This has been achieved, however, at Dundonald Links thanks to new owners, Darwin Escapes, not only building a lavish permanent clubhouse that is up there with the best in the country, but also transforming it into a venue that now offers first class accommodation on site.
“It’s pretty amazing I have to say,” chief executive Ian Ferguson said of the site’s new global offering and, having been there for six years, initially when it was part of Loch Lomond Golf Club, he certainly knows what he’s talking about.
While a temporary facility wasn’t exactly shabby, the lack of an actual clubhouse was always seen as a missing feature on the site by visiting golfers in particular. Finally delivered following the change of owners in March 2019, most would probably agree that the wait was worth it.
Built to blend in with the local landscape, the focal point of the two-storey building is a restaurant called The Canny Crow, which has stunning views of Arran and Ailsa Craig, with a whiskey tasting room also included upstairs superior.
“I’ve been here a long time and haven’t seen anything like what we’ve accomplished here,” Ferguson added, his eyes lighting up as he spoke. “It took all sorts of elements from other successful golf operations and lodges. We’ve done our best to take those strands and create something here for golf tourism.
“We want to try to get people thinking, ‘wow, this is a great destination and we’ll be basing here because there are lots of courses in the area and lots to do’.”
During his ownership by Loch Lomond, Dundonald Links hosted many tournaments, including a Scottish Open double-header in 2017, when Rory McIlroy and Lydia Ko were in the respective men’s and women’s rosters.
“Loch Lomond had the ambition 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 key, I’m sure, to Dundonald’s success going forward.
This is not just a fanciful thought. Not when you’re 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 departure.
Darwin Escapes also owns Springs Resort & Golf Club in Oxfordshire and Kilnwick Percy Resort & Golf Club in Yorkshire, but there’s no hiding the enthusiasm of managing director Lindsey Esse at adding a Scottish venue to the portfolio. of the company.
“When we bought Dundonald we knew we would have a world class golf course and the reason we bought it was because it had planning permission for a clubhouse and accommodation,” said Esse.
“It was first and foremost about getting investors to invest and believe in the vision we had, and then it was about me working with the teams I had worked with elsewhere to deliver the world class accommodation and destination to go with it..
“Where our success has come elsewhere in golf is with the addition of accommodation and other facilities. We have three very different but equally challenging and rewarding locations. But Dundonald is by far the pinnacle of aspirations of the three paths we have.
The total investment so far has been £25m and further phases, one of which includes the establishment of a golf academy, are in the pipeline.
“I started playing golf in my 40s, but got into it because of a free introductory session, having always thought of golf as exclusive or elite, if you will,” Esse said. “We’ve been successful at our other two clubs in getting people involved in the game and that’s what we want for Dundonald as well.”
At the same time, however, the company is not stepping on the toes locally. “Unlike my other two golf courses, I didn’t put a spa here because Hotel Gailes has one,” Esse said.
“We also didn’t want to do it to have big business events because that’s what they do well. We work well with local courts. We’re all trying to attract people to the area and we’re trying to work together on that.
There is no doubt that anyone who has visited Dundonald Links in the past will be in for a very pleasant surprise, as some of the game’s best players will find out when the Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open is held there next summer.
“It’s really exciting for us to have this event coming back here because it was an incredible moment for all of us in 2017 in particular and we really missed it,” Ferguson said. “We are really keen to continue Dundonald’s story in a relatively short life to run tournaments, having staged events at all levels.
“It’s a tournament venue and that was part of our thinking. We want to host large-scale events and we’re delighted to have it in the bag for next year.