Art Dunkley and Jim Tong went into a partnership with the developer of the Granite Bay golf course outside of Sacramento back in 1997. Art, as he related to the Pleasanton Mens Club, had been approached about building a links course near the home of golf, St. Andrews in Scotland. Just seven miles from St. Andrews along the North Sea, the property had 1 ½ miles of ocean front. Both Art and Jim have been active resident developers in Pleasanton.
St. Andrews draws thousands of golfers each year and most stay and play for at least three days. You have to win a lottery to get on the original St. Andrews course (one of seven in the complex). Due their research period, they had about 300 golfers interviewed and concluded that there was a definite market, particularly for a course that included ocean views (you can’t see the ocean from many links courses built near the shore).
The Kingsbarns site included an area that once was a golf course that dated to 1793. The Pleasanton partners executed a 200-year land lease with the lord of the manor and cleared all government hurdles within six months to begin construction in 1998. They were in a hurry because they wanted the grand opening to coincide with The Open Championships in July 2000 at St. Andrews. And, of course, grass does not grow very fast in locations north of Moscow.
The design by Kyle Phillips included five holes immediately along the coast as well as ocean views from the others. That involved moving lots of earth and mixing sand from the coast with the earth from the large area that had been farmed for centuries.
On the 18th hole, they had planned to build a bridge over a creek just in front of the green. When they were excavating that area, they discovered a stone bridge that had been buried over the centuries. No issues with the town—they lowered the green complex to take advantage of the bridge and it is used today.
They barely made the opening day with a huge scramble in the final weeks to get the club house done. Among the first visitors was golfing legend Tom Watson who came by one afternoon, put his clubs on a pull-cart and went out and played.
What’s unusual is the business model—normally high-end golf courses are the drawing card for real estate sales. The only building on site is a modest clubhouse that holds about 50 people. The course is designed for international visitors to include on their trip to St. Andrews.
Phillips, Dunkley and Tong hit a home run with the design—Kingsbarns has made many top 100 lists of courses internationally.
They close the course from November-February for maintenance and because the days are very short that far north. In the other eight months, about 27,000 rounds are played with the green fee at about $300.
You can see Kingsbarns without traveling to Scotland during the Alfred Dunhill Links Championships, Sept. 21-29. The Dunhill event is a celebrity pro-am very similar to the AT&T event that was held at Pebble Beach and two other Monterey courses earlier this month.
For information about Kingsbarns, please see www.kingsbarns.com