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Dumbarnie delight

Dumbarnie delight: Scotland’s newest golf course, Dumbarnie Links on the south coast of Fife, officially opened for play at the end of May. This was just a couple of weeks later than originally planned due to government imposed restrictions following the Covid-19 pandemic.

The vision was to provide a first class, true links style golf experience of international quality for all to enjoy, so the course is being operated as a pay-and-play facility, with no members being contemplated.

Dumbarnie delight

Dumbarnie delight

Designed by former Walker Cup and Ryder Cup player Clive Clark, Dumbarnie Links has a mile and a half of sea frontage with panoramic views over the Firth of Forth. The design features a number of elevated tees where holes play directly towards panoramic views of the sea, and a number of the tees and greens are also close to the water.

US-based OB Sports Golf Management (Dumbarnie’s operating/management company) and John Deere dealer Sandy Armit of Double A first signed a partnership deal in 2018 for the supply of grow-in and maintenance equipment for the golf course construction project and beyond. The new machines have been bought using a mix of John Deere Financial operating and finance lease options, including three-year PowerGard cover with full maintenance.

Sandy Armit of Double A says: “We were very excited to be involved with this project from the very beginning, and since the initial supply of John Deere equipment on loan we have been phasing in a full fleet of course maintenance equipment over the past two years.”

Dumbarnie Links course manager Grahame Taylor grew up in Leven and came to Dumbarnie from the Old Course at nearby St Andrews. “The golf course construction work took just six months to complete, which was very quick for a project of this size and importance,” he says.

“We originally had several John Deere 220E walk-behind greens mowers on loan for a couple of weeks after sowing the greens in summer 2018, when we were lucky enough to have perfect growing conditions. Double A’s golf specialist John Bateson then supplied two 8000 Series fairway mowers and half a dozen Gator utility vehicles, plus a bunker rake and a 2653A utility triplex mower.

“We kept most of the loan equipment until the new machines started arriving this year. This gave us a good opportunity to carry out quite a few trials with different machines to see exactly what we needed and what worked best for our conditions. For example, with a 345-acre property and the need to stay in front of play, we had to decide how many fairway mowers would be required because of the travelling times around the course, and we ended up with three 7500A E-Cut hybrid electric machines .

“The dealership was very accommodating and helpful all the way through this process – nothing has been too much trouble for John Bateson. He’s always answered all our questions promptly and found solutions to any problems, it’s truly been service with a smile and a great partnership.

“We’ve also had three new 2750E hybrid electric triplex mowers this year, and we’re very happy with them. Our team really love using this machine – they’re comfortable to operate, follow the course contours really well and the grass collection is much improved. I also like the functionality of the mowers’ TechControl system, which allows you to set the required speeds and clip frequency to achieve consistent and repeatable results across the course, regardless of who’s operating the machine.

“We’re now in the process of completing the clubhouse, road access and car parking, but despite these disruptions we’ve been incredibly busy since we first opened for play. The course is looking fantastic, and we’re all absolutely delighted with the way things are going.”

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Dumbarnie: It’s worth the wait

Dumbarnie: It’s worth the wait: Scott MacCallum celebrates the opening – at last – of a fine addition to the long list of magnificent Scottish golf courses, uncovering American connections along the way…

There is a beach in Fife which is only really known by locals. Shell Bay, on the East Neuk of the Kingdom, doesn’t have the iconic status of the West Sands at St Andrews, but it does have all you would ever want from a beach.

Dumbarnie: It’s worth the wait

Dumbarnie: It’s worth the wait

I know this because I was brought up not 15 miles away and spent the occasional sunny Sunday afternoon enjoying the delights of the beach.

But just between Shell Bay and the village of Lower Largo is a stretch of land, at one time unassuming fields occupied by cattle and sheep, which has just been turned into Scotland’s newest and most talked about golf course – a wonderful addition to the unbeatable stable of courses the Home of Golf has to offer.

Dumbarnie Links opened to the public in May and there can be noone prouder than Grahame Taylor, who has been with the project from the turning of the first sod. He was appointed Course Manager, initially being in charge of the “Seed in the Ground” contract, before taking on the day-to-day maintenance.

