I’ve been fortunate enough to experience the fairways, and the cavernous bunkers, of the stunning Dundonald Links quite a few times since it re-opened in 2003. The insightful touch of Kyle Phillips brought this course back to life from the original Willie Fernie design of 1911, added to later by James Braid. In its day it was one of the longest courses ever created at 6700 yards, and with a gutty or even the newer Haskell ball it was a monster for the average Edwardian golfer to take on.
Try it with a Titleist. It’s still a test.
The great thing about Dundonald is that it was redesigned to accommodate championship golf, and unlike many traditional links courses where you can see other players on parallel or distant fairways and greens, Dundonald tucks those golfers away behind high dunes and deep hollows so that you continually feel you have the course to yourself. In those meerkat moments when another golfing group pop their heads up to look for a lost ball, you get a glimpse just how popular these links are.
Which brings me neatly to where I’m sitting now, writing this note from a very deep, comfortable settee in front of a huge wall-mounted television and watching other visiting golfers appear and disappear in the shrubbery shadows of the equally deeply rolling putting green set in between the lodges. The smell of burgers and posh dogs are wafting up from the large BBQ on the lodge’s patio and the sun is dipping down behind Arran. What better way to relax after a fantastically fun weekend of golf than with a beer, a burger and great banter?
It was just over a year ago that four guys who love golf committed to bringing their own vision of a quality, table-top golf magazine to life, and in doing so gave birth to The Links Diary. Jamie was previously a member at Dundonald so this seemed a fitting place to return to and mark a successful year. I live quite close to the course, just down the road in Prestwick, and he’d invited me along to meet the rest of the team who’ve read my articles but never met me. The chance to share some stories, play some golf and see the recent changes made to the course was too good to turn down.
The links were in immaculate condition. On my way to a warm-up on the now extended driving range with my bucket of Srixons from the Pro Shop I passed three new putting greens, one large and two small, the latter either tucked away around corners of yellow gorse and marram, and giving plenty of space for assertive practice or a gentle warm-up pre-play. The work on the range definitely helped me as I sent a straight drive up the fairway into wind on the long opening par-4 hole. Although the green keepers have let the grass grow to create some lovely lush definition on the walkways, the only real challenge you’ll find at Dundonald is if you go majorly off line. Even then, we managed to find the odd wayward golf shot lying on parallel fairways and paths, or in open areas under a canopy of pine trees.
The large greens, some of which can be at least a three-club difference from front to back, were like carpets. Experience gained on the lodge’s communal putting green last night came in very useful when trying to navigate these amazing swales from a distance. The greens were fast, and true and there was plenty grass below the ball as it rolled honestly across the humps and hollows to the pin.
The views you get and the round of golf on any course etch memories in your mind. The new view south from the 5th green over to the dominant position of the new clubhouse. My ricochet to 8 feet from the bottom of the burn that protects the 13th green, where I thought I had misjudged a well-flighted follow-up to a perfectly straight drive, ended up with a potential birdie putt (which I then missed). The clattering sound of the 2:30pm to Glasgow Central passing just as I started my downswing. A drive and a 23-degree hybrid to 6 feet at the 9th, into wind and over the burn and the yawning bunker that protect the green, landing it softly in the narrowest of spaces. Jamie’s wedge to 6 inches on the plateau green at the 12th, cannoned away by Stu’s pitch that didn’t quite bite as planned (but we gave Jamie the birdie putt anyway). A long, high fade of a drive down the second hole to the narrow centre of the fairway, avoiding the deep bunker on the left and the forest on the right and setting up a floating 7-iron to the high-set green that sloped towards me…. be below the hole. Didn’t take the stiffening breeze into account though, and I saw it roll off the front slope to narrowly miss a deep pot bunker, so steep that they’ve helpfully added some steps to help you get down to play your shot. I could have been in there a long time without them.
Sitting outside the wooden-clad halfway house behind the 18th green, we checked the card and stableford points over a haggis sausage roll and Irn Bru. Jamie had won the game by 6 points, but to be fair he was playing some incredible golf and not always from the best of positions. A short walk back through the car park and I’m relaxing again in the sumptuous surroundings of the lodge. We’d left some beers in the cooler at the end of the kitchen counter, a very welcome design feature, and the chicken has just hit the grill. This is a great stretch of golfing coast and at Dundonald you are right in the middle of it. The pitch and putt games we played across the central green yesterday evening with the other visitors was great fun, and you can see how easy this set-up will be in forging new friendships.
As a destination, Dundonald definitely delivers. It’s fun, whether playing off the whites as we did or any of the others, although the championship tips which hosted the men’s and women’s Scottish Opens are daunting. Every hole is playable, every shot is memorable and every bunker tells a story. Having a comfortable view like this at the end of such an enjoyable day on the course, with the contented buzzing of Graeme’s drone disappearing high above the lodges, it’s been great to see how Dundonald has rejuvenated itself for a fantastic future. Willie Fernie would be very happy.
He’d be even happier if he could have tried one of these posh dogs.
Words - Murray Bothwell
Photography - Graeme McCubbin
Special thanks to Dundonald Links.