Scotland’s ‘unsung hero’ of golf with whisky tastings and luxury lodges

It was the best of Portakabins, it was the worst of Portakabins. For those who have had the pleasure of pitting their wits against the Kyle Phillips-designed Dundonald Links course, the winding road just off the A78 in Ayrshire led to a Portakabin for a clubhouse that had all the allure of… well, a Portakabin.

"I remember driving up here for the first time ever, looking at it and going, 'I'm in the wrong place,'" says club manager Ian Ferguson.

"As much as you can dress it up, it is a Portakabin. But there are people who loved that. There were about 17 sections. A lot of people had a soft spot for it – they called it the plushest Portakabin in golf.

"We had it under temporary licence for about 13 years. My worry was it might become a listed building and we couldn’t take it down!"

Ferguson can afford to laugh now he is sitting in a whisky-tasting room which can cater for 16 on the first floor of its replacement, the clubhouse being the most startling example of the Links’ £25million-plus investment.

Its official opening in November offered a glimpse of the experience awaiting guests, including the Canny Crow restaurant – so named because the local crows pickpocket anything from golf balls to chocolate bars inside unattended golf bags – offering a superb dining experience.

I spent the night in a six-bedroom lodge. There are 18 lodges altogether, along with 22 hotel rooms on site. Among these are two two-bedroom lodges and two hotel rooms that allow dogs, although my 88lb golden retriever would give the greenkeepers palpitations if let off the lead.

My sprawling living space included a kitchen – allowing me to steer clear of company after those duffed chips in front of the clubhouse on nine – dining table for 12, pool table and three-sided sofa facing the 65in TV.

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The en-suite bedroom, which was bigger than my first city centre flat, comes complete with another widescreen TV, although spending time locked away is a waste of what is on the doorstep. Literally. Lodges are split into three clusters, each of which encircles a putting green like the crowd on 18 do any given Sunday, should you wish a wager or a workout.

The entire place has been built to complement what is undoubtedly this spot’s biggest asset – the course.

Kenny, the caddie for our three-ball, was our tour guide for a layout featuring bunkers so deep that, if their steps were removed, would require climbing equipment.

I’ve played this links with a caddie and I’ve played this links without a caddie. Do yourself a favour and tap into the expertise of Kenny and his colleagues. The course is challenging enough, even when told exactly where to aim.

It’s the little touches, though, that make this place memorable. The plaque in the middle of the 18th fairway marking the spot, 275 yards out, from which 2017 Scottish Open champion Rafa Cabrera Bello drove it to eight feet, enticing you, almost daring you, to ignore the stream guarding the green and take it on.

Another nice touch was the label round the little duck perched next to the complimentary shampoo in the en-suite shower which says 'take me home', sending you away with a reminder of the stay besides the snapped seven iron.

And the golf clubs spaced out in a series of circles on the ceiling of the first floor in the plush two-storey clubhouse, which saw the designer handpick them to make sure one didn’t look out of place.

A trip up the Fife coast, especially with the 150th Open set for St Andrews in July, will always carry an allure. But with the Women’s Scottish Open heading for Dundonald Links, this part of the world isn’t to be overlooked.

"We’ve got everything," says Lindsey Esse, MD of Darwin Escapes, who bought the set-up in 2019. "It is just a bit of an unsung hero."

Book the holiday

Rooms at Dundonald Links golf course in Gailes, Ayrshire, start at £140 a night; two-bed Lodges (sleep four) from £380 a night, two night minimum stay. Green fees from £95. Find out more at dundonaldlinks.com.

You can also get more information at visitscotland.com.

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