Bridge of Don,
- +44 (0) 1224 702571
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.
I don’t use the quote out of laziness on my part to come up with something original - I just cannot find a better way to describe the feeling when playing the opening nine holes that run along the shoreline; complete and utter golfing nirvana. Such is the strength and quality of holes here, I thought the par four 7th was the only hole to give any degree of respite - a very brief breather - until the tee box of the par five 12th was reached. It was just unrelenting; magnificent links golf, with hardly time to pause for breath after putting out before tackling the next hole. I reached the turn with my playing partner in two hours and it felt like we’d been playing 30 minutes max.
The only down side to playing between the dunes ridges on the way out is that the inward half, by comparison, can never live up to what has gone before as the fairways occupy less aesthetically pleasing higher ground on the way back to the clubhouse. Don’t for a minute think that the back nine is in any way prosaic however, far from it. The 10th is as tough as old boots; played into the prevailing wind with an uphill blind drive - OOB on the right - and approach to a green perched above a wee burn that runs through a gully in front of the putting surface. Stroke index 8 on the scorecard gives an indication of the test still to come (“what, there’s three more difficult holes yet to play?”) so you better have made your score on the way out as pars and birdies will be few and far between from the 10th onwards. Forced carries intimidate the tee shot at many of the holes here, as do the fearsome looking fairway and greenside bunkers, enforcing my firmly held belief that most of the top courses can subtly psyche out anyone who is not up for a tough mental four hour test when they stand on the 1st tee.
Aberdeen has gorse, rough and severe sand traps aplenty so for all its beauty on the front nine, it can be a beast on the back nine so be prepared for what lies in store! In the clubhouse, the walls on the way to the gents locker room are well worth examining to see the James Braid original hand written drawings of recommended changes to the course in the 1920’s. And one of the two members who played behind us popped into the visitors changing room when our round was over to ask how our game had gone so no signs of an uncaring membership towards us - and the dozen or so American visitors in the bar seemed more than pleased with the hospitality rendered on their day out too. Not many courses in the UK or Ireland (around a dozen) have staged the prestigious Walker Cup since it began back in 1922. Aberdeen will join that exclusive roster in 2011 and if you check out the identity of the other courses it will share that honour with, you will see why it deserves to be comfortably ranked within the top 25 courses of GB & I. Jim McCann