With much of Scotland’s linksland already occupied by some of the greatest venues in golf, few new seaside courses have appeared on the game’s home turf since the early 20th century. That drought was broken in 2000 when the acclaimed Kingsbarns opened on the Fife coast, near St. Andrews.
Then, with natives still abuzz over the eye-popping Kyle Phillips design, a links course was announced for a classic site in Ayrshire, just a stone’s throw from Royal Troon on the country’s west coast. Phillips, the American whiz kid, got the assignment for Southern Gailes, to complement a pair of established venues in the region, Western Gailes and Glasgow Gailes.
In early 2003, before work was completed on Southern Gailes, the developer sold it to Loch Lomond Golf Club. Rechristened as Dundonald, the project moved from the realm of open public links to that of exclusive private property, a notion that is anathema to many Scots in a land where golf is still considered a basic human right.
Public-or-private controversy aside, Dundonald is a fascinating site. The name—literally “Fort Donald”—derives from fortifications discovered on a nearby hillside dating as far back as 500 B.C. In 1911 the first attempt was made at building a golf course. When a club was formed, it was named Dundonald, and the members had the original course stretched to 6,700 yards, a monster by the standards of the time.
That original course was lost just before World War II; the Dundonald Army Camp was built on the land after the British requisitioned it for military use. When Phillips was hired to bring golf back to the site, comparisons with Kingsbarns were inevitable. But the land he was given to work with at Dundonald is markedly different from the Fife site: The Dundonald terrain is much flatter and subtler in its movement, whereas massive amounts of dirt had to be moved to create the dramatic Kingsbarns. The overall effect is much more in tune with an older-style links than the modern interpretation that works so well at Kingsbarns.
Phillips was keen to retain that traditional feel after initially walking the site in 1999. “The ground was all ancient beach sand,” he says. “There were a few small dunes, some rushes and gorse areas running through it. I tried to utilize the strongest and most interesting of the natural features and then create grander, more dramatic landforms and features over the remainder of the site.
Stretching an uncompromising 7,300 yards, Dundonald clearly has the depth of character to test the best. When the wind blows, par 72 seems as far from reach as the Isle of Arran, which rises from the sea to the west and dominates the wonderful view from Dundonald’s fairways across the Firth of Clyde toward Northern Ireland.
The Phillips philosophy that demands a variety of decisions from tee to green is very much in evidence here. As with Kingsbarns, there are a considerable number of tightly mown areas around the greens, allowing errant shots to run away from the target and putting a premium on skillful recovery work.
The designer’s affinity for links golf is clearly reflected in the large, rolling greens and often punitive bunkering, some of it reminiscent of St. Andrews itself.
Two holes are particularly noteworthy. The par-4 16th typically plays with the prevailing wind but has a hog’s-back hump to add an element of chance to any drive that carries the first fairway bunker. In the right conditions, the long par-5 3rd can be reachable in two, but only with a perfect drive threaded between the ditch on the right side and a bunker that threatens the left.
Like Loch Lomond, Dundonald is generally restricted to members and guests, but a few visitor times are set aside each day after 2 p.m.