Ballater Golf Club was formed in 1892 and members played over a 9-hole course on land owned by the Laird of Invercauld. It was not until 1905 that the course was extended to a full 18-hole layout and James Braid played Harry Vardon in an exhibition match to mark the occasion.
Situated in the heart of Royal Deeside, with Balmoral Castle, the summer retreat of the Queen located nearby, Ballater is a lovely small town of just over three thousand residents whose numbers are swelled every summer by thousands of visitors to the Highlands.
The golf course is located at the southern edge of the town and it boasts magnificent scenery with Lochnagar dominating the skyline to the southwest. The 6,059-yard course is routed over gently undulating land situated on terraces beside the River Dee and it’s a fine mix of heathland and parkland golf with the river running alongside at several holes.
Par threes are real feature holes at Ballater and worthy of some consideration:
Hole 3 – “The Dooker” – 223 yards long – is a tough hole with a fair amount of waste ground between a ridge and the front of a well-protected green.
Hole 5 – “Glengairn” – 186 yards long – has a small target requiring a precise tee shot. Miss on the left at your peril!
Hole 9 – “Larick” – 216 yards long – is played semi-blind downhill. Anything short will run on but avoid the bunkers on either side of the green!
Hole 13 – “The Dee” – 158 yards long – has the river Dee (and out of bounds) to the left. If the tee shot is short it will break to the right.
Hole 17 – “Brockie’s Pond” – 165 yards long – where the tee shot is exposed to any cross wind. With waste ground in front of the green, do not be short!
The previous reviewer was right to say there’s not great golf at Ballater but there’s certainly good golf to be played, particularly on the more challenging outward half.
The round opens with a lovely par four, which leads to a nicely contoured two-tiered green so you realize right from the outset that you’re playing a decent course here. The doglegged 4th hole is another fine hole and it’s not stroke index 1 for nothing with a raised green that repels approach shots landing short of the target. I also thought the hump in the fairway at the long part three 9th was a clever device to obscure the green and make you think twice about the actual length of the hole.
On the inward half, the 11th is a terrific par four, played to a raised green with a fiendishly positioned bunker to the front right of the putting surface, and the 14th is another taxing two shotter, with its fairway narrowing as it kinks right towards a large bowl-shaped green. Clever mounding at the 18th partially hides the home green from the tee, forcing only the bravest of big hitters to attempt a drive for the green.
Incidentally, the course played from the gents’ medal tees is rated as a par 70, from the regular yellow markers it’s a par 67. I can’t remember too many places where there’s a difference of three strokes between those two sets of tees. Regardless of which set you choose, you’re bound to enjoy your way round this beautiful Highland track.