A born and bred Fifer, Grahame already had a stellar CV, containing the names Leven Links, Polaris WorldSpain, Gleneagles and The Old Course St Andrews. Then came along the amazing opportunity to be involved in a fantastic new project that could not be overlooked at Dumbarnie Links.

It was while at Leven that the jungle drums about a new course near Shell Bay started to beat a little louder, reaffirming a plan which had its origins back in the 1920s, and which had it come to fruition would have changed the landscape of Scotland’s hospitality and golfing sector.

The story goes that the Directors of Caledonian Railways were travelling through Scotland looking to identify a location for a fabulous new hotel they hoped to add to their property portfolio. They came up with two places, Dumbarnie and Gleneagles. It was the Perthshire site that was chosen and the iconic Gleneagles Hotel, with its wonderful Scottish Open, Ryder and Solheim Cup courses, was the result.

It may have taken a full century to do so but Dumbarnie is now fulfilling that potential.

Dumbarnie: It’s worth the wait

Dumbarnie: It’s worth the wait

“I first learned that a golf course was being planned over 10 years ago when I heard that the land had potential for golf,” explained Grahame, as we spoke in his superb new maintenance facility, full of brand new John Deere kit, supplied by Double A, based not far away in Cupar.

What had put the spark back in the plan was down to an old boss of mine. Malcolm Campbell, a former Editor of Golf Monthly magazine and a highly respected golf writer, lives close by and had, like Caledonian Railways, known for some time of the golfing potential of the land. Close friends with former Ryder Cup player, Clive Clark, now golf course architect, based in the United States, Malcolm tipped Clive off about the site, and he became equally enamoured.

A consortium was put together and the land, part of the 5,000 acre Balcarres Estate, was purchased from Lord Balniel. Planning for the new course was approved in 2017.

Remarkably, the construction and overall management was and is conducted by American companies – Nebraska-based Landscapes Unlimited constructed the course and it is operated by OB Sports Golf Management, which is based in Scottsdale, Arizona. It was designed by Clive Clark who was on site for the construction phase and had Paul Kimber also on site throughout as Project Manager.

“I think they wanted someone with a lot of Links golf experience and ideally a local guy to manage the course and I’d been at Leven for 10 years, had Open and Ryder Cup experience and was also very experienced in irrigation,” explained Grahame.

His boss is Luke Beardmore, Senior Vice President of Agronomy, Construction and Landscape with OB Sports Golf Management.

“Luke interviewed me on site, and we have built a great working relationship, even though he is 5,000 miles away. We speak every day, either by phone, Zoom or Facetime.

I feel really privileged to have such a great working relationship. Luke is an agronomist and has grown-in around 30 golf courses. OB Sports have been a fantastic support for me on site.”

Turning bland fields into a characterful golf course is no mean feat but in the case of Dumbarnie, in part due to the dry summer of 2018, it was constructed in a remarkable 12 weeks – the first sod was turned on June 1, 2018 with the final green seeded on October 8th.

“Shapers, four of them, were brought in from the States and the site was swarming with 30 tonne dumper trucks and dozers. They moved 600,000 cubic tones of dirt and in doing so created a dune-scape indistinguishable from the land which previously existed,” revealed Grahame.

Dumbarnie: It’s worth the wait

Dumbarnie: It’s worth the wait

With the construction moving at such a pace it would have been easy for Grahame to lose focus, however taking one day at a time and staying organised was key to a successful day.

“To be on site from day one was very important to see where everything from drainage to irrigation is going in the ground.

Working as one team with Clive and Paul was a good opportunity to put forward my views on any contours that would affect the maintenance of the course moving forward, Clive would sometimes ask me ‘Is it maintainable?’” said Grahame.

“If they perhaps needed a slight tweak they could be softened off a little. It was quite straightforward and the consultation worked well.”

The areas in which Grahame’s views were considered most valuable where in ensuring there were sufficient pin positions on greens and would fairway mowers cope with some of the undulations the shapers had created.

When it came to the seeding of the greens and surrounds Grahame and his team took it upon themselves to complete the job and were delighted with the results.

“It is important that you get it right the first time as you get one shot at it.” Barenbrug supplied the seed. The greens and surrounds were fescue – chewings and slender with a very small percentage of Charles bent.

