Opens to Loch Lomond Golf Club Members

By Malcolm Campbell

Medieval kings and horse-racing dukes once claimed this scenic plat on the Firth of Clyde. Today a deep-pocketed American developer has some calling it the seaside sensation of Scottish golf.

With much of Scotland’s links land 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 just south of St. Andrews.

Then, with natives still abuzz over the eye-pop-ping 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 from Castle 2000 Property Development, which named the project “Southern Gailes” to complement a pair of established venues in the region, Western Gailes and Glasgow Gailes.

Then came an even bigger buzz: In early 2003, before work was completed on Southern Gailes, the developer sold it to Lyle Anderson’s Loch Lomond Golf Club. Among the cognoscenti, eyebrows angled skywards, locals all too aware the new owners were an international – and very private – golf club.

Southern Gailes acquired not only a new owner, but also a name change and a shift in philoso-phy. Rechristened as Dundonald – a one-word name in the Scottish tradition of Carnoustie, Prestwick, Muirfield and Turnberry – it 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. A castle once used as a summer residence for Scottish Kings was built there by Robert II in 1371. It was one of three medieval fortresses on the site between the early 12th century and 1647.

In 1911 the first attempt was made at building a golf course. The land was owned at the time by His Grace William John Arthur Charles James Cavendish-Bentinck, Duke of Portland, Welbeck, Worksop and Nottingham, whose locker name-plate must have been something to behold. Actually, history doesn’t say much about the Duke’s prowess with a cleek or mashie; his passion was horse racing, and he reached the pinnacle of his ambition in 1888, when he won The Derby, of the English Classic series, with a horse appropriately named “Ayrshire.”

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. The first 100 members were admit-ted at an annual fee of one guinea, about $2 by today’s reckoning.

That original course was lost just be-fore the Second World War. Conscription was introduced at that time and 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 tradi-tional 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 ar-eas 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.

“I wanted to create a new championship Ayrshire-style course that felt and played as though it was an old ‘rediscovered’ course by integrating newly constructed features with the existing site features.”

Since the Loch Lomond acquisition, Phillips has made minor changes to his original design, the most obvious being the disappearance of the Montgomery Burn. That stream ran through several holes and has since been piped underground and lowered by several feet to improve drainage. Above it, a dry ditch remains as a hazard and a reminder. Dundonald initially opened for preview rounds in mid-2003, then closed so those improvements could be made over the winter. It’s now open year-round, making it a welcome complement to its sister course at Loch Lomond, located an hour’s drive inland and closed from November through March.

Stretching an uncompromising 7,300 yards from the championship tees, 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.

Already it seems likely the Scottish Open will move here from Loch Lomond after the current sponsor’s agreement with Barclays expires in 2006. Those who have long cam-paigned to have this great event returned to a traditional links course will rejoice.

The Phillips’ philosophy that demands a variety of decisions from tee to green is very much in evidence here. And 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 penal bunkering, some of it reminiscent of St. Andrews itself. Two holes are particularly noteworthy. The par-4 16th (the No. 1 handicap) 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 third can be reachable in two, but only with a perfect drive thread-ed 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. With the 2004 British Open now at hand in nearby Troon, golf fans will likely be in the mood for links golf and clamoring for those tee times.

For more information on Dundonald, call 011-44-1436-655340 or visit


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