Bridge of Don,
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On A92 N of Aberdeen City Centre
Contact in advance – restricted at weekends
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 decided to move to their present home, the Balgownie links, north of the river Don, which opened for play in 1888. 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.
There are a handful of golf courses where I wonder whether the original architect got the routing correct and whether the golf course, as great at it is, would have been even better if it had been laid out in reverse. Pebble Beach also comes to mind. As far as I know, only Eugene CC in Oregon had the courage to do so and the result made a good golf course even better.
It is often said that Royal Aberdeen has the finest front nine in links golf, or certainly holes 2-9 as you first have to arrive at the dunes from the clubhouse. But I wonder if the course would have been even more tremendous had the 18th green become the first tee, with the 18th tee becoming the first green, and so on. The result would have been a golf course that would have built in anticipation as you approach those holes in the dunes, rather than a golf course that takes you there so quickly, but then stops at the 8th as the 10th brings one completely out of the dunes.
Sure, this routing would have left you finishing right in front of the clubhouse but so does Royal Troon and Royal Lytham & St Annes.
One would play on the higher ground all the while thinking about those holes in the dunes that awaited you as opposed to playing them early and finishing higher up.
Yes, the views are outstanding from the back nine, and you get a great look at the water on the 17th hole. But I will always wonder why it was built this way - was it the prevailing wind? Did the architect intend to beat you up, and then make it easier on you as you come in.
I do note that the final nine plays about the same in terms of difficulty on a relatively windless day, but I found it to play much easier on days of high wind.
Okay, that being said, the golf course is to be judged as it is and it is still spectacular. I liked everything about this golf course from the starting hole on. Yes, I felt a little let down coming out of those amazing dunes with the many elevated tees. The holes from 2-9 are really terrific, particularly the world renowned 8th hole, although I actually preferred 17 more in terms of the par 3's.
It is hard to say which is the best hole from 2-9 as they are all good. To signal out one hole would be unfair to the others. On the back nine 13 and 14 are also very strong, well designed golf holes offering much in the way of strategy and challenge.
The humps and bumps and relative rolling of the golf course is exceptional. You often don't quite know where one's shot into the fairway will finally come to a rest.
The green complexes are well designed with falloffs and bunkers perfectly placed. Not all of the bunkers are similar in difficulty so that is often a blessing if you have a day where you are repeatedly finding them.
Obviously with a few new courses, Royal Aberdeen has slipped a bit from being one of the top six golf courses in Scotland, but it remains a top ten golf course in my opinion. Whatever handicap one establishes as a member at Royal Aberdeen, it would travel elsewhere. If one is a member here or has the chance to play it often, you would improve your golf game due to the requirements put on your tee shot and short game.
It is a very good golf course, even if I will always wonder about that routing.
Balgownie is sublime.
The front nine stands side by side with...hmm....the front nine at Portstewart and probably the back nine in Tralee and all of Portmarnock Old....as some of the finest stretch of links roller coaster fun to be had (or at the very least experienced by me).
They say that the back nine is somewhat a let down by comparison, it is indeed different, however, no less demanding as it is played into the prevailing Southerly wind. Surely, they are two different nines, however the somewhat flatter topographical nature of the closing half in no way deters from the thrill or enjoyment.
Special mention must go out to Cameron Black my caddie for the day and his able deputy Sarah (who assisted my sancho panzo (AT) for the day. Their quick thinking enabled us to leapfrog another group of visitors to find the course completely empty in front of us.......
We all know that often childlike freedom that emanates from occasions where you are alone on the links where a delightful rhythm .......of shot to shot....assessment and reaction takes place. The only complaint is that the experience was over too soon :)
Royal Aberdeen is a phenomenal golf course where David the pro was the consumate host and tour guide. You must visit the jewel that is the Balgownie.
Amazing view from the clubhouse and if you haven't brought your game with you it is best you stay there looking at it.
The second fairway must be handcut as it isn't by wide enough to get a ride on down it !
Superb test of golf ..... too tough for me on the day in a stiff breeze.
GREAT old course and Club to visit ...highly recommended
Just go play it!!
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.