.
A lot of visiting golfer’s prioritise the St Andrews Old Course, that’s not unusual. The self-styled ‘home of golf’ draws golfers in from all around the globe to pit their skills against these traditional old links. Most waste little time reinforcing their St Andrews experience with the other two giants of the region that hold elite world rankings, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns. Once those three have been assembled however, visitors seeking to fill out their standard golf week are left with three choices. Do they decamp and consolidate in St Andrews itself, playing the Castle, New and Jubilee courses? Do they instead look to roll up the ancient old links of Fife that we associate with final Open qualifying like, Leven, Crail, Lundin, and Elie? Or do they look outside the region at an inland location like Gleneagles, or north to Aberdeen or south to Edinburgh and North Berwick?
Dumbarnie is a possible answer to this question and could become an integral part of the puzzle. At the moment the greatest concentration of world ranked top-100 courses are probably on the west coast if you consider Machrihanish to be playable in a day from Glasgow. Even Aberdeenshire with three links that have made the world top-100 lists in the past few years can match Fife in terms of pure number. If Dumbarnie is able to join this elite group however (and that’s clearly their ambition) then suddenly Fife, (which is already Scotland’s most popular golfing region) will pull further away from the rest
|Yardage||Black tees 6898 yds|
|Handicap Restrictions||No handicap restrictions apply|
The Course itself
Perhaps one of the best ways of encapsulating what Dumbarnie is setting out to be, comes in course designer Clive Clark’s own words
“As my old friend, Peter Alliss, once said, ‘I have yet to hear a golfer come in from his round and declare: I really enjoyed a great round of golf today – I only lost 6 balls and 3-putted five greens!”
Dumbarnie isn’t a penal design, and it remains to be seen if this is going to be held against it when the course raters get their teeth into it. The business model (like Kingsbarns) is designed for paying customers and humiliating your patrons with a capricious course designed to make you look hapless needn’t be what the accountants ordered. Instead the emphasis seems to been on a mixture of ‘heroic’ risk and reward, fused with compassion. The greens are for the most part flat, albeit with subtle borrows, and the fairways average width of 45 yards is distinctly sympathetic compared against the 28 yards that we associate with the Open Championship
The course needn’t be borrowing it’s business model from Kingsbarns either. One can see more than just a hint of Kingsbarns in Dumbarnie’s design too, although in fairness, this might have been the logical solution that any designer would have come to when blessed with a sweeping escarpment that from the back of the estate peaks at 80 ft above sea-level and slopes down to the coastal plains that runs down to the shoreline.
It probably makes sense therefore to utilise such landscape to introduce a series of elevated tees with extended views of the sea. In total fourteen of the eighteen holes boast views of the sea, and not unlike Castle Stuart, Dumbarnie has adopted two distinctive tiers playing on loops of nine. In total only 1.5 miles of the property are exposed to the shoreline, so the traditional out-and-back nine has been abandoned in favour of something closer to the St Andrews Castle Course. The elevated vantage point provides breath-taking views across Leven Bay and the Firth of Forth to the Midlothian courses of Muirfield and Gullane about 10 miles across the water.
The flatter holes along the shoreline has seen tees located along a ridge serving elevated greens. These holes run perilously close to the waves, similar perhaps to those at Nairn where any errant shot will be getting wet, and ‘lost’.
The contouring of Dumbarnie has involved sculpting. We don’t necessarily see the giant dunes of Aberdeenshire but rather a series of knolls and knobs that exaggerate the natural lie of the land. Perhaps the most controversial feature will be the introduction of unnatural water courses. There is always a danger of contriving too hard in design to force something into the landscape. On balance though the introduction of burns and covered culverts is an acceptable nod to the traditions of Scottish links golf courses. It remains to be seen how well received a small artificial lake at the 10th might be.
One of the features of Dunbarnie is the number of risk and reward drivable par 4’s. In total the course boast three such assignments. The third can play as a dog-leg left, or you go the ‘Tiger line’. A landing area that is approximately 290 yards playing over the hillocks into narrow slither that fans out to permit the ball to roll forward to the green has been created for the brave (or foolish)
Although not drivable, the same spirit applies, to the par-4, fifth hole. It gives golfers the option of cutting off 50-60 yards by playing left to a 25-yard-wide fairway surrounded by difficult terrain, or alternatively playing to a fairway to the right that is 50 yards wide, but leaving a significantly longer approach.
The eleventh at 291 yds is a drivable proposition albeit bunkers await left and right. The third drivable par 4 is by far and away the hardest to weigh up and you’ll definitely require a co-operative wind if deciding to be brave at 362 yds. A 200-year-old Scottish wall runs along the spine of the hole forcing a choice between the safe play to a wide fairway on the left, or an aggressive line over the wall at the green to the right, which is guarded by a series of pot bunkers. As Clark puts it: “It’s like playing chess, you have to weigh up the odds before making your move.”
Dumbarnie also deserves a praise for the way that par 5’s have carried have been used to set the golfer similar conundrums to solve though. The thirteenth requires you to make a decision with your second. Do you hit shorter to the left and a more bulbous fairway to open up a pitch across some broken ground, or do you play to the right, which requires a longer shot into a narrower entrance, but a much easier third
At Faraway fairways however, we wouldn’t be shocked if the par 5, fifteenth doesn’t end up being the hole that generates the most comment. At face value this looks like being a case of lifting Valhalla’s much acclaimed seventh and putting it deep into the heart of Fife. A tee shot played to the right, into the false fairway dares the golfer to clear the water and run the gauntlet of exhausting the useable landing area before it runs out. Get it right and you reduce the yardage of second sufficiently to permit you to consider going for glory and the green. Alternatively, play the safe line down the left
Buggy hire, Trolleys, Caddies and Clubs
|Driving Range Available||Yes|
|Rental Carts Available||Yes|
|Rental Clubs Available||Yes|
The early vibes Faraway Fairways believe we’re detecting is that the course is being lined up for the visitor market, and to play in the wake of St Andrews, Carnoustie, and Kingsbarns. To this end therefore, you feel it’s essential that it can quickly carve out a reputation. Visiting golfers will tend to look to two things in Scotland; heritage and ranking. Any ‘new’ course is naturally excluded from the former, which means securing a place on the coveted top-100 list could hold the key for Dumbarnie