A multi-million pound investment is turning Dundonald into a stay-and-play to rival the best in the country. General manager Ian Ferguson gives us a guided tour of what’s in store
They say it’s in the small things where the biggest differences are made. It’s these touches that will surely push a transformed Dundonald Links to new heights.
Like the drying rooms that will be in the 18 Lodges, with radiators that warm your clothes but don’t make everything else a sauna. Or that space designed specifically to house your golf clubs, and shoes, so they don’t litter the rest of your accommodation.
Then there are the grander elements: the purpose-built putting greens, constructed by course designer Kyle Phillips and which will fill a horseshoe space around where each set of six Lodges cluster. Here, the ‘hard yards’ of practice can be done in the most relaxing of circumstances.
That’s not even to mention the magnificent new clubhouse, or the £1 million being invested in the golf course.
“We tried to think of all of these angles – just to make life easier for the golfer,” says Dundonald Links general manager Ian Ferguson as he explains the vast project that’s renewing the Ayrshire complex.
“The whole of the scheme has been designed with golf in mind.”
The overarching dream of Dundonald Links’ owners Darwin Escapes, who bought the property in 2019, is to create one of the best play and stay venues in the UK.
So they are ploughing £25 million into the project and the signs, ahead of a multi-phased opening throughout this year, are that those dreams are well on track to becoming a reality.
“Doing nothing just wasn’t an option,” remembers Ferguson, thinking back to the days when the Scottish Open essentially was staged within the backdrop of a portable building.
Dundonald was the club without a clubhouse, a temporary arrangement that had somehow spanned 13 years.
“So, when Darwin Escapes took over two years ago, we’ve embarked on this amazing journey of developing an idea of what we can do to enhance this course that has stood up to scrutiny from the world’s top professionals,” he adds.
“We set about thinking how we can develop this great site. We’ve created this great plan that we’re executing at the minute.
“That’s with a great clubhouse that has really taken a grip on the landscape here, and also developed what’s really been lacking – and that’s accommodation on site. We’re developing all of those facilities to complement the golf course.”
The jewel of the two-storey clubhouse will be the balconies that overlook the course and give full view to the Isle of Arran in the distance.
“We have a nice reception area to welcome people and check in and a pro shop that’s quite extensive,” adds Ferguson.
“We have a sauna and steam room in each of the male and female changing rooms and a gym facility. We’ve been very fastidious about focusing in on what a golfer needs – if they want to train in there seriously or they’re just there to warm up.
“We’ve thought through exactly what we want to include in terms of equipment in there. The first floor is completely dedicated to food and beverage.
“It’s a significant space that has tremendous views over the golf course, over the Isle of Arran, Ailsa Craig, and you can see directly into Troon Harbour. There’s a tremendous vista from the first floor.”
Phillips returned to oversee some fine tuning to the course, which focused on enhancing the experience for golfers as they enjoyed their round.
That work included a number of bunkers being re-revetted – “probably 35 or 36,” says Ferguson – while part of the burn that runs in front of the 9th was altered.
“Kyle has got a tremendous eye. As soon as we engaged with him, he knew exactly where he wanted to start, what he wanted to do, and what would enhance the course,” he adds.
“When you have somebody like him at the helm steering it, it makes life a whole lot easier. What he’s focused on, and what we wanted to focus on, was more cosmetic than anything else.
“There’s been no rerouting of any of the holes, no major surgery really. We have looked specifically at the experience from coming from a green to the next tee.
“We’ve installed grass pathways, so we can spread wear, and we’ve also looked at a lot of the teeing complexes that need reorientation and also needed to be increased in size to give many more options for playing.
“For example, 11 and 15 – two of the par 3s – we’ve increased significantly the size of the teeing ground and it does change the look and feel of the hole but it doesn’t increase the distance necessarily.
“It really does give the golfer a lot more options when playing a tee shot.”
Dundonald Links will reopen on May 1 with the course works complete and looking forward to welcome golfers as we, hopefully, start to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic.
The first set of Lodges are due to open in mid-July, with the rest coming on stream the following month. The clubhouse, and an additional 22 rooms being built next to it, will be unveiled towards the end of October.
It’s a big year ahead, and Ferguson is hugely enthused by what’s about to come.
“It is incredibly exciting for me, personally,” he says. “I’m originally from Belfast and I’ve been over in the west coast of Scotland for just about 20 years and I used to come and play here and pay green fees before I had any association with Dundonald Links.
“I loved the course. When the opportunity came for me to be here and be part of it, I jumped at the chance and so it’s great for me to see the whole place flourishing, the new clubhouse emerging, and the accommodation on site.
“What I always thought – along with many others – is that it just needed capital investment to realise the potential of Dundonald Links.
“Not many golf businesses at the minute are spending that sort of money and investing that sort of capital.
“So It’s great to be involved in something of this magnitude. I know the product is going to be fantastic. I’ve been involved in a lot of the detail of it. It will be a tremendous experience for people who come for more than golf.”
Now listen to the podcast
Steve Carroll sat down with Dondonald Links general manager Ian Ferguson to go into more detail about the changes. Listen in the player below or on your preferred podcast platform.