ROYAL ABERDEEN GOLF CLUB
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Bridge of Don
Formed during the American Revolution and considered to be the 6th oldest club in the world, Royal Aberdeen is long respected as one of the top links in Scotland. Playing host for the 2011 Walker Cup and the 2005 Senior Open Championship claimed by Tom Watson are testament to this opinion. . Originally the course played over the Queens Links just south of the Kings Links between the Rivers Don and Dee. I believe this area is now a beachside pleasure park, but the Kings Links is a thriving municipal. In 1888 the club purchased a site just north of the Don, yet not more than a few miles distant from the centre of Aberdeen. The Balgownie Links was originally worked on by the Simpson brothers of Carnoustie. James Braid did some bunker work and in recent years Steel and Hawtree have added their touch.
The Balgownie Links is essentially an out and back affair. The first heads straight for the North Sea then 8 holes follow in succession through steep dunes and over pure rumbling linksland. It is only the 8th which turns and offers a taste of into the wind smash-mouth golf. At the turn we come cheek by jowl with Murcar’s 3rd. Eight holes roll back toward the house over less compelling ground, but arguably the architecture is more interesting and varied than on holes 2-8. We finally make the right turn and head for the attractive house.
HOLES TO NOTE:
The second begins the eight hole journey for which Royal Aberdeen is most famous. Instead of plotted bunkers to create challenge for the tee shots, violent duneland does the job. The second playing with the prevailing wind is a shortish par 5 playing through a tight corridor. The hole turns left ever so slightly at about 300 yards out. One may laugh, but with 15 mph of wind at the back and over keen fairways, that distance is within reach of many golfers. The second is a visual mystery. The fairway seemingly ends quite abruptly and for intents and purposes, it does. The rolling broken ground conceals the safe areas for a lay-up. Mind you, it may be harder to hit a lay-up area than to have a rip at the green.
The first of a tough set of short holes, #3 is a 200+ yarder slightly downhill. Very well placed bunkers make club selection a task. Most well struck shots will end up at the back of the green. There is, however, an alley to play up the right and use the bank to feed a ball to a birdie position on the green. It isn’t all wine and roses, due to heavy rough and a bunker; this is a very dangerous play.
Perhaps the most tempting hole on the course, the two-shotter 5th is another which features a very narrow fairway if driver is the play, but at 290 yards from the daily tees it is loads of fun.
With ten bunkers and hillocks guarding the long narrow green, the short 8th, playing back into the wind can be very testing.
The ninth is yet another dogleg right (the fourth thus far); playing through the dunes, but this is more pronounced than previous versions. At 450 yards to a plateau green this hole may be the toughest two-shotter in the front nine. Unusually, all the fairway bunkering runs down the left of the hole.
The back nine turns for home with a blind drive, an approach over a burn and OOB down the right! This (#10) is a great change of pace from the dune holes.
A wee burn cuts the 14th fairway in two. Even from the middle tees the blind carry is about a 250ish yards. The layup is toughened by two fairway bunkers down the left. The odd thing is these bunkers encourage golfers to play right which is the best angle for approaching the slightly diagonal green. A very effective berm short of the green creates doubt as to the required yardage for the second shot.
The 17th seemingly has all its trouble up front. The three-tier green offers more space to the rear, but this is three-putt country if the hole is cut on the bottom tier. Just as the 2nd turned left to head away from the house, the final hole turns right to head for home. A straight-away long par 4, the main feature of the 18th is the large depression which takes a big drive to cover. One can lay-up short of the depression, but that leaves a long second. Playing into the wind, it must be difficult to successfully flight a ball to reach the green from the depression.
From the daily tees (~6200 yards) Royal Aberdeen is all the course the vast majority of golfers can handle. I vividly recall the world’s best amateurs struggling to score around the Balgownie Links during the 2011 Walker Cup and it is no wonder why! All the shots are required on this testing championship course, but Royal Aberdeen is not without its whimsical moments. I wish the front nine was a bit more player friendly in encouraging driver off the tee, but this is a mere quibble. Royal Aberdeen is a great course!
Cruden Bay GC: An eccentric links just to the north of Aberdeen.
Trump International Golf Links: Bold modern links directly next door to Royal Aberdeen.