“I asked for some bent as it gives us a little more scope as there would otherwise be a greater risk of balls oscillating in high winds. In terms of wear having a bit of bent in there gives you more options.”

Those winds were such that they did cause issues during the grow in, a problem caused by the fact that the dunes were brand new and initially didn’t have anything to bind them together.

“The dunes were all hydro seeded but had no irrigation, so you were left hoping that nature would provide some rain to germinate the seed before the winds arrive in the spring,” revealed Grahame, adding that the course had wall-to-wall Toro irrigation, which offers him excellent control.

Unfortunately some winds did prove to be an issue in the spring of 2019 and, despite miles of fences, and piles of pallets, acting as wind breaks, Grahame and the team would come in and discover entire fairways were buried in up to four inches of sand.

In his own words, “It was a like a war zone out there at times” sums up the scene after the winds had done their damage.

“The fescue was at a young stage and any amount of brushing the sand off was not ideal.”

This was the toughest spell during the grow-in phase for the agronomy team. “I have a fantastic team who I work alongside with who gave everything to the course during that difficult spell.”

“Take one day at a time and feel like you have won the battle when you head home. The next day is a new set of challenges to overcome. There is always a solution, you just have to find it.” His philosophy during the growin period was to be aggressive from the start in terms of agronomy.

“There is no point in pussy-footing around. You have to take control right from the beginning, or you will get beaten up. I always went with my gut instinct and stuck to that, if you are second guessing yourself you are not going to win the battle.”

The course itself is stunning. Designed to be an enjoyable round for most standards of golfer the length is a spread from 5,334 yards, off the front tees, to an eye-watering 7,620 yards from the Championship tips. That would even have Bryson DeChambeau reaching for a mid-iron occasionally and perhaps hints at longer term ambitions for the course.

One of the features of the course, which is already adding to the flora and fauna on the site, is the bunkers. Half of them are beautifully revetted, while the other half are described as natural. “The revetted bunkers, 72 of them, are actually Eco Bunker, with layers of astroturf. You’d never know and they have turned out magnificently and Richard Allen has told us that they will stand for 25 years.

“We keep the natural bunkers clear by hand weeding them,” explained Grahame, whose team has grown from 11 during the grow-in to 18 now, including South African Deputy Course Manager, Era van Zyl, who joined Grahame from the Castle Course, in St Andrews.

Dumbarnie: It’s worth the wait

Dumbarnie: It’s worth the wait

Covid-19 has had an impact on Dumbarnie, although the opening only slid by a fortnight from the original date of May 16.

“At that point we were still aiming to have the course ready and, while we knew it was struggle for some of our suppliers, we were working towards that date without easing off.

“The thing that sticks in my mind about lockdown was that we were on a hectic schedule to get the clubhouse finished and we thought it was achievable. There were 40 to 50 people working on the clubhouse pushing hard… and the next day everyone left. It was a very eerie feeling. All my guys had cut back on their hours and it was just Era and myself sometimes. I cannot thank Era enough for his dedication. It was a very strange feeling. We just did not know what was going to happen,” recalled Grahame.

“My main concern was the guys’ health. You have to look after your team. When we started to come back, I split them into smaller groups and they were doing essential maintenance and then going home for the day.”

Speaking in September with a temporary car park packed, a clubhouse, which has been designed to look like two converted barns due for completion within a few weeks, and rave reviews for the course, Grahame could not be more pleased.

“I’m incredibly proud. Our international bookings have understandably been cancelled but many have rescheduled, while we have been full with Scottish residents playing, many of them coming back two three or even four times.

“I am honoured to be Course Manager at Dumbarnie Links. It has been a joy to be involved here from the start and I haven’t looked back. I never planned out my career. If a chance comes along you just have to have the courage to take it.”

And take it he has. You can be sure that now that Shell Bay shares its space with a world class golf course it will no longer be just the guilty secret of the Fife locals.

John Deere Key At Dumbarnie Links

John Deere Key At Dumbarnie Links: A brand new 18-hole golf course development on the south coast of Fife is coming, with Dumbarnie Links set to be open for play by spring 2020. The 165ha development reflects the historical location of a links course and sports club at Dumbarnie dating back to the 1830s.

