The new Dumbarnie Links course at Lower Largo on the south coast of Fife in Scotland is on track to open in May 2020.
Designed by golf course architect and former Ryder Cup player Clive Clark, the course is located along the shore of the Firth of Forth and is built upon land that is part of the Balcarres Estate.
Its 345 acres of sandy linksland offer unobstructed views over the Firth of Forth — a 10-mile wide stretch of water — and of Muirfield, North Berwick and Edinburgh.
“There was an air of uncertainty when my family was first approached about building a golf course on our land,” said Lord Anthony Balniel, whose family has owned the Balcarres estate since the sixteenth century. “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 with the dune landscape significantly enhanced but also by the focus on the wildlife, plants and birds. It has been a joy to see the project unfold.”
The site slopes down to the coastal plains in two distinctive levels tied together by a slow, sweeping escarpment. The elevated vantage point provides views across Leven Bay and the Firth of Forth. Water can be seen from at least fourteen holes and a series of 500 coastal dunes are located along the beach that in most cases do not obstruct the ocean views.
Some tees sit as much as 60 feet above their respective fairways and serving elevated greens so close to the water that golfers could “literally toss a golf ball into the water,” said Clark.
“If the wind is favourable, and you play from the appropriate tees, there are three short par fours that could be driveable if you are prepared to risk what this ‘tiger line’ has in store for you,” said Clark. “People love drivable par fours. The high handicap golfer says, ‘I can make a par here, or I can make a birdie.’ The lower handicapper might say, ‘I can drive the green and have a putt for a two on a par four.’ It creates excitement.
“In general, the course can play from about 5,100 yards, up to the back tees where you can get about 6,900 yards. But then, I put in another dozen tees, which are really for golf professionals or scratch golfers. So, if Dustin Johnson turns up with his mates: ‘here you go, here’s a golf course at 7,600 yards.’ And it’s fairly breezy there, and the fairways run quite a bit. That’s typical of links with fine fescue grasses and a firm sand base, so there’s golf for everybody.”
The average fairway landing area measures 28 yards in width, while at Dumbarnie the average is around 45 yards in order to ensure a more enjoyable experience for golfers.
Greens are relatively flat but have subtle breaks. Clark said: “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 six balls and three-putted five greens!’”
The bunkering is a half-and-half mixture of traditional sod-stacked pot bunkers along with what Clark described as “natural bunkers surrounded by tall fescue grasses waving in the wind.” One example of the pot bunkers on the course is on the sixteenth, where a banana-shaped green is guarded by a pot bunker inspired by one from St Andrews’ Old course.
Clark highlighted the 344-yard par-four third as one of his favourite holes. “This is a risk-and-reward hole, and for some players, with suitable wind conditions, it may be driveable,” said Clark. “However, in order to cut the corner of this hole and go directly for the green, players must carry a large protective bunker some 50 yards short of the green. Most golfers will instead play a safer line to the fairway on the right and hit their approaches with a short iron or wedge. The small pot bunker in the fairway will catch the golfers’ attention, but for many it can be carried.”
Another of his favourites is the ninth, which measures 422 yards. “The elevated set of tees is some 60 feet above the fairway, and they offer magnificent views of the Firth of Forth, with Muirfield Golf Club directly across the water,” said Clark. “The elevation of the tees will add some extra length to the drive. The green is split level, with the lower part being on the left. Pin placement will make quite a difference as to how the hole will play. Most of the greens at Dumbarnie have subtle breaks, but the ninth green has most pronounced on the entire golf course. For a player on the wrong level, judging the pace will be vital.
“Meanwhile, the seventeenth will become a distinctive and memorable hole, punctuated by the 300-year-old wall passing through it. There are two ways of playing this short par four. Golfers can either play left of the wall to a generous fairway, leaving them a short-iron second shot. The alternative is to drive over the wall and dice with ten precocious pot bunkers. The prevailing wind follows on this hole, and it can be a good opportunity for birdie or even eagle. However, a poor tee ball can rapidly lead to a double bogey. It’s like playing chess, you have to weigh up the odds before making your move.”
Clark has worked alongside Scottish architect Paul Kimber, who has handled the project management; a crew from Ecobunker, led by global installation specialist Llewelyn Matthews; and the Landscapes Unlimited team, who have handled construction.
Balniel said: “Dumbarnie Links has already received rave reviews from not just the local community, but internationally as well. When we began this ambitious undertaking, our goal upon completion has always been to provide an unparalleled, memorable golf experience – not just the playing surface, but the service level, as well. I think we’re well on our way to achieving that goal.”