George Oldham revisits Dundonald following its £25 million renovation and, he explains, it can hardly be bettered as a golf break location
For the past decade, I have had the good fortune to live on the Ayrshire coast, home of The Open and some of Britain’s great links. Just down the road from my home in Prestwick is arguably the greatest of them all, the Ailsa at Turnberry, and I’m within 10 minutes of a further 15 desirable courses, including Prestwick, Royal Troon, Western Gales and Kyle Phillips’ magnificent Dundonald Links.
Opened in 2005 as a sister course to Loch Lomond to provide its members not only with an alternative links experience, but also the opportunity to escape wet winter golf for significantly less rain and fast drying, sand based fairways, Dundonald also proved a hit personally with its wide and undulating fairways, high spectator mounds which were created with championship spectators in mind and providing a sense of separation and uniqueness to each hole, and stands of Scots pine.
Still very much a links, but a positive contrast to the wide-open, treeless, barren aesthetic of the traditional courses.
Ultra-challenging from its 7,272 back tees, the pleasure from the forward tees lies in the tests set by the shots to the undulating raised greens, particularly those of the par-3 3rd and 15th. The finishing holes are particularly strong, climaxing with the 578-yard, dogleg 18th, its long narrow green requiring a brave shot to clear the protecting burn in front.
A great end to a memorable golf course.
Visitors were always made welcome, but facilities were rudimentary and Dundonald remained something of a sleeping giant despite, in 2017, becoming a venue for the Scottish and Scottish Ladies Opens.
All this was to change in 2019 with the purchase of the property by Darwin Escapes, who in 2020 retained Kyle Phillips to institute a £1 million makeover of the course and embark on a multimillion first phase building programme comprising a magnificent new clubhouse, 22 hotel rooms and 18 luxurious two-, four- and six-bedroom lodges.
Sampling an overnight stay in a four-bedroom lodge, I was more than impressed by how each has been carefully designed to suit the needs of the travelling golfer, with bag storage and drying areas, and with the level of luxury and equipment which would make any golf break memorable.
The scale of the spacious open-plan, lounge, kitchen-diner is matched by that of the generous-sized and equipped en suite bedrooms. Additionally, guests can step out of the lodge to adjacent putting greens
Given that Darwin Escapes already have the experience of managing two highly-regarded golf resorts, it is hardly surprising that the whole set-up – unlike many private clubs, where, understandably, the interests of the members is prioritised – is completely customer-focussed, epitomised by the new magnificent two-storey clubhouse, featuring panoramic views to the Ailsa Craig rock and to the Isle of Arran beyond.
That the customer is king is apparent the moment the visiting golfer steps though the automatic doors into the luxurious reception area and pro shop. Awaiting is access to to a gym, sauna, steam room and extensive changing facilities, and, of course bar, whisky-tasting room and the new Canny Crow restaurant, with its views over the course to the sea.
Ian Ferguson, club manager at Dundonald Links, emphasises the warmth of the welcome, pointing out the free trolleys, practice area and range with practice ball pyramid that awaits all guests.
He advises arriving early, not only to sample the free facilities, but also to enjoy the magnificent bar and restaurant. He is also keen to point out the benefits of the favourable microclimate on this stretch of coast, protected by the Isle of Arran. He, rightly, advises that for this reason, and also the proximity of so many nearby “bucket-list” courses to explore, that Dundonald can hardly be bettered as a golf break location.
He hardly needs add that the new facilities and Kyle Phillip’s superb course makes Dundonald Links a “must-visit” destination in itself.
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