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Royal Aberdeen

Simpson Bros of Carnoustie, James Braid, Donald Steel, Martin Hawtree
Classic championship running links with the traditional feel of a 'Serene Old Lady'
North of the River Don on Aberdeen's seafront. Postcode: AB23 8AT
Ronnie MacAskill
01224 702571
David Ross
Green Keeper
Robert Patterson
Access Policy:
Visitors welcome
Dog Policy:
No dogs
Open Meetings:
Amateur Open - Sept
Fees in 1960s
Fees today
£140 - 2014


The sixth oldest Golf Club in the world was instituted in 1780 and moved to its present Balgownie course in 1888, a design by Archie and Robert Simpson of Carnoustie which gives us running golf on classic, majestic links land. 

On the outward holes one has the benefit of the prevailing wind, playing through a valley behind the dunes along the beach, before returning along a plateau. 

royal aberdeen golf club, scottish open golf, walker cup 2011,

Clubhouse and pro’s shop

There is a feeling of being in the presence of a serene old lady’ amongst the bustle of the City of Aberdeen, the oil-rich, wealthiest area of Scotland. 

Royal patronage was received from Prince Leopold in 1872 and the Royal title from King Edward VII in 1903. 

The course was re-bunkered by James Braid who used a tight, rivetted style and both Donald Steel and Martin Hawtree have been invited to ‘tweak’, rather than re-route, holes more recently. 

The top amateur championships have been regular visitors over the years, with The Walker Cup being won here by Great Britain and Ireland in 2011. 

royal aberdeen golf club, scottish open golf, walker cup 2011,

Walker Cup 2011

Let me quote from the Club’s website and you will get a taste of the philosophy hereabouts: “What’s so special about the Walker Cup? The first thing that one gleans from those directly involved is the character-building attributes the event imbues. The sense of fair play and honour that goes hand in hand with the event is surely one of the finest elements of any sport. The lack of commercialism might also have something to do with it and the Walker Cup remains a breath of free, fresh air”. 

I think most of us can agree that the ‘money and celebrity’ focus of the professional game leaves much to be desired, particularly in some of the negative affects it has on the recreational game and I would add that perhaps the fact that the Walker Cup match is always played across ‘running’ courses when hosted by the British Isles adds to the challenge, imagination and creativity required of these amateur competitors. 

royal aberdeen golf club, scottish open golf, walker cup 2011,

Ritchie Ramsay with US Amateur trophy

The professional’s Senior Open was here in 2005 when Tom Watson won in difficult weather and as it is also venue for The Scottish Open in July 2014, the occasion will allow the course to be fully tested by the best. 

They will find a much tighter challenge off the tee than that presented at Castle Stuart for the previous three years, with greens composed of a mix of browntop bent/annual meadow grass (Poa annua) which are softer underfoot and more receptive to the ball than the firmness of the wonderful, 100% fescue-grassed, true, running Castle Stuart greens. 

The modern pros, used to playing on ‘target’ courses, may try to use their favourite lob wedges to control their shots into these greens, although Robert Patterson’s (the ex-Royal Dornoch, course manager) green surrounds and run-offs are all well sculptured and will gather any not quite perfectly hit shot into small, deep bunkers. This should encourage sensible players to select the percentage shot of the bump-and- run. 

The Club are proud of member Richie Ramsay who became the first Scotsman in over a century to win the US Amateur Championship in 2006. 

The traditional, oak-panelled club house stands proudly on a rise overlooking a memorable first hole that runs down to the sea. This first drive should be exhilarating, set as it is in front of the clubhouse windows and with such a glorious view of the sea. 

royal aberdeen golf club, scottish open golf, walker cup 2011,

The first green

Inevitably, I came off the ball and lost it in the whins to the right! Those who keep their heads and put it down the middle will have a medium iron to a table-top green behind a deep swale. Will backspin hold the green or can one run it through the swale? One hopes that Robert will allow the greens to dry out and then, provided with some wind, that type of question will not only protect the course but give so much more fun to those few pros at the Scottish Open who practise the running game. 

The par five second hole (‘Pool’) introduces one to the natural bumps and hollows found particularly across the front nine that are their primary distinguishing element and allow the Club to claim with some justification that Balgownie’s front nine holes rank amongst the very best in the world. 

royal aberdeen golf club, scottish open golf, walker cup 2011,

The fourth green

The third (‘Cottage’), fifth (‘Road’) and ninth (‘End’) tees are each atop the high beach-side dune, catching the wind and highlighting the vista down into the valley, while giving the player just an inkling of from where the best approach to the green on these right hand doglegs can be played. 

