Bridge of Don,
- +44 (0) 1224 702571
On A92 N of Aberdeen City Centre
Contact in advance – restricted at weekends
Robert and Archie Simpson, Tom Simpson, J.H Taylor, James Braid, Donald Steel
Royal Aberdeen Golf Club was originally known as the Society of Golfers at Aberdeen, founded in 1780, this is the eighth oldest golf club in the world. The members originally played over a public strip of common land between the Don and the Dee. In 1815 the society changed its name to the Aberdeen Golf Club. The common land was becoming over-crowded, so in 1886 they moved to their present home, the Balgownie links, north of the river Don. Royal title was finally applied in 1903, despite the fact that Prince Leopold granted patronage more than 30 years earlier.
A trio of Simpsons had a hand in fashioning this course, brothers Robert and Archie and then the flamboyant Tom Simpson. J. H. Taylor, James Braid and most recently Donald Steel also made revisions.
Royal Aberdeen is a traditional out and back links running along the shore of the North Sea and is regarded by many as having the finest first nine holes in golf. The first tee is under the clubhouse window and the fairway heads straight for the sea. The next eight holes run parallel to the shore, weaving their way through towering sand dunes. You then turn back, heading for the clubhouse. The back nine holes play on higher ground and provide stunning North Sea views.
While the front nine holes are undoubtedly tough, the back nine holes are probably harder. They are more exposed to the elements, and consequently, bear the full brunt of the wind. The par threes here at the Balgownie are also first class as is the finishing hole, a brutal par four, in excess of 400 yards. A good tee shot will finish in a hollow in the fairway, leaving a long second shot across a swale to an elevated green perched in front of the clubhouse.
The 2005 Senior British Open was held at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club. Tom Watson beat Ireland's Des Smyth in a sudden-death play-off to claim the title. In 2014, Royal Aberdeen hosted the Scottish Open for the first time, which Justin Rose won by two shots from Swede Kristoffer Broberg. This was the Englishman’s first professional victory in Scotland.
We arrive at Royal Aberdeen at 2:55 to warm greetings. Our caddy, Benjamin, was outstanding. Only 21 years old and he is a plus 3. Royal Aberdeen was founded in 1780 and is one of the oldest golf club in the world. Although golf was not played on this course until 1815. It is an intimate setting, from the pro shop and clubhouse to the first tee is probably less than 50 feet.
We tee off at 3:05. The first hole is welcoming but be wary of the pesky pot bunker short right. The second hole is a 3 shot par five, be cognizant of the wind on your second and third shots. The 3rd hole is a reach out and grab you par 3 at 200+ yards. The opening three holes really set the tone for the rest of the course. The par 4 4th is the number one handicap and like 2 pay attention to the wind. The 5th hole is a real birdie oppty, but the green is well protected especially on the right side. The par 5 6th is another birdie oppty. For you big hitters long is better as it is also well protected especially front right. The par-3 8th hole is the signature hole. Miss the green and you will probably end up in one of the ten bunkers surrounding it. The 9th is a long uphill par 4. Make sure to take an extra club on your approach (in my case 3rd shot ).
The back nine is more inland than the front, more open and shorter. The 10th is a birdeable par 4. Off the tee aim at the red and white pole. If you slice your tee shot you may end up on Murcar Golf Links which abuts the property. The 11th is a mid-distance par 3. Hitting the green is the easy part, avoiding a 3 putt due to undulation and multi-tiers is much more difficult. The par 5 12th is really about distance management. If you are a big hitter, theoretically you can get home. For the rest of us the fairway narrows significantly inside 100 yards. This is a long a narrow green so depending upon pin location pick you approach yardage at 100+. The par4 14th is a tough hole as a ditch bisects the hole just inside of 150 yards. It is possible to clear it, but….
The last four holes at Royal Aberdeen are a treat. The 15th is a nice risk reward dogleg right par 4. The big danger are the three greenside bunkers to the front and right of the green. The 16th is pretty straight forward, with a green that slopes severely away from you, none of us were able to hold our approaches. I loved the 170+ yard par 3 17th. Teeing off towards the North Sea is pretty cool especially if your ball settles on the right tier of the green. The 18th, well, I didn’t expect it to be easy, but….long par 4 uphill with a myriad of bunkers.
We putted out at 6:20. Just under 11 hours of great links golf courses and mediocre, at best, golf. Royal Aberdeen is a must play, the front is classic links golf and the last four finishing holes are not for the faint of heart. I would pay to play it again
Perhaps the word that serves to define the Royal Aberdeen Golf Club is class. This is evident from the moment you access the venerable clubhouse accompanied by the friendly staff of the pro shop and enjoy its traditional and inviting atmosphere.
That feeling is confirmed and increased when one stands on the first tee, right next to the windows of the clubhouse, to face the first drive of the day. In a way, it is a special shot, since one feels scrutinized by the looks, in reality more or less indifferent, of the members inside. Be that as it may, that first hole, which takes us directly to the North Sea, is in itself impressive regardless of the presence of the public of the clubhouse.
