I can imagine the first thought on one’s mind when the topic of golf in Scotland is being discussed is the phrase “The Home of Golf” and in turn, St. Andrews. And to be fair, it is home to one of the oldest and most hallowed courses and institutions in the game – The Old Course and The Royal and Ancient Club. This is also what I envisioned prior to my first trip to Scotland, however, the ensuing adventure that is Scottish Golf on the island’s West Coast has forever brandished a purity of landscape and course form in my mind that will never be forgotten.
A short 40-minute drive from Glasgow Airport, Ayrshire is the setting of one of the most magical areas of golf heaven I’ve ever experienced. Ten of the top 100 courses in Scotland are situated mere minutes apart along a stunning coastline – from which on a clear day you can see straight across the Firth of Clyde to the farmlands on the Isle of Arran whilst teeing off. But I am getting ahead of myself. This is an exposé on staying and playing. So, let’s start at the beginning.
Scotland Golf: Arriving to Dundonald
Arriving at Glasgow airport was a breeze. After a long overseas trip with a few connections, the large simple sign welcoming newcomers and those returning home made me smile at the thought of what was to come. It was easy to navigate through to the exit and the next stop was Dundonald Links via private shuttle and a much-appreciated short drive to the property. In my somewhat dreamlike state, the moment we turned into Dundonald I felt like I was entering a sort of Scottish golf fairytale world, one where the buildings paid ancient homage to the landscape and not the other way around.
Rustic-chic, simple elegant designs sit in quiet respect amongst rolling berms and beautiful fields of wildflowers. It is a mosaic landscape highlighted and complimented by these newly appointed structures courtesy of Darwin Escapes, which purchased Dundonald Links in 2019 and recently completed a £25 million development plan. Along with significant course improvements by designer Kyle Phillips, the brand-new clubhouse and luxury accommodations are enjoying their first full season this year.
These enhancements give Dundonald the facilities that a course of this magnitude deserves. It is a truly unique and stunning display of what happens when a company considers their sustainability imprint. I was impressed to learn that this subject was of utmost concern in the design and execution of their project, not only on property but also regarding collective collaboration with surrounding courses, authorities, and businesses – the goal of which, according to their website, is to “develop more expansive corridors connecting urban and rural landscapes through which populations of wildlife can connect and spread.”
One of my favorite features on property was the “Living Roof” on top of the clubhouse. This ingenious roofing provides a plethora of economic, ecological, and societal benefits – not to mention it looks incredibly cool. In today’s world seeing and experiencing this kind of forward thinking and design execution, especially on a golf course, is an absolute merit to what Dundonald Links has built.
The lodging is right on par with the overall aesthetic. Nothing over the top. Nothing missing. Just the right balance of luxurious amenities and services with a nod to legacy to compliment the perfect amount of glorious golf purity one experiences on the course. From the textures, colors, and design to the carefully selected visual and physical details, there’s a flawless mix of modernity, history, and comfort.
Dundonald offers several accommodation options – from classic hotel-style rooms to two-, four-, or six-bedroom lodges. This makes planning an intimate twosome or a larger group adventure extremely easy. One of my favorite moments upon arrival was walking into the lodge and feeling my jaw drop at the interior visuals, only to have my breath stolen as I strolled through the common area out onto a simple patio overlooking a perfectly manicured practice green set amidst rolling hills of wild fescue. A quick glance left or right brought one’s eye to the other similar lodges situated in an arc around the green. The aesthetic was undeniably simple, elegant, rustic, and beautiful.
Scotland Golf: Dining at The Canny Crow
Traveling – especially trans-Atlantic travel – makes a person hungry. All those hours tossing and turning on a red-eye flight has a way of making me ravenous. Fortunately, Dundonald’s highly acclaimed restaurant – The Canny Crow – not only offers fabulous food but also provides a beautiful panoramic view of Dundonald Golf Course. Those who travel frequently are aware, dining abroad can be tricky, one never knows what they will encounter. All I can say is: What a menu. What a venue.
