Dundonald Links taking breath away with new clubhouse and first-class accommodation
It takes something special to create a ‘wow’ factor with anything to do with golf in Scotland. The game, after all, has been around for a long time here and, as a consequence, it’s difficult to improve on what is already there.
It’s been achieved, though, at Dundonald Links thanks to the new owners, Darwin Escapes, not only building a plush permanent clubhouse that is up there with the best in the country but also turning it into a venue that now offers top-class accommodation on site.
“It’s been pretty incredible, I have to say,” said general manager Ian Ferguson of the overall new offering at the venue and, having been there for six years, initially when it was owned by Loch Lomond Golf Club, he certainly knows what he’s talking about.
While a temporary facility wasn’t exactly shabby, the lack of a proper clubhouse was always seen as a missing element at the venue by visiting golfers in particular. Finally delivered following the change of owners that came about in March 2019, most would probably agree the wait has been worth it.
Built to blend with the local landscape, the focal point of the two-storey construction is a restaurant called The Canny Crow, which enjoys stunning views to Arran and Ailsa Craig, with a whisky-tasting room also having been included on the upper floor.
“I’ve been around for a long time and I’ve not seen anything quite like what we’ve achieved here,” added Ferguson, his eyes lighting up as he spoke. “It’s taken all sorts of elements from other successful golf operations and clubhouses. We’ve done our best to take those strands and create something here for golf tourism.
“We want to try and make people think, ‘wow, this is a great destination and we will base ourselves here as there are plenty of courses in the area and plenty to do’.”
During its ownership by Loch Lomond, Dundonald Links staged numerous tournaments, notably a Scottish Open double-header in 2017, when Rory McIlroy and Lydia Ko were in the respective men’s and women’s line ups.
“Loch Lomond had ambitions to develop Dundonald but on a different scale,” added Ferguson. “It just didn’t make sense for them to invest what has now been invested here. It’s been a completely different approach and the accommodation element is going to be pretty pivotal, I’m sure, in Dundonald’s success going forward.”
That’s not just fanciful thinking. Not when you are talking about 18 luxury lodges comprising two, four and six-bedroom properties, as well as 22 hotel rooms that are all within walking distance of the first tee.
Darwin Escapes also own The Springs Resort & Golf Club in Oxfordshire and Kilnwick Percy Resort & Golf Club in Yorkshire, but there’s no disguising managing director Lindsey Esse’s excitement about adding a Scottish venue to the company’s portfolio.
“We knew when we bought Dundonald that we’d got a world-class golf course and the reason why we bought it is that it did have planning permission for a clubhouse and accommodation,” said Esse.
“It was a case of first and foremost getting investors to invest and believe in the vision we had and then it was for me to work with the teams I’d worked with elsewhere to deliver the world-class accommodation and destination that goes with it.
“Where our success has come elsewhere in golf is with adding accommodation and other facilities. We’ve got three very different locations but equally as challenging and rewarding in their own rights. But Dundonald is by far the aspirational pinnacle of the three courses we’ve got.”
The total investment so far has been £25 million and more phases, one of which includes the creation of a Golf Academy, are in the pipeline.
“I started playing golf in my 40s, but I got into it because of a free taster session, having always thought of golf as being exclusive or elitist, if you like,” said Esse. “We’ve been successful at our other two clubs in getting people into the game and that’s what we want for Dundonald as well.”
At the same time, though, the company isn’t stepping on toes locally. “Unlike my other two golf courses, I haven’t put a spa here because the Gailes Hotel has got a spa,” said Esse.
“We also didn’t want to do it to have big commercial events as that’s what they do well. We work well with the local courses. We are all trying to attract people to the area and are trying to work together in that respect.”
There’s no doubt that anybody who visited Dundonald Links in the past are in for a very pleasant surprise, as some of the top players in the game will discover when the Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open is held there next summer.
“It is really exciting for us to have that event coming back here as it was an amazing time for us all in 2017 in particular and we have really missed that,” said Ferguson. “We are really keen to continue Dundonald’s history in a relatively short life to stage tournaments, having staged events at all levels.
“This is a tournament venue and that was part of our thinking. We want to accommodate high-profile events and we are delighted to have that in the bag for next year.”