Dumbarnie Links: how golf’s most exciting new course defied Covid-19

Dumbarnie Links
The stunning colours across Dumbarnie Golf Links. Courtesy of Dumbarnie

This global pandemic has been difficult enough for golf clubs which have been around for centuries.

Imagine, then, trying to open a new one. That was the reality facing the team at the breathtakingly beautiful Dumbarnie Links, on the Fife coast, and it was a challenge they embraced wholeheartedly.

Dumbarnie Golf Links
The picturesque par-3, 6th hole at Dumbarnie Links. Courtesy of Dumbarnie

“It’s been harder than anything I’ve ever had to do” David Scott, the general manager at Dumbarnie tells The Wandering Golfers. It must then have brought him an overwhelming sense of satisfaction that those who have played it have spoken with one voice: special, magnificent, stunning, wow.

David Scott Dumbarnie Links
David Scott, general manager of Dumbarnie Links

“We’ve been thrilled with the reaction, “ Scott adds. “I’m sure at some point we may find someone who isn’t happy with the course, but we’ve not found anyone yet and we have had more than 5,000 golfers play here now. So that is testament to Clive Clark, our Chairman and golf course designer, Malcolm Campbell who played such an important role in making this place a reality, our management company OB Sports, and the incredible team I have here.”

Dumbarnie had originally been slated to open on May 16 with more than 3,000 overseas visitors, primarily from the United States, booked in for the early months. The lockdown imposed by the government meant they were not able to open until May 29th. But that was only half the story. 

‘Dumbarnie is destined to become one of the very best courses in Scotland’

“I’ve had to call on all my skills that I have built up during my career to ensure we opened when we did,” says Scott, who was previously at the acclaimed Kingsbarns and The Old Course Hotel in St Andrews prior to that. “I was very fortunate to be able to hand pick my team when I started this job and the work ethic and togetherness they’ve shown has been incredible. They’re all diamonds – their attitude throughout has been ‘the answer is yes, now what’s the question?”

Dumbarnie Golf Links
Dumbarnie Golf Links. Courtesy of Dumbarnie

As he says, Scott began his role in January. Office manager Lia Jannetta followed soon after. In April, head professional Blair Cross followed along with Callum Graham, food and beverage manager and head chef Chris Skinner. But when Covid hit, work on the clubhouse ground to a halt. The builders were unable to continue and left the site. “We needed to find a plan B and quickly.

“We were not able to furlough our staff because of when they started and so, at times, they found themselves doing jobs they probably didn’t ever envisage themselves doing when they signed up. We were in a challenging situation, work needed to be done on the course and around our unfinished Maintenance Facility.

“Ditches needed to be dug for all utilities and telephone lines, and so Chris our chef and Callum found themselves pulling on work boots and overalls and being knee-deep in sandy subsoil.  Blair, our pro, was out on the golf course putting yardage markers on all sprinkler heads and tee yardage plates on every tee. When you think that we have five sets of tees at Dumbarnie that was a huge undertaking. 

The natural beauty of the Fife coastline makes for an incredible backdrop.
The natural beauty of the Fife coastline makes for an incredible backdrop

“What that has done is brought the team together. Often at clubs there is a ‘them and us’ situation between the operations staff and the maintenance teams. But because of the way our team worked together during lockdown, there is an enormous sense of mutual respect there now. It may sound corny when we use the hashtag #TeamDumbarnie on tweets but in this case it really isn’t.”

The Scottish golfing public have played their part too. Dumbarnie is not a member’s golf club. It is open entirely to visitors and with so much of the forecasted revenue having been due to come from overseas golfers – paying £235 per round – restrictions meant that for a few weeks after opening only Scots and relatively local golfers could visit. “We had more than 3,000 rounds booked from our tour operators bringing overseas visitors in. And when Covid hit, that just disappeared. The vast majority have rebooked for next year but because our rack rate for Scottish golfers is £115 and for those in Fife just £94, it meant we would need to do almost twice the rounds. And I am delighted to say we are just about there with an average of more than 100 golfers on the course each day.”

Dumbarnie is already seeing lots of golfers returning to play time and again. Some have gone further still. “There was one gentleman who came off the 18th and was so overjoyed with the golf course that he asked me if he could buy 100 rounds in advance right there and then, rather than having to pay each time. That said it all, really. And I nearly fell over when his friend said, ‘go on then, I’ll have 50 rounds in advance, please.’ It’s just testament to the very special golf course we have here.”

There is already a sense that Dumbarnie Links is destined to establish itself as one of the very best courses in Scotland and therefore the world. The course and the land it sits on, just south of St Andrews, is majestic. In terms of golf courses which skirt the beaches and ocean so extensively and effortlessly, it is matched only by the iconic Pebble Beach in California. With six holes that play directly towards the Firth of Forth, the visuals are unmatched and with three short par-4s and a dusting of spectacular par-3s this is not a golf course you need to arm wrestle. That it is already in the conversation alongside Kingsbarns and even, whisper it quietly, the Old Course itself, is all you need to know about this place.

“The course has been designed so that it can provide a real test for the very best players – we can go to 7,620 yards off the tips – but it’s also very playable for golfers who aren’t at that level. We’ve five sets of tees – the blues are 6,400 yards – and this course doesn’t beat you up. We want you to enjoy it. There’s a good chance a golfer off 10 can shoot level or even under their handicap. 

“I love the par-3s – they are very special with a good mix of length and direction. We have a three drivable par-4s – offering thought-provoking ‘risk and reward’ decisions to be made. It’s great fun for golfers. We have a couple of holes with dual fairways – the 5th and the 15th. It is a thinking person’s course, you have to plot your way around with brain, rather than brawn.

Our fairways, on average, are 45 yards wide. And we have set the greens up in such a way that you can chase it up there and use the slopes if you wish. Our greens are not upturned saucers, they are built into the dunes around the green, with many times, the greens being an extension of the slopes and dunes around the green. You can just imagine our caddies telling our American visitors to run it in low with a 7 iron from 100 yards – that’s what links golf is all about. We want people playing those shots if the wind is up.”

Not even a pandemic could stop Dumbarnie from opening its fairways to the world in May. And, it seems, very little else will prevent this extraordinary new golf course on its inexorable rise to join the pantheon of great links courses not just close by in Fife, but further afield in Scotland and the world.

The founder of The Wandering Golfers, Ben grew up on the links of Scotland learning the game from his beloved Grandpa. Previously a writer and broadcaster for The Times and BBC

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