It’s funny how we largely make up our mind about how much we want to play a course by pictures alone. Dumbarnie Links is about as high on this scale as it gets.
The most eagerly anticipated course since Kingsbarns, Dumbarnie will take your breath away from the moment you walk through the clubhouse and look down the first and across the Firth of Forth.
Your mind is immediately drawn to the fact that the opening fairway is so wide. There’s a theme in this part of the world, it seems, and you’ll find it on almost every hole here.
As I soak in the view, I’m greeted by general manager David Scott. He tells me the course was designed by Clive Clark, a former European Tour player who represented GB&I at the 1973 Ryder Cup, with the emphasis on having fun irrespective of handicap.
That means fairways that average out at 45 yards wide, large greens and light rough. The holes include a selection of mid-iron par 3s, short par 4s and birdieable par 5s. But that’s not to say it’s easy, I’m warned, as the greens can be deceptive and bunkers menacing.
The tees, we discover, are based on ability. The starter asks you for your handicap and will recommend the length of golf course suited to you. There are five on offer, ranging from 5,300 yards off the reds to 7,600 for the pros. For James and me, it was a 6,400-yard layout from the blue tees. Perfect.
Dumbarnie is sprawled across 345 acres of glorious coastline, but it never really feels like that. The modern links trend of having long walks from green to tee don’t exist here and it never at any point feels like a trek. And even if the walk is longer than you would usually expect, you don’t care. Whichever way you look it’s just spectacular.
Every hole seemingly leaves you with more than one option. Do you take on the traps that protect the 311-yard par-4 3rd and set yourself up for an eagle putt? Or do you play conservatively down the right? Do you take on the narrow fairway down the left of the par-4 5th to leave a wedge, or play safely up the right for a mid-iron in?
The par-3 8th is the pick of the short holes. Playing just 140 yards even off the tips and down towards the coastline, miss right and you better hope you find the coffin bunker because the slope will take everything this side down into the stream the protects the green on that side.
The 11th – above – is another driveable par-four with a MacKenzie-style double green that presents challenges of its own, while the 12th offers the widest fairway on the course. (Spoiler alert: We both missed it.)
The par-4 17th – pictured below – is an all-timer. Dissected by a 300-year-old stone wall, the green is makeable if the wind is being nice, while two devilish pot bunkers just short of the putting surface add to the thrill of the chase. Don’t fancy it? Play safely up the left and leave yourself an iron in. Me? Driver, wedge, birdie putt. It’s those little moments that make our ongoing commitment to this ridiculous game all worthwhile, isn’t it?
But it really doesn’t matter what you shoot around Dumbarnie, you’ll walk off 18 and want to go straight back to the 1st tee.
Or you can enjoy a bite to eat in the Old Barn which, despite its name, is a relaxing, modern bar and restaurant perfect for that post-round feed. If I may drop in some recommendations, the steak sandwich and popcorn chicken – washed down with a pint of Dumbarnie’s own bespoke ale from the St Andrews Brewing Co – will sort you out.
Clark’s wish when creating Dumbarnie Links was that people would leave and be “desperate to return”.
It’s safe to say he’s nailed that.
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For more information visit the Dumbarnie Links website.
Images courtest of Dumbarnie Links and Kevin Murray Photography.