Aboyne must be the best kept secret in golf! This immaculately maintained course set in beautiful highland surroundings harbours what many believe to be the best test of golf in the region, which added to its closeness to nature, cannot fail to stimulate emotions. What you may lose in the swing you will definitely gain on the round!
But to start at the beginning when life and setting were different. The 19th century local economy was supported by Landowners and gentry, who, in pursuit of a fashionable pastime introduced golf to Aboyne in 1874. Although details are vague it is known that play took place over nine holes laid out on the village greens with. Sir Alexander Lyon. Lord Provost of Aberdeen, a regular sight in his Royal Aberdeen Golf Club red reefer jacket, It was ten years later, in 1883, before the Club was founded mainly due to the efforts of Mr WE Nicol of Ballogie (Captain), Dr Keith from Aboyne and the Rev. Dr. Drummond minister al Birse.
The local stationmaster Mr Forgie was the first secretary. Subscriptions and membership were 2/6 each and the grand total of £3 was received from the 24 members! Play continued in the village until 1905 when the present site was leased from Ean Cecil of Aboyne Castle estate and nine holes laid out beside the loch, mainly on the present inward half. By 1908, with the assistance of Archie Simpson, Professional at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club, the course was extended to eighteen holes and to celebrate this and the erection of "a fine new pavilion" a grand opening was performed before 150 invited guests by Lord Aberdeen. Further alterations to the course in 1913 lengthened it to 5010 yards ("Bogey" 74) an event marked with an exhibition match between the famous Professionals Harry Vardon and Ted Ray (scoring 65 and 69 respectively).
Throughout this time the real driving force at the club was C C Smith postmaster al Aboyne and secretary from 1905, remembered to this day as the mainstay until he retired in 1939. By now the club had 49 lady members affiliated to the LGU, a professional Mr Curtis was in attendance for the summer months and there were two tennis courts beside the 18th fairway. Perhaps it could be claimed that Aboyne was the original golf and country club! But it all came to a cruel end in 1914 with the outbreak of the Great War and things were never to he the same again.
However, in these pre-First World War days the course and club flourished to the extent that the committee authorised, for the first time, the purchase of a horse ‘Prince’ since this was cheaper than hiring one. Prince wore heavy leather boots to prevent his hooves leaving marks on the course, and was housed in a shed amongst the trees behind the eighteenth green.
The course was fully re-opened in 1919 and by 1920 the club was reported to be in a sound financial position, so much so that the Committee allowed the purchase of a new horse Birky from Mr Paterson of Cobbleheugh (who had the sheep grazing rights). Birky, apparently, was never properly broken in and tended to bolt on all occasions unless weighted down with a heavy cart full of rubble, no doubt keeping the greenstaff on their toes. Play continued almost as before the War until the upheaval on Wall Street in 1929 and the depression that followed changed life again
During those ten years regular visits were made by Royally in residence al Balmoral Castle, most notably the Prince of Wales (later The Duke of Windsor) held in high regard by the caddies (schoolboys let off for the occasion) as a 'good payer". High profile visitors were not unusual, indeed during a round in 1912 Prime Minister Asquith was verbally assaulted by local socialite Joan Dugdale an ardent suffragette who later chained herself to the railings at 10 Downing Street in pursuit of that cause.
Probably the Club's greatest benefactor was James Mearns, a self-made businessman in Aberdeen and from 1923 new owner of the Castle estate. He became president in 1924, the first such break with tradition. until his death in 1943, his final act ensuring the Club's future when he willed the land to the people of Aboyne "for as long as it remained a golf course".
The 1930"s were subdued times, economies being made wherever possible, a fact highlighted in 1934 when the club's first tractor (a second-hand Fordson) was subsidised by the Greens staff "accepting a cut in wages"! It is worth recalling playing conditions then when clubs were still of hickory (steel shafts were introduced about 1935), balls could float as well as fly, greens were small and fairways narrow, the rough was pure hay field and a good score was 72 or "level 4's" as counted in those days.
But by 1939, for the second lime in twenty years, Britain was at war and golf was put aside, though not forgotten, until 1946.
During the war most golf courses were used for animal grazing and vegetable allotments. So it was at Aboyne when an E.G.M. was convened in 1946 to form a new committee which redrafted the constitution and reclaimed the course. By 1948 conditions had recovered enough to allow a 36 hole Open tournament to be introduced which continues successfully to this day.
The next 25 years saw golf grow in popularity. Not much seemed to change yet steady progress was made and facilities improved for the increasing membership, largely due in the 1950"s to subsidised work by local businessmen. During this period golf was cheap and membership easy to obtain, any one from anywhere could join by paying the subscription. But by 1970 things were changing. The discovery of oil in the North Sea had a dramatic effect on employment in the region and Aboyne quickly became a commuter area for people working in the oil industry. Membership grew rapidly passing 1000 by 1986 before being controlled by residential qualifications.
In this 15 year period good use was made of the increased revenues including the opening of a new clubhouse in 1980 and constant investment in the course and machinery. It was also in this time that the club marked its centenary (1983) with an excellent week of celebration including its first ever Pro-Am.
The layout of Aboyne golf course remained virtually the same from 1913 until the new holes were added in 1990. This change has proved a great success, improving both the challenge and the walk - (who remembers Spion Kop and Lady Well?)
The course provides a fine test of golf for all abilities. It presents a rich variety of memorable holes making the most of the natural variations in the terrain which is a mix of rolling parkland with inviting fairways and elevated links-like heathland with tighter targets. Mature trees and water are in play at many holes, with the Loch of Aboyne being a notable feature. The course lies on a free-draining soil and enjoys a surprisingly dry micro-climate. It is exceptionally well-maintained and shows little, if any, of the usual signs of the passage of golfers.
The setting, by the Loch of Aboyne, is superb with splendid views of the Dee valley, ranging from Clachnaben to the distant peak of Lochnagar. There is every chance you will be diverted from the task before you by the visit of an osprey or the sighting of terns or a heron fishing the shallows of the loch.
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