Alfred Dunhill Links Championship – An Adventure in Fife

24th September 2013

Nothing like knowing what your customers really think to ensure that you are getting your offer right.

Here is an unsolicited blog post which the writer - Peter from SticksandGreens.com - happily shared with us about a  recent golfing trip to Fife.  It's clear that good golf, good food and great service are absolutely key to satisfied visitors - and makes them think about returning.  Let us know what your customers have suggested - we would love to hear what other tips we can pass on.

Alfred Dunhill Links Championship – An Adventure in Fife

You can bet your wallets that at least once in the past few years you’ve had a debate with your friends about which course is the finest example of links golf. Often this will arise during the Open Championship. And more often than not, the discussion will turn to the usual Scottish contenders: St Andrews, Royal Troon, Turnberry, Carnoustie and Muirfield. It can be assured that agreement is never reached; players, commentators and spectators postulating on which course is their favourite.

Strange as it sounds, this is exactly why I love the Alfred Dunhill Championship. The prestigious European Tour event is played across Carnoustie, St Andrews and Kingsbarns, which some say is equal in quality, though obviously lacking in history, to the other Open Championship’s Scottish venues. What better way to end the argument then, by having an event that samples three of the finest links courses.

Now, I’m not going to tell you all about the history of the event, because you can do that for yourself on the Alfred Dunhill Championship website. But I can share with you my experience of playing both Carnoustie and Kingsbarns in a golf event earlier this year, which may give you some insight as a regular amateur player just how special these courses are.

I and a group of colleagues, associates and business contacts got together in May this year for a 3 day “business networking event” - wink wink, nudge nudge – where we planned to play the Old Course, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns. Epic, I know; cut the boss/wife strings and hit the courses and pubs.

First on the itinerary was the Old Course, or at least we thought it was. Unbeknown to the rest of the group, the guy organising the event hadn’t realised the ballot system of the Old Course. So as we left Edinburgh in the hire cars bound for glory on the Road Hole, we were confronted with the news that we were going to be playing the Castle Course instead. Cue a re-enactment of Willem Dafoe’s death scene in Platoon. When we all got to St Andrews the mood was understandably subdued. But as we got ready outside the clubhouse of the Castle Course we realised that things might not be so apocalyptic. And before long, we were right. The Castle Course was brutal and unforgiving, and yet we all remarked how enjoyable the course was to play. Stunning views of St Andrews, Leuchars and the coast of Fife were the norm. The greens were oddly shaped and lightening quick, the fairways marked by hidden twists and turns, and navigating the elevations often produced curious results. I got the sense that the course was found rather than made, which is as it should be for links golf. The stand-out hole for me was the 17th hole, a Par 3 over the ravine of rocks with The Auld Grey Toon in the background.

After our revelation of the Castle Course, we retreated to the imposing and luxurious Fairmont Hotel, which was nearby and visible from the top of the Castle Course. I found the whole Fairmont experience incredible: the rooms were just the kind of relaxing and spacious environment that a golfer craves. The staff were extremely helpful, and when one of my colleagues forgot to pack waterproofs, the staff kindly provided a waterproof jacket for him no questions asked. Put simply, it’s a hotel where service is king, which is why it’s so popular with American tourists, renowned for expecting high levels of service.

Next morning – after a night of eating and drinking at the Jigger Inn, which is sworn to secrecy, so all I’ll say is the Jigger Inn is a must visit – we enjoyed breakfast at the Fairmont and headed in the cars up to Carnoustie. Now, I have to admit, arriving at Carnoustie is a little underwhelming. The clubhouse looks more like a leisure centre than the epicentre of one of golf’s most revered courses. Inside the clubhouse is a spacious pro shop, seating area and café, which I wished had more magic to it. Once we all warmed up on the generous putting green, and took a few obligatory photos, we descended upon the first tee to meet our caddies. Now, this was the first time I had ever played with a caddie, so I didn’t know what to expect. But my caddie, Scott, put me at ease straight away, and was just the sort of plain-taking, full of banter kind of guy you’d want to help you navigate a course like Carnoustie.

Over the next 9 holes I played some decent golf, and reached the turn on 41 (2 DB’s ruined me). The course offers a great test in navigating dunes and wonderfully expansive pure greens. The back 9 was an even greater test, as we strode into a fierce headwind, but it didn’t detract from the excitement of playing holes like Spectacles, with the colossal bunkers that thankfully I managed to escape from without damage. The final 3 holes were arguably the most exciting and difficult, with water, bunkers and history all wrestling for our attention. In the end, the initial disappointment of the clubhouse was redeemed by the quality of the course and the company. (Special thanks to all the caddies for putting up with our large and loud group!)

Whether it was the wind or the thrill of playing Carnoustie, we were all glad of the welcoming sight of the Fairmont. After a long soak and rest, our group (mob) headed down to St Andrews, and into the Seafood Restaurant over-looking the tranquil West Sands beach. The food was as you would expect from a restaurant of this calibre: sublime. As someone who isn’t especially fond of seafood, the variety and quality meant even I admitted that a return visit was worthy. Then we all returned to the hotel for a quiet and peaceful night. At least that is the version I can share, not the one that includes blagging our way into the St Andrew’s  Student Union, partying until 1am, getting a taxi to the Jigger Inn, having a competition to see who can jump the Swilcan Burn, then walking back to the town centre for pizza, and finally getting into our room at 3am. Nope, never happened !

Wearily at 8am, with a 9.30am tee-time, we packed up and left the Fairmont for the final leg in our triumvirate of our Fife and Angus adventure, Kingsbarns. We passed the Tour-quality practice area and approached the clubhouse. The modern yet classic clubhouse commands the landscape, and inside we found some of the friendliest and most welcoming staff of our trip. After a quick warm-up, or in some cases simply waking up, we gathered on the 1st tee. My caddie this time was a proper gentleman by the name of Colin, who had retired and took up caddying to keep fit and active. And boy, was he kept fit and active carrying my Tour bag – on more than one occasion I offered to carry it, but he just smiled and politely reminded me that he was used to carrying bags of all sizes. 

As for the course itself, it was truly magnificent. Each hole felt more picturesque than the last, with holes like the 12th, 15th and 18th something to marvel.  It’s clear that Kingsbarns is not part of the Alfred Dunhill Championship purely for its stylish looks, because it offers real substance. We experienced greens of marble that were in immaculate condition, fairways that pushed our abilities in course tactics, and navigated the challenges of gorse, elevations and wind. True, the course doesn’t have the size or depth of bunkers like Carnoustie, but it does have well placed and shaped bunkers, which captured our balls and our hearts – I holed out for a birdie from a bunker on the 8th hole, and no one complained of finding a bunker. As blasphemous as it is to say, I’m not a die-hard fan of links golf. But Kingsbarns showed me, and some of the other guys, that links golf of the standard available there, is so good that it’s hard not to be won over. We arrived at Kingsbarns tired, weary and longing for a good night’s sleep, but despite playing poorly, we all left with smiles on our faces.

So as I watch this year’s Alfred Dunhill Championship, the memories of this adventure in Fife, and the experience of playing two of the event’s courses, remind me that the debate over which links course will keep coming up. And if it means we all have to play more courses to settle the argument, then we should all be happy to oblige.