Our review - Balgownie Links
Alongside Murcar, which it borders, and within a few miles of Cruden Bay, Royal Aberdeen is the senior partner in a triumvirate of great links layouts in this corner of the north-east of Scotland. Having opened in 1780, it is the sixth oldest club in the world but did not settle into its current location, Balgownie Links, until 1888.
And yet, like all good clubs, Royal Aberdeen does not rest on its laurels and magnificent history but is constantly evolving, which is why it continues to host a succession of amateur and professional tournaments and championships.
With small, sometimes elevated greens, several changes in elevation, pot bunkers, long carries, an ever-present wind and as tough a collection of par threes as you are likely to find, it is not a course for the faint-hearted or beginner.
This is the sort of place where you find out just how good you are, which can be a chastening, although memorable, experience.
Although impossible to pin the origins of golf down to an exact date or location, it is a matter of historical fact that golf was played at Edinburgh, St. Andrews and Aberdeen years before the first actual golf clubs were formed. Organised golf started at Aberdeen with the 1780 foundation of the "Society of Golfers at Aberdeen", an exclusive gathering of just 25 members.
By 1780, there were only five other golf clubs in existence so the golfers of Aberdeen have obviously played an important role in the historical development of the game. The club changed its name to Aberdeen Golf Club in 1815 and almost a century later, it became known as Royal Aberdeen by decree of Edward VII. Given the popularity of golf at Aberdeen, a new course at Balgownie was laid out by Robert Simpson and though considerable changes have taken place over the years, the essential character of the links remains the same.
Set alongside a picturesque shoreline featuring sweeping sand dunes, Royal Aberdeen is a highly rated traditional links course. Possessing many eye-catching features, most notably the quality of the opening and closing holes, it boasts a balance of long and short par 4's, testing par 3's and tricky par 5', which due to wind speed and direction, play differently each day. The course runs out and back along the shore, with individual holes switching direction at regular intervals, bringing an element of variety and balance to this fine test of golf. The significant changes in elevation at Royal Aberdeen result in spectacular views of the coast and course over massive dunes and sheltered valleys, through which many holes meander.
Sure to be capped by the memorable closing holes, the highlight of Royal Aberdeen's sting-in-the-tail is the 18th, where a good drive must be followed by a second over a high bank in front of an elevated green, guarded by bunkers left and right. Bernard Darwin probably summed up the entire experience when he wrote: "it represented a huge gap in my golfing education not to have played Balgownie until now - much more than a good golf course, a noble links".
The Course was originally designed by the Simpson Brothers, Archie and Robert of Carnoustie and later re-bunkered and lengthened by James Braid. Donald Steel & Company are now engaged as the Club's architects to ensure our classic links keeps pace with the modern game.
The course runs essentially out and back along the North Sea shore. The outward nine (which is arguably acknowledged as one of the finest in links golf anywhere in the world) cuts its way through some wonderful dune formation and the inland nine on the plateau.
A traditional old Scottish links, it is well bunkered with undulating fairways. It is an excellent balance of holes, strong par 4's, tricky par 3's and two classic par 5's, with the 8th (our signature hole) protected by 10 bunkers. The ever changing wind, tight greens and a magnificent finish makes Balgownie a test for the very best.
The eminent golf writer Sam McKinlay was moved to say "There are few courses in these islands with a better, more testing, more picturesque outward nine than Balgownie".
And this from none other than Bernard Darwin "it represented a huge gap in my golfing education not to have played Balgownie until now, much more than a good golf course, a noble links!"
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