This hole marks the tone of the stylish succession of holes that follow: the par 5 2nd features a true tunnel between giant dunes, and the 3rd is a brutal par 3, both aesthetically and for its difficulty.
The holes that follow until the turn can be compared to the best sequence of holes that I have played, including North Berwick, Dornoch or County Down, which can give an idea of its quality. In particular, I enjoyed the 4th, the 8th, a short but dramatic par 3, and the 9th, another tough hole, with a second uphill shot to a green that represents an almost unattainable goal.
From there, the rest of the holes go into something less inspired terrain, but there is still very good golf, until you reach the last 2 holes, which are fantastic: the 17th is a par 3 oriented to the sea, and the 18th is a tough par 4 over broken terrain, capable of breaking cards in the very last moment, as I can witness.
As for the condition of the course, at the time we visited it was almost unbeatable, since the Amateur Championship was held the following week. In any case, I wished that the fairways had not been watered, as those of Murcar, right next door, which appeared much drier and brown.
In all, Royal Aberdeen is one of the most attractive and challenging courses that I have had the pleasure of playing.
M. Azagra, Spain.
Taking a suggestion from my Golf travel agent Aberdeen Angus (a local firm), we tagged this course on to our Cruden Bay pilgrimage. I might be heeding their advice again in the future.
From right outside the clubhouse you start your round by smacking it down the hill towards the sea. After avoiding the flanking fairway, you are now faced with a solid hit over a fairly large depression to an inviting green, with the glistening blue ocean as a backdrop (we caught it on a good day). Onlookers include an ominous looking armada of ships and oil rigs moored offshore. The first hole is pretty perfect.
You then turn 90 degrees to the left and walk towards the 2nd tee. And that hole turns out to be perfect too. The holes that follow are of a similar quality. Wait a minute, what’s going on here? This is nuts. And so it as until you reach the turn.
Can Royal Aberdeen keep it up? Well, not quite. I didn’t even like the 10th. Possibly judging it harshly given what had gone before, but it at least serves the purpose of bringing your expectations back down to earth so you can at least enjoy the remaining 8 holes.
But wait a minute - these holes are still good. Not as good, but they have variety, elevation changes, the same links turf, good green complexes, and sea views all the way. They also felt more challenged by the wind. There was even a stone wall on one of them. They just miss the sanctuary of the dunes. But then lots of good links courses miss dunes and are none the worse off for it. You experience quite a high here, so when it drops off it naturally feels like a low - but put this low anywhere else and they’d likely stick up for themselves just fine.
Favourites on the back 9 were the par 5 12th, 14th with a burn and wall to negotiate, the 15th with its blind drive and pitch into an inviting target, and then the strong finish at 17 & 18. For me the 2 closing holes cleverly bring the quality level back to that of the front 9, so that you finish on a high. Preferred holes on the front 9 would likely be all of them.
Short of continuing the back 9 out along the coast using the Murcar land (an interesting routing that would be - you’d have to get a taxi back to the clubhouse), I’m not sure what else you could have done to make a better Golf course. Perhaps they could have routed it in reverse order, but presumably there was good reason for not doing this - prevailing winds making the current back 9 more interesting? If it was created today you could simply Kingsbarns your landforms on the back 9 to mirror the front. As it is, Royal Aberdeen surely made the best use of the land with the means available to them back in 1066 (which only makes it the 6th Oldest Club in the world, incidentally).
If the back 9 was like the front 9, I’d go get a job in the oil industry and move to the area. It would be the best golf course I’ve played. But if the front 9 was like the back 9, it’d still be a very good & enjoyable course. It’s already great enough though and it really was a joy to play here. As we sat in the (surprisingly) friendly clubhouse stuffing our faces looking back out over the first hole, with the sky still blue, I didn’t feel any small satisfaction of having ticked another course off ‘the list’. I simply wanted to go out and have another go
10 years ago I played Royal Aberdeen for the first time. To say the least I was impressed. This time around I was treated to the most amazing summer weather you could ask for, 28 degrees C and a nice breeze. The gorse was in full bloom and the ships were anchored 500 yds offshore adding to the surreal picture it already is. Standing on the first tee was an impressive site. On top of that due to a major football game in town the course was perfectly empty. The ultimate pleasure!
The outward 9 is just spectacular but this is not a surprising statement, in fact few that visit Royal Aberdeen think otherwise. I struggled to remember much of the back 9 from my first visit and if there is ever critique on the course it’s that the back 9 while strong fails to maintain the high level of the front 9. With the course fresh in my mind I’ll admit that the back 9 is way stronger than even I remembered and gave it credit for. Fact is, the front 9 is simply all world and a few holes on the back 9 are just excellent but overshadowed by the front. Many of these holes on the back would be signature holes on lesser courses, yes they are that good. The quirky 10th and wonderful par 3 17th are the highlights for me.