Canny Crow has three different offerings throughout the day – Breakfast, All Day Menu, and Evening Fare – all of which are subject to change based on seasonal availability of locally sourced ingredients. What was even more impressive was meeting the brilliant mastermind behind these dishes, the young talented Emma Rigby who has been with Dundonald Links since October 2021. She assuredly has a bright career ahead from my point of view. Her creations were thoughtful, artistic, and elegant. As a self-proclaimed foodie and someone who loves to cook, I was in culinary heaven.
I made a point to select as many different offerings as possible throughout my stay and never once regretted a menu choice. Everything was remarkable. From the classic golf course staples like a Chicken Club sandwich or Caesar salad to more local fare like Haggis bonbons and locally caught Troon Langoustine scampi. One of my favorites was the Golden Beet Medley—the vibrant presentation was almost too beautiful to disturb. What I would come to realize was that the time I spent walking every single golf course I played, sometimes two a day, and logging upwards of 20,000 steps in the process, more than justified eating everything on the menu. Two orders of Haggis bonbons with a side of Treacle Soda Bread and Maple Butter, yes please!
Scotland Golf: Experiencing Golf As It Should Be
And this brings me to the golf. Oh, the rustic beauty and purity that is golf in Scotland. I could write an entire book on this subject and am certain many already have over the years. Who can blame them? I’m reminded of a phrase I read years ago while visiting a highly acclaimed private club in South Carolina – and it said simply “Where golf is as it should be.” I can’t help but think that this saying certainly applies to golf in Scotland.
The experience of playing courses on the land where this great game was created is surreal. This is not the land of golf carts, beverage carts, players darting around from shot to shot, loud music blaring (from the clubhouse or anywhere else), ostentatious clothing, or frilly mid-round luxuries. This is the land of sacred walks amongst friends sharing a common bond for the love of a game so pure and beautiful that it cannot (and will not) be marred by anything so callow.
However, golf in Scotland is not for the faint of heart or disposition – if the purist approach of the course experience doesn’t deter you, there is a good chance that the weather will make a solid effort. In fact, there is a quote by the renowned Scottish actor/comedian Billy Connolly that goes “There are two seasons in Scotland: June and winter.” He isn’t kidding. I experienced both in the same week, with a couple other seasons thrown in for good measure.
The first full round I played was at Western Gailes where the temperature was a brisk overcast 50 degrees Fahrenheit and the winds registered on savage mode. Enduring sustained 30 to 40 mph gusts and walking into a headwind for 9 holes will test even the toughest of players. Save for a tossed trolley (the UK term for pushcart) in one of the other foursomes in our group, and a slightly bruised golf ego of my own, there weren’t any major casualties. I chose to think of it as resistance training. It was a long, often laborious walk, but ultimately, I was rewarded several holes later with the gales dying down and the beautiful sight of sun emerging from the clouds as I made the turn back toward the picturesque clubhouse.
As the groups trickled in, we all shared knowing looks, funny anecdotes, and a generous nip of whiskey to warm our souls. Upon leaving the club to catch our shuttle back to Dundonald I noticed a vintage weather station on the wall, whose wind meter, according to the manager, was apparently broken. I turned to him and said, “The needle is off the chart – looks accurate to me!”
Western Gailes was the first of several courses I had the pleasure to tread upon while testing my golfing temperament. The itinerary also included renowned Prestwick Golf Club – where Old Tom Morris hit the inaugural tee shot at the first ever Open Championship, and where I had the pleasure of holding the celebrated Champions Cup after my round there… the champion of lost golf balls in my case. This adventure also featured the special experience of Royal Troon – host of the 152nd Open, and home to the famous Postage Stamp hole.
The three courses were vastly different settings and conditions, which resulted in a mixed bag as far as my game was concerned; but shooting course records was hardly my focal point. I was so captivated with the visuals and the overall vibe of each club – the memorabilia, the history, and the feel of playing on grounds where the game was created – that I rarely had a moment of frustration. It was a highlight of the trip to reconvene with my fellow travelers and recount our rounds over a well-earned meal as we animatedly discussed our favorite holes, and clinked glasses of local whiskey or beer while learning about the history and traditions of each establishment courtesy of their distinguished club manager.