Luke Beardmore of OB Sports Golf Management – the US firm hired to manage Dumbarnie – and John Deere dealer Sandy Armit of Double A signed a partnership deal last year for the supply of grow-in and maintenance equipment for this exciting £11 million project, which is supported by the local landowner Lord Balniel of Balcarres.

John Deere Key At Dumbarnie Links

Designed by former Walker Cup and Ryder Cup player Clive Clark, Dumbarnie Links is notable for featuring sea views on all 18 holes. The course manager is local man Grahame Taylor, who grew up in Leven and came from the Old Course at nearby St Andrews.

“The vision for Dumbarnie Links has been to provide a first class, true links style golf experience of international quality for all to enjoy,” said Luke Beardmore. “The golf course will be operated as a pay-and-play facility, with no members’ club or fees, and will be open to the public for a daily green fee. It has been designed and laid out to the highest standard while also respecting the coastal setting and environmental designations within the vicinity.”

Largo Bay to the south of the site forms part of a wider designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Special Protection Area (SPA) and Wetland of International Importance (RAMSAR Site). The Fife Coastal Path and Dumbarnie Links Scottish Wildlife Trust Reserve are also adjacent to the site boundaries.

“Due to extremely favourable weather conditions last year the golf course construction work took just six months to complete, which is extremely fast,” said Luke. “The contractor, Landscapes Unlimited from the US, assembled a team of first class sub-contractors to build the course so quickly. The course will still need to mature throughout 2019, but so far the project has truly exceeded everyone’s expectations.”

John Deere Key At Dumbarnie Links

Luke Beardmore feels that John Deere has been at the forefront of the project’s success so far, adding: “Our initial success has largely been based on our strong working relationship with John Deere, and specifically the dealer Double A. The ability for Dumbarnie to work with the dealership team allowed us to keep the preliminary costs down while still focusing on the highest quality standards every day. This partnership has truly been a win-win for everyone.”

Sandy Armit of Double A added: “This is a very exciting project and we are very pleased to have been chosen to be involved with the initial loan and supply of John Deere equipment, including hire tractors and a ProGator utility vehicle with mounted sprayer and spreader. We look forward to phasing in a full fleet of course maintenance equipment through the grow-in period this year, in preparation for the course’s official opening in 2020.”

For more information, visit: www.JohnDeere.co.uk

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EcoBunker Starts Work On Dumbarnie Links

EcoBunker Starts Work On Dumbarnie Links: The new Dumbarnie Links course at Lower Largo on the south coast of Fife in Scotland – just a little more than ten miles from St Andrews – is now under construction, and EcoBunkerʼs project team has moved onto site to begin the installation of its synthetic edging product in all of the courseʼs formal bunkers.

The course has been designed by Clive Clark, formerly a Walker and Ryder Cup player, and a long-time BBC Television golf commentator, but now an established golf course architect based in the United States. The golf course is being built by American contractor Landscapes Unlimited.

EcoBunker Starts Work On Dumbarnie Links

Fife Council granted planning consent for the project in April 2018, and the construction team moved onto the site in May. Shaping of the golf holes and bunkers is already underway, and the EcoBunker team is gearing-up to finish constructing the bunkers.

Where bunkers are hard against greens, or surrounded by short grass, they will be fully revetted using EcoBunkerʼs synthetic solution. However, where bunkers are positioned to be a transition between maintained grass and native rough, they will be constructed in a hybrid fashion, with elements of chunked, rough edge and also of revetment. Some of these natural bunkers will be quite large and are sure to be a dominant feature of this very special golf course.

EcoBunker global installation specialist Llewelyn Matthews – like architect Clark a former Walker Cup player – will lead a five-strong construction crew to build the bunkers. Matthews will be on site full time during construction, which is scheduled to last sixteen weeks and come to a conclusion in September. Project manager Paul Kimber and the team from Landscapes Unlimited will work closely with the team on the very important bunker construction.

Richard Allen, EcoBunker inventor and CEO, said: “New links courses are extremely rare, and we are very proud and happy to be playing a major role in the construction of Dumbarnie, which promises to be an outstanding golf course that will attract play from all over the world. This is one of our largest ever projects, and we are very pleased to be working so closely with Paul Kimber and the Landscapes Unlimited team to make Dumbarnie a true destination links.”

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