Royal Aberdeen Golf Club
Designer: Archie & Robert Simpson, James Braid, Donald Steel
The earliest known description of a golf hole was made in 1625, on what was then known as the Queen’s Links. This ancient course wasn’t found in St. Andrews or Dornoch or East Lothian, but instead along Scotland’s northeast coast near Aberdeen. The historical marker leads many to claim that the game itself, at least as we know it, originated here. A distinction that the Royal Aberdeen Golf Club is in no rush to refute.
Originally known as the Society of Aberdeen Golfers, the club was founded in 1780 and stands as the 6th oldest in the world. With that degree of history, it’s no surprise that the club has had an impact, albeit quietly, on the game as a whole. For example, we can thank the members of Royal Aberdeen for the 5 minute cap imposed on that playing partner whose search for a lost ball might otherwise last for days. They first instituted the rule in 1783.
The opening hole of the Balgownie Links makes for both an inspiring and intimidating start to the round, as the fairway tumbles down toward the sea from a tee box practically inside the members’ lounge. And so begins the golfer’s journey across wild and rumpled terrain, weaving through the dunes on what many regard as nothing short of the finest front-9 on the globe. The adventure continues to the brilliant par-3 8th – where anything from 3-iron to pitching wedge will be required – before turning home on the aptly named 9th, known as “The End.”
The inward-9 plays mostly along the less interesting, elevated ground tucked further inland, however it’s here that we find the teeth of Royal Aberdeen. Particularly the teeth of the prevailing wind, which to this point has likely been at our back, and is now just one of several obstacles for anyone hoping to post a score. Another being James Braid’s lasting contribution to the Balgownie Links: the outstanding collection of revetted bunkers, that are best admired from afar.
Royal Aberdeen’s final layer of defense comes at the closing pair of holes. The view back down to the sea on the par-3 17th reminds us that although the front-9 is world renowned, it’s the inward holes which command the best views. Meanwhile, the 18th stands as one of the sternest closing holes in Scotland. If the prevailing wind is up, a combination of driver and 3-wood may not be enough to reach the putting surface. Perhaps a good indication of why many members choose to play it as a par-5 instead.
For many, including some of the world’s best players, the 2014 Scottish Open was a first introduction to Royal Aberdeen. The club likes it that way, preferring to go about its business quietly while others nearby soak up the spotlight. Those wise enough to add the Balgownie Links to their itinerary are treated to a combination of rich history and links golf of the highest order. The front-9 alone makes the trip across the pond entirely worthwhile.
Major Basil Haversham, OBE
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