Royal Aberdeen is a Top 100 Golf Course in the World for me, and with Cruden Bay and Trump International makes for an amazing triumvirate of world-class courses. If you didn’t know, Aberdeen is one of the premier golf destinations in Scotland.
Oh my word! The Balgownie Links at Royal Aberdeen is something else. It’s different gravy - an unbelievably good golf course. Not only is it the best in Aberdeenshire it’s one of the best you will play. Period.
It is the epitome of an authentic, genuine and pure links golf experience which not only gives us 18 fabulous holes but it takes us on a thrilling journey of discovery through the dunes on the outward half before testing our metal into the wind on the back-nine along the plateau.
Played over the keenest of turf and maximising the natural undulations of the land quite exquisitely we find ourselves in golfing dreamland at Royal Aberdeen situated just on the northern edge of the Granite City.
With even just the slightest of breezes the ground game is the preferred way into the majority the greens which are not the most heavily contoured but feel just right for the environment. A few carefully selected elevated drives from the top of dunes on the way out is about right with the tee shot on the second just about as visually appealing as anything I’ve seen; a wide fairway narrows quickly before snaking out of sight between the sandhills.
The much lauded front-nine is indeed truly exceptional. Hole-after-hole the course just keeps on delivering world-class holes for us to enjoy, savour and remember. Bish-bash-bosh one after another after another.
In comparison the run for home isn’t as magical but the test of character required on the inward half, played into the prevailing wind, is just as rich and rewarding. And the holes themselves, both individually and collectively, are still of an exceptionally high standard. The only hole that didn’t really do anything for me was the 14th with a dry dyke running across the fairway (and no I wasn’t in it!).
Royal Aberdeen isn’t quite as good as Royal Dornoch in my opinion but it is certainly of similar ilk. It’s cut from the same cloth and if the two were boxing opponents I think Dornoch would only just get it on points. It really is that great.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
I had not played RA for nearly 15 years and was really looking forward to playing again after the green and tee updates.Its still a championship course with the history to go with it. Classic out and in links bordering Murcar GC it has several world class holes but some of the green changes will take time to bed in. It's still a great overall test with a superb finishing hole but I think the new Trump course is better.
Having spent the autumn visiting some of Central Scotland's delightful nine-hole courses I decided to take on a couple of the 'big beasts' and so, after the Jubilee I headed north to Royal Aberdeen. The weather gods were on my side and as I stood on the first tee just outside the venerable clubhouse I drank in what might be the finest opening view in golf on a glorious early spring morning. There is really little I can add to all the previous reviews : this is a magnificent links with the front nine a succession of wonderful (and extremely difficult) holes. Apart from the blind drive at the 10th and a couple of less memorable holes on the higher ground (these reminded me a bit of Brora) this is pure golfing heaven. Special mention must go the the 14th with the dyke protecting the green (shades of North Berwick) along with the lovely par 3 17th and the brute of a closing hole. Add to that the sensational front nine (and the blue sky) and Royal Aberdeen meets all the criteria for the top ranking.
Played for a second time in September 2016, the course was in great condition and more than a test with a light breeze. Certainly found plotting the way down holes difficult, but that is links golf.
For me at £165 per round overpriced and a poor refund policy as one person out of 18 could not make it, no refund unlike Murcar and Trump.
Final moan I play 70% of my golf in shorts, which means that you don't need waterproof bottoms, Royal Aberdeen don't allow them because they cannot decide on their sock policy, give them a clue allow socks and most golfers will try and look as good as they can on the course therefore no need for a policy !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The first hole heads straight towards the North Sea. The fairway is reasonably wide but shot making becomes a little more daunting when you see the huge expanses of forest-like gorse, especially on the right hand side, and thick rough all the way down the left side.
The 3rd is a wonderful par three of 248 yards from the back tees but as it is usually played into the wind and there is no fairway whatsoever, this can be quite a demanding tee shot. The 8th is only 147 yards in length but requires a perfectly executed iron as there are ten bunkers surrounding the green.
Be careful at the 9th because you could easily find yourself crossing over onto the neighbouring course, Murcar. The 12th and 14th are reminiscent of courses like North Berwick (West). The 12th green is guarded by a ridge which runs at 45 degrees and the green is perched on a plateau. The 14th has a burn at around 240 yards and then an earth wall angled across the approach to the green.
The 18th can be a difficult finish at 440 yards uphill and with a green protected by five bunkers. To have any chance on being on for two it is essential that you hit a good drive that avoids the three fairway bunkers. Anywhere right will be in the long grass or gorse.
This review is an edited extract from Another Journey through the Links, which has been reproduced with David Worley’s kind permission. The author has exclusively rated for us every Scottish course that he played and featured in his book. Another Journey through the Links is available for Australian buyers via www.golfbooks.com.au and through Amazon for buyers from other countries.