An unexpected twist at the courses we played was seeing locals on a “walkabout” with their dog(s) – either on the course, adjacent hillsides, or the beach. Scottish law allows people to walk on courses and the walkers are polite and know not to infringe on play. Puppies! And golf! Two of life’s greatest creations.
Scotland Golf: The Unmatched Beauty of Dundonald Links
And this brings me to the final course, the host with the absolute most and one I cannot wait to return to someday: Dundonald Links. Founded in 1911, it was one of the longest of its time, sitting at 6700 yards. The Par 72 beauty has endured a lot in its history, and in fact was almost unrecognizable after WWI and II. New ownership in 2003 saw a partnership with California based architect Kyle Phillips who helped turn Dundonald into what it is today. Phillips said he “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.” He did just that, and more, in breathtaking fashion.
It was my final full day in Scotland, and I was finally able to play this Ayrshire gem. Perhaps as a parting gift, or a salute to surviving the Scottish elements, Billy Connolly’s “June,” in all its glory, made a much-appreciated appearance. I could not have placed an order for more perfect conditions. Luxurious sun, clouds arcing the sky in picture-perfect fashion, and a light breeze as a finishing touch. My group kicked things off with the opening tee time and it was a lovely start thanks to Gary, Dundonald’s jovial first tee attendant.
It was quickly apparent to me that this round was going to be unlike any other during this visit, or perhaps, forever. To start, there were the visuals – winding gorse-covered dunes in the foreground drawing the eye to grand pine forests in the distance, making the turn to the back nine and seeing the ocean on the horizon with waves dancing much like I hoped my approach shots would, brilliant pot bunkers with names like “The Cauldron” beckoning careless mistakes and futile escapes, quiet fescue fields just waiting to claim another ball – this course has it all. The traditional out-and-back links style is traded for a more meandering hole-to-hole journey, but it is one that tells a rich story from beginning to end.
Dundonald is truly a feast for the golf eye and mind, where traditional links feel sits quietly amidst the more contemporary course upgrades. The course is so well-regarded that it was tapped to host the Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open this summer (July 28-31, 2022), with a field that included many of the top 25 women players in the world.
One of the best things about playing Scottish golf is that it remains light out past 10 pm. Picture playing a morning round, relaxing in the luxurious spa-like locker room sauna, followed by a delicious leisurely lunch. Head back downstairs to do some shopping in the gorgeous Dundonald pro shop, and then board a shuttle to downtown Ayrshire to explore, or maybe plan a visit to the birthplace of one of Scotland’s most heralded poets – author of Auld Lang Syne – Robert Burns. The beauty of long light is that you will have plenty of time to fill your hours as you please then return and play another late day round followed by a stunning sunset and meal on the Canny Crow balcony.
Scotland Golf: The Many Reasons to Visit Dundonald
Dundonald offers many bespoke experiences – from enjoying a private whiskey tasting courtesy of Bunnahabhain Single Malt Distillery or a lively cigar tasting with the team from Robert Graham 1874, to hosting a privately prepared barbeque at your lodge. Dundonald Links has also created a variety of “Love Links Stay and Play Golf” packages. You can keep it simple and stay-and-play solely at the resort, or you can choose one of their more robust packages which includes one round at Dundonald and two more rounds at any of the following depending on the package selected: Barassie Links, The Irvine Golf Club, Prestwick Golf Club and Western Gailes.
The staff at Dundonald can certainly consult with you, according to your desires and budget, as to what would work best for your trip. Speaking of the staff at Dundonald, I am almost at a loss for words, which doesn’t happen often for me. Here are a few off the top of my head: Exceptional. Brilliant. Personable. Kind. Gracious. From the simplest of requests, to the most challenging, all were handled with attentive grace. But it extends beyond merely being a top-tier luxury hospitality group. When you are welcomed into the Dundonald fold, it is described best as if spending a week with old friends: pure, authentic, and always tough to say goodbye. Dundonald Links has created something truly unique: minimalist luxury meets golf at its purest form. I eagerly await the day that I can return.