One of the best moves any European Tour event has ever made was in 2011 when the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open moved from Loch Lomond Golf Club, a private, parkland club, to an ever-changing rotation of publicly accessible links courses.
The move not only gave PGA Tour pros more impetus to head to the U.K. a week early to prepare for Open Championship conditions on a similar links, but it showcases an entirely new selection of links courses in various regions -- Castle Stuart, Royal Aberdeen, Gullane -- that visiting golfers should consider for their itinerary.
After all, golf groups that only want to play the Open Championship rota on their trip are not only adding unnecessary cost, but logistics become far tougher too, because the courses are more spread out and there are usually greater tee time restrictions, particularly at Muirfield and the Old Course in St. Andrews.
Enter the newest links course to receive the Scottish Open golden touch: On Monday the European Tour announced Dundonald Links in North Ayrshire will host its first Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in 2017.
Dundonald, a 21st-century links, often flies under the radar for a few reasons. It is located in the Ayrshire region, where there are two present-day Open Championship venues, Royal Troon and the Ailsa Course at Trump Turnberry. Prestwick, the original Open host in 1860, also dazzles newcomers to links golf with an array Old World quirks. Meanwhile, Western Gailes is another old links that hosts a variety of top-flight championships.
Right in this incredible area for links is Dundonald, which opened in 2003, built on the former site of Southern Gailes. Dundonald was designed by Kyle Phillips, who also crafted perhaps Scotland's most well known modern links, Kingsbarns (a host of the European Tour's Dunhill Links Championship, held each fall). Dundonald's green fees are £105, a little less than its prestigious neighbors.
Golfers weigh in on Dundonald
It's a course that I've passed up each time I've been to Scotland, (as with Western Gailes) but plan to play on my next trip. Fairways of Life host Matt Adams has played Dundonald twice -- first in its early days and again last year -- and provided a summary in his review:
A golf course is a living, growing and changing entity. Such was the case when I played the Dundonald Links almost ten years ago compared to a round last year. Located in proximity to great and historic links Kilmarnock Barassie, Glasgow and one of my favorites, Western Gailes, I came into my first round with lower expectations and they were met... Through the passage of time (and even more drama in ownership over the last few years), Dundonald Links has emerged as a highly enjoyable experience with former areas of concern corrected. From just over 6,400 yards to tipped out at 7,300 yards, Phillips has embraced a Kingsbarns design philosophy that provides for generous and creative landing areas, saving the greatest challenges for the green complexes which still fairly reward a well planned shot. Due to the aforementioned winds, the course can play much longer than the card. The par 4's play deceptively long and I would say that the par 3's are the true standouts of the course. The elevated par-3 6th hole is brilliant at 170 yards with a valley left and a pot bunker lurking amongst the seemingly safe haven of dunes behind the green. Dundonald Links is as challenging as you choose to make it and it's sweeping and equitable design provides for a very enjoyable modern links experience.
Golf Advisor Senior Staff Writer Jason Scott Deegan played Dundonald and also awarded the course four stars in his review:
You just can't replicate the authenticity of its nearest neighbor, Western Gailes, without Mother Nature's guidance. But Phillips' expertise on links golf did ultimately reveal a solid collection of holes. The fairways are wider than the average links, so it's a good warmup course for Americans fresh off an overseas flight. Burns protect the path to the greens at no. 9 and no. 18. The 13th and 16th holes run parallel to the railroad tracks that separate the course from Western Gailes, but in opposite directions.
The perks of modern links in Scotland
While there is an obvious draw to playing the 19th-century links golf in Scotland, there are advantages to playing the newer links, and I always recommend playing at least one on a Scotland tour. New clubs almost always offer more public access than your more reputable, old school links courses with established memberships. There are also usually full practice areas and better amenities in the clubhouse (like plumbing facilities newer than 1900).
Castle Stuart and Kingsbarns are the obvious places to start when it comes to adding a new-school Scottish links, but Dundonald will have a chance for its close-up in 2017, and demonstrate it's worthiness for inclusion on a southwest coast golf itinerary.