1841 - 1908
Willie Park Jnr, Archie Simpson, Mr Heron , James Braid,
A links combination of Willie Park Jnr's subtlety and Archie Simpson's dramatic valleys.
North-East Scottish coast. Postcode: AB42 1LT
John Millar
01779 472149
Green Keeper
Neil Metcalf
Access Policy:
Visitors welcome
Dog Policy:
Well behaved dogs welcome.
Open Meetings:
Five Opens, monthly between May to September
Fees in 1960s
Fees today
£65 - 2018



Although the FineGolf website is only ten years old, the philosophy behind it really dates back to when I first picked up Frank Pennink’s  ‘Golfers Companion in 1962 and it evolved over the following fifty five years as I gradually played all the finest 128 courses in GB&I which were reviewed in his book. I nevertheless never took much notice of who designed the courses, just how well they played.

Peterhead with harbour and golf course

I now realise how important the architects were for our enjoyment and how so many of the most enjoyable courses are of course on firm running surfaces but also how little earth was moved in their creation. The green complexes and their approaches were the most vital aspect of the Golden Era running-courses (1890s to 1930s) and with the ‘hickory’ game (steel shafts were banned until the 1930s) being played closer to the ground than on the modern soft ‘target-golf’ courses, the architects incorporated subtle movements in the land and used natural hazards to create challenges.

Trawler off Peterhead

At Peterhead we have three great course architects involved in the evolution of the course. Peterhead was founded in 1841 by the great and good of the town, becoming the 18th oldest club in the world, on the links at Cairntrodlie (this was ten years even before the founding of Prestwick, which hosted the first Open Championship in 1860). It then moved in 1892 to the Craigewan links just north of the famous fishing port, which is approached across the Ugie River, initially by ferry and later by a footbridge.

Willie Park Jnr,

Willie Park Jnr.

The proud club invited Willie Park Jnr., a double Open Champion and the first real professional golf course architect, to lay out a nine-hole course of which four holes exist today. These are the fourth (‘Pitfour’ 400yards), fifth (‘Mount Zion’ 396yards), the sixth (‘Inverguie’ 176yards) and the thirteenth (‘Scotstown’ 409yards).

Research suggests that today’s sixteenth green was also Park’s but he approached it from the inland direction rather than from the South as it is today.

Archie Simpson

The Club acquired the freehold of the links in 1907 and invited Archie Simpson, Aberdeenshire’s leading golf course architect, a member of the famous Carnoustie golfing family, cousin of James Braid and a successful professional golfer, to extend the course to eighteen holes. This layout was described in the local paper as “In the matter of difficulty, of variety, splendour of view, fine springy turf, clean, dry, bracing ozone-laden air, it had no rival”.

1908 map of Archie Simpson’s Peterhead course.

Whereas Park created interest through his subtle green complexes laid on the higher, flatter more inland ground, Archie Simpson used the valleys of the dunes closer to the shoreline to give us what are more dramatic holes.

peterhead golf club, archie simpson, willie park jnr,

The 7th hole ‘Valley’

Thus, at the seventh (‘Valley’ 349yards) where you drive down across a hillside of rough to a valley with a well bunkered green on the far hill.

The eighth (‘Rattray’ 486yards) and ninth (‘St.Fergus’ 457yards) are the longest holes both along a beautiful valley giving splendid scope to the longer driver.

The 8th hole

On the left a high benty brae divides us from the incoming holes and shelters us from the landward and northern winds; and on the right sand dunes, heaped by the winter winds of a thousand years effectively shut out the east wind and the sea breezes alike, making one glad in summer to climb to the high tees on these holes and the homeward stretch with its cooler airs.

peterhead golf club, archie simpson, willie park jnr,

JP Macpherson on the ninth tee.

The St.Fergus green is formed on the site of an old swamp with the burn diverted around the green. There are no bunkers on this hole as the violently undulating fairway gives plenty of sufficient character.

peterhead golf club, archie simpson, willie park jnr,

The par three, tenth hole

The tenth (‘Cottage’ 136yards) with a plateau green across a valley from a tee in the high dunes is a sporting hole and if you be short, slice or pull then no end of trouble may result, but reach the carpet, as you ought, then a par three becomes easy as none of the Peterhead greens are large.

peterhead golf club, archie simpson, willie park jnr,

The seventeenth green

The other Archie Simpson hole of note is the seventeenth (‘Craigewan’ 313yards). Here the high bluffs shut out the view to the green, the direction to which is given by an indicator. A good drive should leave a shortish iron over a high hump just in front of a green that has a depth of only 20yards but as an earlier commentator said “when shunning Scylla be sure you fall not into Charybdis or bogey will beat you here”.

