Modern Classics: Dumbarnie Links

Likely the last true links to be built in Scotland, it looks to be 100 years old or more—not just three

Dumbarnie Links was a 20-year dream in the making. When it finally emerged from a stretch of inaccessible, virgin linksland along the southern shores of the Firth of Forth in 2019, it became quickly clear that Scotland had added yet another classic to an already rich portfolio.

In many ways, Dumbarnie was destined to be a triumph before it was even built. New and genuinely traditional links courses are rarities for the simple reason that the real linksland needed to build them has all but been used up, while the added battle to obtain permits to allow construction can be just as restrictive. The beauty of this site was that it had close to 350 acres of undisturbed linksland—with the kicker that it was located less than a dozen miles from St. Andrews.

Dumbarnie Links
3rd Hole (photo by Mark Alexander)

Add to that the very good choice of architect to make the dream a reality. Former British Walker and Ryder Cup player Clive Clark embraced the challenge to create one of the last true links courses in Scotland and likely the last to be built within staggering distance of St. Andrews.

Two years on from its low-key, early-pandemic opening, it has had some time to settle in. It enjoyed rave reviews from the time Covid restrictions were relaxed sufficiently to allow golfers to roam its substantial acreage, and its reputation was much bolstered by the television coverage of the very successful Women’s Scottish Open played there last year.

Clark moved the sandy Fife shoreline in Sahara Desert proportions to create 600 sand dunes on an escarpment site that boasted only two when the machines first rolled in. But the remarkable achievement of the man who finished third behind Roberto de Vicenzo and Jack Nicklaus in the 1967 Open Championship at Hoylake was to create a traditional links course that looks as if it has been there for a hundred years.

Thirteen of the holes play toward the sea, an achievement made possible by more than a mile of beachfront extending around the south-facing curve of Largo Bay looking across the Firth of Forth to the great links of Muirfield, North Berwick, and Gullane, less than 20 miles away as the crow flies. The views are stunning in all directions.

Dumbarnie Links
17th Hole (photo by Mark Alexander)

The 3rd hole is one of the best. Played from a tee close to the highest point of the course, it tempts its assailants to go for the well guarded green. But a deep pot bunker on the corner of the dogleg and massive waste bunkers to the left claim many victims who eschew the simple and safe route down the right side of what is a classic short par four.

For many visitors, two other holes also remain vivid in the memory. The short par-three 8th has echoes of the famous Postage Stamp at Royal Troon, although with far more spectacular views as a backdrop, and is the most photographed. The most talked about hole is the 17th, an intriguing, drivable for some, short par four that must be played around or over an ancient wall. A plethora of deep pot bunkers threatens the direct route, but again to take the safe option is usually too much for most to even contemplate.

Dumbarnie Links presents endless options, including alternative fairways on several holes. Some routes call for bold planning decisions, others for careful shot selection balancing risk and reward, although there is always the traditional links option of the running shot into the green. The most important option at Dumbarnie Links, however, is the choice of tee at the outset. Play the color that reflects your game and not your ego to get the most from this modern links classic.

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