“Knowing what you know now, would you take the job on?” The question lingered in the air as Paul Kimber hesitated for just a fraction.
Stood in front of an audience of greenkeepers, as he evaluated what’s probably been one of the more challenging projects of his career, the pause was instructive.
“Yes,” he intoned, before later striking a warning note of advice. “It’s something that if you care passionately about what you do, you’ve got to leave a few things at the door before you go to work.”
There is little causing more of a stir in the golf world at the moment than the imminent arrival of Dumbarnie Links.
Clive Clark’s design, project managed by Kimber on the ground, took a mammoth 350 acres of flat pasture land hugging the Firth of Forth at Leven and transformed it into a links paradise – with holes sweeping through the manufactured landscape in a scene reminiscent of Irish golf at its wildest.
But getting Dumbarnie Links off the ground, and to the point where it is scheduled to open in just a matter of weeks, took will and grit.
It was four years before the investment was secured and when Kimber finally arrived to start work in the spring of 2018, he had just five-and-a-half months to create something out of nothing.
The challenges were endless, not least those imposed by dozens of planning restrictions.
A major gas pipeline from Scotland to England ran right through the middle of the site – with the authorities flying regular sorties to make sure no one was doing anything they shouldn’t around that precious infrastructure.
“It was a huge restriction on the construction,” Kimber told his audience at BTME in Harrogate, but it was far from the only constraint.
Get down below the surface of the sandy site and there was water everywhere. The construction team had to shift half a million cubic yards of earth in just 14 weeks, right in the middle of one of the hottest summers for decades.
Then, when seeding got under way, Dumbarnie Links was struck by three successive days of winds that topped 100mph.
“It was horrendous conditions. Everyone had to just carry on and keep working. We were just desperate to get the project done.”
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Yet the construction was still blink and you’ll miss it stuff. For a 2020 opening, which required the newly laid turf to have a year of bedding in, those building the course had the tightest of timetables.
It might take six months for a club to renovate a set of bunkers. Kimber’s team built an entire course in less than that time – construction, shaping, irrigation, the lot.
“They (the team) all worked hard and worked diligently to achieve what I think is pretty incredible to build a new golf course from scratch – take it from a flat landscape to what we’ve created in five-and-a-half months,” he remembered. “It was pretty special.”
What that hard work has left general manager David Scott and his emerging team is breathtaking.
Whether it’s the showpiece par 3 8th, which looks out to the water and a green guarded by bunkers, or the 5th with a split fairway to draw out the risk-and-reward player, the course is sure to feature on many golfers’ must play lists.
“We’re super excited and we’re confident people will enjoy the golf course when we open,” Scott said as he looked forward to D-Day, which, at present, is scheduled to be on May 16.
“The golf course covers a massive 346 acres. Most links courses run alongside, or parallel to the sea. At Dumbarnie Links, due to the size of the site, we have eight holes that play directly towards the sea, and so the magnificent backdrop is in full view behind fairways and greens. This is certainly not unique, but quite unusual.
“Golfers will likely feel optimistic standing on our tees. We have spacious fairways and large welcoming greens sites. Designer Clive Clark has laid out a course that will be fun to play, even when the wind is blowing pretty strongly.
“Key to our success will also be the welcome. We envisage golfers leaving having not only enjoyed the course, but having received friendly and professional service throughout their time with us.”
The build up is a situation with which Scott is familiar, having been director of golf when Kingsbarns burst onto the scene at the turn of the century.
The parallels with Dumbarnie Links are obvious, right down to the aspirations of high quality service and attracting American visitors and tour markets.
Fun, whether that’s from the wide fairways or the feeling of being cradled between the dunes as golfers make their way round, is fundamental to the experience.
Scott explained: “Even if players don’t bring their A-game they will still have a fun time. The fairways are pretty wide and greens are welcoming with a lot of embracing slopes. If you hit some of your shots a little long you’ll find some have backboards so the ball will meander back onto the green.
“It’s not a penal golf course that really kicks your backside if you hit the odd poor shot. If you find the ball, you’ve got the opportunity to recover.
“A lot of holes offer a classic risk and reward, where you are asked on the tee ‘is the left side of the fairway better than the right’ – giving you a better angle into the green. If you’ve got a preferred angle, quite often you’ve got the opportunity to play a low running shot as well. It’s not just a one-dimensional up and down approach.
“When the wind is whistling, you might wish to play a low running 5-iron into the green, where the contours will pull the ball towards the middle of the green.
“You are rewarded for good play from the tee. We’ve also got three par 4s that are driveable for the stronger hitter from the regular or back tees. If the wind’s not too tough, they’ve got that opportunity but it comes at a risk. If you don’t quite middle your tee shot, you can be looking at a 5 or 6. If you get it right out of the sweet spot, you can be looking at eagle or an easy birdie, or do you take the safe play, to the wide part of the fairway, pitch on and make an easy par or birdie that way?”
Scott is also confident a trio of positives will keep the course in the spotlight in an area full of world-class links.
“It’s probably down to three points: a great layout that is hugely enjoyable and memorable, wonderful views that are, to some, breath-taking and a heartfelt service where our guests are made to feel most special.”
Are you looking forward to the day when you can visit Dumbarnie Links? Have your say in the comments or tweet me.
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