The round, a total of 6147yards, par 70 SSS71 (but playing much longer), finishes with a long hole back in front of the new smart single story clubhouse built in 1997 to replace the one built in the 1960s on higher more inland ground. This 1960s relocation was necessary because the original clubhouse sited on the point was suffering from land erosion. (Just as an aside: this all happened well before man-made global warming was thought of, though this does not stop the activists recently from trying to blame east coast links erosion on Co2 emissions. The creation of two very fine nine hole links courses reclaimed from the sea at Burnham & Berrow and Rye in recent years is rarely mentioned and to help some factual balance an interview in February 2018 with the world’s most experienced sea-level expert scientist might be worthwhile READ HERE).

peterhead golf club, archie simpson, willie park jnr,

The clubhouse

More importantly the Club at the same time in the 1960s was also forced to give up Park’s first two holes and Archie Simpson’s last three holes in the dunes and unfortunately one does not experience the same quality of feel from the new first three holes that one would expect from the rest of the course.

As a first time visitor when playing the new third hole (which is alongside a flat field containing the secondary nine-hole course), I felt a dread that these holes might comprise the remainder of the old course and call into question the wisdom of my visit! Nevertheless we were then on to the Willie Park Jnr. holes and were soon enjoying that ‘Joy-to-be-alive’ FineGolf feeling.

peterhead golf club, archie simpson, willie park jnr,

The par three, sixteenth green

The extra hole created in the 1960s as today’s sixteenth (‘Target’ 171yards) used an original Park green, though it is approached from a different angle across two deep gullies and provides an exciting and quirky par three.

Research mentions a Mr Heron as helping Archie Simpson in 1908, but the other third famous course architect who was involved in re-bunkering some of the Old course holes was James Braid, brought up from his lair at Walton Heath in 1929.

peterhead golf club, archie simpson, willie park jnr,

The view of the beach from the seventeenth tee.

The Club has always been very proud of its traditional running golf course which more recently has been brought back to its best following the appointment of Neil Metcalf as course manager, who left Royal St George’s in the spring of 2010 just before he was going to be responsible for his third Open Championship. Neil is now much happier away from the stresses of an Open Championship venue. Neil’s small team of six (who are also responsible for the flat nine hole new course on the inland side of Old course holes three to six), typically cut the greens at 4mm, top dress with three tonnes of beach sand per green and manage an assortment of grass species with around 50% bent/fescue on the greens and 40% across the fairways.

peterhead golf club, archie simpson, willie park jnr,It is interesting that the small glossy booklet published by the Club in 2016 to celebrate its 175 years mentions, perhaps with some members who might suffer from Augusta Syndrome Disease in mind, that the “greens are the quickest for many years”. However, Neil tells me they run at between eight and ten feet depending on how much rain they have had, this being in line with The R&A’s ideal speed for recreational golf of around nine feet on the greens-tester.

The economy of the Buchan region has fluctuated with the oil industry and fishing in decline so it is good that Peterhead Golf Club is in such fine fettle. With Aberdeenshire golf tourism expanding on the back of Trump Aberdeen getting its fairways back to fescue and attracting the Americans, while Cruden Bay, with its brilliant young course manager Alister Matheson, being garlanded with awards, it would be surprising if the next rung down of clubs like Peterhead and Fraserburgh did not attract more visitors looking for traditional running-golf, particularly with the wonderful value their lower green-fees offer.

There are plenty of good nearby hostelries and FineGolf from personal experience can strongly recommend Martin & Lucy Taylor’s traditional Kilmarnock Arms Hotel at the heart of Cruden Bay. Equally appealing is the luxury Aikenshill House B&B located near Trump’s course, run by James Duthie an ex-fishing skipper out of Peterhead. These are both excellent staging posts from which to explore this area that is growing in golfing importance and tourism appeal.

The history of Peterhead Golf Club. In Celebration of 175 years” has some delightful modern and old photographs.

Reviewed by Lorne Smith in 2018 and who is pleased that well-behaved dogs are welcome as guests on the links.


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