Golf has been played for many years in this northeast corner of Scotland though it was not until 1871 that play was formally organized when the Banff Golf Club was established. Duff House Golf Club was formed in 1910 when the Duke of Fife, Alexander Duff, provided land from his estate on the banks of the River Deveron for the twin towns of Banff and Macduff.
The original course was designed by Archie Simpson (who laid out Royal Aberdeen's Balgownie) and it opened when a match was played between two of the great golfing “triumvirate” – J.H. Taylor and James Braid – with Taylor’s score of 75 beating his opponent by three strokes.
The First World War saw Duff House golf holes turned over to agricultural use and the golf course fell into decline. In 1923, Dr Alister MacKenzie and his brother Major C.A. MacKenzie redesigned the 18-hole layout. The new course was opened the following year with a match between Sandy Herd of Moor Park and Ted Ray of Oxley with both men returning scores of 71.
On 1st January 1925, the two Banff golf clubs formally amalgamated as The Duff House Royal Club with the Duchess of Fife, Princess Louise, as Patroness.
A feature hole on the front nine is the 7th, a tough 451-yard par four called “Island” which is bounded all the way up the left side of the fairway by the River Deveron. Two good blows are required to get to close to a green that slopes from right to left and from front to back.
The most difficult hole on the back nine is the 12th, a 490-yard par five named “Plateau”. It requires a draw off the tee towards Duff House looming in the background and there are no bunkers to protect a seriously elevated putting surface which gives the hole its name.
Duff House Royal is a beautiful parkland course measuring 6,043 yards (par 68, SSS 69) with very little rough, large double–tiered greens (MacKenzie design features) and well positioned bunkers that offer a fine golfing challenge to players of all abilities.
Almost exactly ten years to the day, I returned to play Duff House Royal last week. My last review mentioned “any half decent golfer should surely be capable of playing off a single figure handicap here” but that wasn’t implying it was an easy course (the SSS is actually a stoke higher than par from the white tees), it was trying in a rather heavy handed way to say the fabulous conditioning should allow good players to score well.
There’s no doubt it’s one of the best looking courses in Scottish golf – some might describe it as the Augusta of the North – with hardly a blade of grass out of place from tee to fairway to green on every hole. The greens are beautifully contoured and well-protected by immaculately-maintained bunkers but what I liked most was that just about every putting surface (the exception being the par three 16th) allowed a running shot approach to be played.
The front nine plays three hundred yards shorter than the tougher back nine and it’s on the outward half that you need to make your score when playing a medal round. I thought both the par threes going out from the clubhouse were exceptional, especially the second one at the 171-yard 9th, where the offset green falls away at the back into a little trough. The double greens at the 1st and 6th were also a delight, each of them laid out at a different elevation to their twin.
There’s a change of pace on the inward half, where two of the three par threes are longer than 200 yards and three of the five par fours measure well in excess of 400 yards. The 235-yard 16th might appear benign on the scorecard with a stroke index of 14 but I suspect this beast of a “short” hole has ruined many a score in the past, defended by three enormous bunkers to the front left of the green and the river to the right of the hole.
Gordon Leslie and his team of greenkeepers (he must have dozens looking after this place) deserve real credit for maintaining one of the very few Alister MacKenzie designs that exist north of the border. Quite how this course managed to drop out of the Scottish Top 100 chart for a while prior to its reappearance last year is something of a mystery to me. Maybe all it needs is a few more reviews from appreciative visitors to raise the course profile to the level it deserves.
Duff House is an easy walk! The 16th is a great hole but difficult. Par 3 - 235yds off the medal tee and all carry to clear the three greenside bunkers and the river deveron all down the right. :)
A beautifully manicured course that should flatter your game - even if you stray from the generous fairways as the rough is virtually non existant – and any half decent golfer should surely be capable of playing off a single figure handicap here.
The course is laid out on the flood plain of the river Deveron, routed in an out-and-back fashion and with just the one par five (and only four of the twelve par fours over 400 yards), its overall length is just over the 6,000-yard mark from the back markers.
Duff House is a very pleasant walk in the park with plenty of mature trees to define the fairways and lovely Mackenzie-designed greens to putt on (the 1st and 17th share one enormous, contoured putting surface, as does the 6th and 15th).
The toughest hole on the course might well be the 235-yard 16th which has three penal bunkers protecting the front left of the green and the river running along the right side of the hole – a three will be very well earned at this long par three.
The MacDuff distillery looms in the background on the other side of the river at this point, a reminder that a whisky trail-cum-golfing trip to this part of the world is a definite win-win suggestion for any golfer who likes a wee dram.
Duff House Royal, to me, is the perfect club golfer’s course. In pristine condition, fairly set up with a very friendly group of members it is a place that you would happily play your weekly round before retiring to the well appointed clubhouse to sample the fine catering (I can highly recommend the soup and sandwiches).
Stand out feature of the course for me has to be the greens which are simply outstanding, complete with wicked undulations and cunning slopes. There are also shared greens a la the Old Course which also adds to the interest.
The green keeping staff should be very proud of their work. Bunkering is also interesting with bunkers placed just where you don’t want them to be.
Best hole on the course is undoubtedly the 16th, a hell of a hard par 3, river to the right, bunkers and trees to the left. As a first time player I played it hoping for a single putt par, which I didn’t get.
Duff House Royal is a course I am sure most people will enjoy, perfect for society days or just a bounce match with fine facilities and good post round fayre - it is all you could ask for a perfect day’s golf.