The beauty of Dumbarnie Links speaks for itself on a morning like this.
There’s barely a breath of wind as we look out across Largo Bay and take in the majesty of this dramatic meeting of land and sea. It’s not yet 8am and a thin layer of wispy white cloud hangs over the golf course. Way out at the sea, the sky is a deep, endless blue as the fishing boats from along the coast begin to make their way back to harbour after another successful morning at sea.
After a 20-minute journey from St Andrews, we turn through the gates and plunge down towards the beautiful, modern clubhouse. We’re welcomed warmly at the bag drop, where our clubs are whisked away. We’re walked into the clubhouse, introduced to the staff in the extensive pro-shop and then led into the restaurant for breakfast. It’s a pretty flawless welcome, by any standard.
DUMBARNIE LINKS ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW
We’re in Fife, of course, a real heartland of Scottish golf. Elie and Lundin Links are within minutes. The Old Course and Kingsbarns are just down the road. The mighty Carnoustie is some 30 minutes away – the competition is fierce. And yet, the American accents on the practice putting green and across the many warm-up areas are evidence enough that Dumbarnie’s reach since it opened to instant acclaim in 2020, knows no limits. The golf course is incredibly photogenic and that has, no doubt, helped spread the word but behind the hubbub there’s always been a steadfast belief here among general manager David Scott and his team that the quality of Clive Clark’s design will surpass any preconceptions. And the truth is, no photograph, Twitter post or video you may have seen can quite prepare you for the moment you first take in the majesty of Dumbarnie Links with your own eyes. It’s just stunning.
The clubhouse sits at the highest point on this vast 345-acre site and the panoramic views down across the course below and the firth beyond are something to behold. It conjured memories of Chambers Bay – there just aren’t many clubhouses where you can sit and look down across what feels like all 18 holes which await you. The whole site possesses a rare blend of tranquillity and drama.
A fresh-faced starter called Harry, who hails from Dornoch, invites us to drain a wee dram of Loch Lomond whisky. It’s only 8.30am but we don’t have a good reason to say no, so down they go – Matt would birdie the 1st and I birdie the 2nd – maybe whisky before golf has been the missing ingredient all along? All joking aside, it’s the little things you remember, though, isn’t it? And Dumbarnie does the little things so well, to create a truly enjoyable experience from first to last.
WHAT IS THE COURSE LIKE?
That extends to the golf course itself. This isn’t a layout designed to befuddle you or beat you into submission. It’s a golf course that has been set up to give you the best possible chance to hit your shots, find your ball and ultimately play your best golf. The opening tee shot is a good example. I turn my drive over ever so slightly but still find the left-hand edge of the fairway and fly my wedge to 15 feet. On average the fairways are 45 yards wide and the rough is generous, unless your miss is extreme. From the tournament tees, it’s a fearsome test at 7,620 yards. From the black tees, it measures 6940 yards, from the blues, which we play, it is 6,421 yards. The whites shorten the course down to below 6,000 yards. The starter will guide you based on your handicaps.
In the spirit of enjoyment, Dumbarnie Links also has three drivable par-4s, which each offer that risk-reward moment from the tee. We arrive at the 3rd after a strong start, and both decide to take on the risk. One of us instantly regrets that decision, the other hits the green but rolls off just to the left. The 11th is another opportunity to get close to the green, while the par-4 17th is an excellent hole, featuring an original wall which splits the fairway from the green. Each of the 13 bunkers will challenge your lay-up or drive.
Despite its coastal location and name, you couldn’t yet characterise Dumbarnie as a pure links. That may well come as the course matures but today it feels more like a blend, with the greens receptive to well-struck shots that we fly right at the target and the rippled fairways a verdant green, rather than firm and fast. There are no shortage of slopes around the putting surfaces, though, nor run-offs which scurry our ball away, at times. There are dunes too, hundreds of them – maybe more than on any other course I can remember. And although they have been created by nurture rather than nature, they add a sense of drama to the course and have the effect of isolating each hole, adding to the feeling of serenity and privacy on what is a vast piece of land. The distances between greens and tees is significant at times, although we walk it in 3hrs 40 minutes barely seeing the group in front or behind.
There are few golf courses anywhere in the world that will have you reaching for your camera as often as Dumbarnie Links. Six of the 18 holes play directly towards the water – including three of the four excellent par-3s. Each delivers a wow moment from the tee simply because it’s not often you see that view, with most links holes running parallel to the coast. The par-3 6th is perhaps the best of them and arguably the most beautiful, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the 8th or the 16th was your favourite.
The only hole we felt was a little unjust was the par-4 10th where a blind tee shot must either carry or stop short of a burn which runs across the fairway. One of us tries to lay up, the other goes for it and hits the best drive of the day, but neither ball is found. The only other criticism of Dumbarnie Links? It’s scenic to the point of distraction – I’m blaming all my poor shots on that, ok?
HOW MUCH ARE DUMBARNIE LINKS GREEN FEES?
What else can you say about Dumbarnie? Given where it sits, it could only have stood out in the way it has, if the golf course had been special. There’s no question it is. The setting is nothing short of spectacular and layout doesn’t leave you feeling beaten up in the way many courses seek to do. It isn’t cheap, with green fees ranging from £99 to almost £300 but the service from the moment you arrive to the time you leave is more like a 5-star hotel than a golf club and yet it is somehow relaxed too. One piece of advice, before we wrap up: after you have putted out on the 18th green, walk up to the clubhouse, leave your bag with the staff, and take a seat on the terrace overlooking the golf course and the Firth beyond. Order a drink, take a sip, and then take a look around you. It won’t take you long to realise that, just like you, everyone else has smile on their face, reminiscing, looking out onto the course, reliving the enjoyable moments that made the visit special.
It might seem a little odd to describe a visit to any golf club as feeling like an embrace, but that’s kind of how it feels on a day at Dumbarnie Links. By the time you are driving back out of the gates, you aren’t quite ready to let go. We’ll certainly be back.
DUMBARNIE LINKS SCORECARD