Clive Clark humbled by 'fantastic' first two years for Dumbarnie Links

Mention the name ‘Clive Clark’ to most Scots in the past and they’d probably remember him from being, with all due respect, an old sidekick of Peter Alliss on the BBC. Not now, though.

Not since the Californian-based Englishman worked his magic on a piece of land in Fife, creating Dumbarnie Links and watching with pride from across the Atlantic as it has earned rave reviews, particularly from the Scottish golfing public.

Widespread praise has been heaped on what Clark, a former Ryder Cup player, describes as a “traditional links with a modern twist” and now, less than two years after it opened, that has been reflected on the awards front.

At the recent Scottish Golf Tourism Awards, Dumbarnie Links landed the top prize as it was named Scotland’s ‘Best Golf Experience’ while it also came out on top in the ‘Best Golf Course’ category for green fees of £151 and over.

Former Ryder Cup player and now course designer Clive Clark, who is now based in Calfornia, during a visit to Dumbarnie Links. Picture: Dumbarnie Links

“It is quite extraordinary how people have reacted to it,” admitted Clark in an exclusive interview with Scotland on Sunday. “The numbers have been high in terms of the rounds we would have expected and the comments have been great. We’ve also had more media coverage than I could have dreamt of, so it’s been fantastic.”

Stemming from their time together as co-commentators, Clark and Alliss formed their own golf course design company in the 1980s before Clark, a decorated amateur before going on to win five times as a professional, branched out on his own.

“I am very proud of the fact that I went to America and broke into design over there as there are probably well over 1,000 people doing design work, including a lot of big names,” said the 76-year-old. “The first job I got was in Maine, designing a course called Belgrade Lakes.

“It turned out very well, with Golf Digest and Golf Magazine, the two biggest in the States, both voting it No 1 in the state, which was 132 golf courses. So that was good and eventually Golf Digest voted in No 1 in New England, which is seven states.

The approach to the fourth hole at Dumbarnie Links, where in excess of 20,000 rounds will be played this year. Picture: Dumbarnie Links

“However, designing Dumbarnie Links is sort of everything to me. My grandparents from my dad’s side came from Aberdeen, so I have a bit of Scottish in me and my surname is spelt without an E at the end, which is the Scottish spelling.

“So to do a links course, that really excited me. I have lots of playing experience on links, but had never designed one. Links golf fascinates me. I like the fact the ball runs. I like the fact that you might hear it hit the green but you don’t necessarily have to repair a great crater. I call it ‘plop golf’ in the US and I prefer the running game.”

Clark was very clever when it came to key appointments. Grahame Taylor, who started his greenkeeping career at nearby Leven Links before having spells at both Gleneagles and St Andrews Links, has been in charge of the course since June 2018.

Another well-kent Fifer, David Scott, got the job as general manager, bringing bags of experience from Kongsbarns, where he built the operations team for its opening in 2000, and the Old Course Hotel, where he latterly filled the role of Director of Golf, Leuchars and Estates.

“David has been absolutely terrific in his role and I am very pleased with him,” said Clark. “Grahame, our superintendent, has also done a wonderful job with the whole golf course and his team are very dedicated and committed.

“The design of the course was obviously very important, but so is the condition of the course and the service off it. And, although I was locked up in California and not able to get over for nearly two years due to the Covid pandemic, I was reading all the social media and the Scots have been extremely supportive.”

Wider praise was earned when the course staged the Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open, won by America Ryann O’Toole, last summer. “I was quite hopeful that we would always get a tournament or a championship here, but thought it might take two or three years to achieve that,” admitted Clark, who played in The Open 10 times, finishing third behind Roberto De Vicenzo in 1967 and making the top 20 on two other occasions.

A feature of Clark’s creation on the north bank of the Firth of Forth is a collection of short par-4s that are all driveable. “They are fun to play and I always think it’s like shopping at Harrods when there’s a 50 per cent discount,” he said with a chuckle.

“At the 17th, there’s an old 300-year-old wall that you can drive over straight at the green or you can go left to a safe fairway then probably a 9-iron in. The wind is generally behind on that hole, but there are nine rather gnarly pot bunkers between you and the green and you can take a 5 or 6 there very quickly.”

Throughout our chat, which also included him recalling those days working alongside Alliss for the BBC, there was no disguising his passion for the place. “This has been a very interesting project,” continued Clark.

“Being a links course, you could step back and learn from the great links that are around, particularly in Great Britain and Ireland and I really like Muirfied and the way it sets up. But then I just thought I wanted it to be very playable. I wanted generous fairways.

“But, more than anything, I wanted it to be entertaining and make it a thinking man’s golf course. We’ve created a lot of options and I think that’s what intrigues people.

“Peter Alliss always used to say when we were in partnership before I went to America: I’ve never heard anybody come in from a round of golf and say ‘I missed 10 fairways into long rough and had to hack it out, I three-putted five times and I had two four-putts…..and I had a wonderful round of golf!’”

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