The par three third at well over 200 yards can indeed be a drive with perhaps the safest approach being to choose a bounce down from the right-hand hill! 

If one achieves the right-hand side of the fourth (‘Valley’) fairway without plunging into a ravine, it offers some hope of wending one’s way between the well-bunkered opening to the green, which is set at an angle to the fairway. 

royal aberdeen golf club, scottish open golf, walker cup 2011,

The dogleg nineth

This is another of those great 440 yard holes, similar to the ninth, that climbs steadily up the dunes and requires shrewd judgement in deciding how much of the dogleg to take off, before allowing the player a second shot up the right hand side, thereby avoiding whins and rough up the left. 

The fifth is a short par four of 330 yards where a drive of some 200 yards is the best option. The hole is commanded by the right-hand greenside bunker and the swale that gathers anything played weakly into it. 

The sixth (‘Scotston’) is a short par five which provides good risk/reward for the longer hitter while the two bunkers shy of the seventh (‘Blackdog’) green give an illusion and the opportunity of running the ball into a two tiered green with the left side higher than the right. 

royal aberdeen golf club, scottish open golf, walker cup 2011,

The par three eighth hole

The par three eighth (‘Ridge’), played back into the prevailing wind has no less than ten pot bunkers and a hairy ridge upwind. Although the green is a few feet below the tee and ‘only’ 150 yards distant, a strongly committed shot is required to reach the long thin green that gathers from both sides. 

This hole is often quoted as Royal Aberdeen’s favourite hole (I dislike the modern media phrase ‘signature hole’!) and I was guaranteed to be walking on clouds after my round when I had birdied both this and the eighteenth, a fine strong finishing hole. 

Before we turn for home at the end of the course I hopped over to the nearest green of Murcar Golf Club where another, able, ex-Royal Dornoch green-keeper Bob Mackay is in the process restoring the over-fertilised, watered and fungicide-ed, all-one-colour greens back to a more linksy, running feel, as part of the Modern Retro-Trend to bring this fine course back to its natural condition. 

We have a blind drive at the tenth (‘Shelter’), a short par four where, depending on the wind, a driver may not be necessary before one has to fly one’s approach over a burn and all the way to a green set snugly into the dune. 

The fairways on the back nine have less character and are flatter, though the greens provide more putting movement and being played back into the prevailing wind makes them relentlessly tough, requiring you to be on your best driving. 

royal aberdeen golf club, scottish open golf, walker cup 2011, wind turbine

wind turbine in line behind eleventh green

At the par three, reasonably straightforward eleventh (175 yards) we are fully confronted by a huge wind turbine directly in line behind the three-tiered green, something we have been attempting to ignore all the way out. It unfortunately dominates the next few holes being sited just over a hedge from the thirteenth hole and gives a strobe effect as one walks up the fairway on a bright afternoon. To me, this is a quite dazzling monstrosity and it amazes me that it was given permission to be erected next to this superb traditional club. 

The par five twelfth (‘Plateau’) is a bit of a slog though it is very easy to send one’s ball off the raised green and at the thirteenth (‘Blind’), following a blind drive, one has a lovely green complex with a raised bowl green. 

Fourteen (‘Dyke’) has a ditch across the fairway which gives everybody an interesting long second shot with a bank running in echelon that must be negotiated before attaining the long pinched green. 

royal aberdeen golf club, scottish open golf, walker cup 2011,

The new fifteenth green

The fifteenth (‘Well’) used to have an ‘island’ bunker that previously needed to be flown to reach the green but this is now replaced with a swale of fine fescue turf so if one is playing downwind one can now run the ball in. 

An uphill sixteenth (‘Hill’) at 400 yards will gather any weak approach into a chasm in front of the green that has a severe slope. 

The seventeenth (‘Pots’) is somehow, to my mind, the least naturally attractive of the four short holes, although it is into a side wind and possesses a great sea view from the tee. At 180 yards, the raised three-tier green is well protected. 

I have already mentioned the eighteenth (‘Home’) as a 440 yard, fine, finishing hole where the second shot needs to keep under the wind and run up on to, again, a well-bunkered rising green.

It is a reflection of the outstanding quality of this classic links course that I had the confidence to play exactly the right shot with my ‘ping eye two’ one iron where, to my way of thinking, the execution is all in the mind, with confidence gained from playing off such wonderful, fescue/bent turfed fairways all the way round.


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