Located just a mile outside the city, on a fabulous stretch of coastline, the links of Royal Aberdeen is not only the sixth oldest golf course in the world, but is also the place that gave birth to the 5-minute rule, the time allowed for golfers to look for their ball, back in 1786. The golf course comprises enormous dunes and is swept with heather and gorse, making it one of the stiffest challenges in golf. Evidence exists of golf being played along this piece of Aberdeen coastline as far back as the 16th century, but it is not until the mid 17th century that a license is granted to a John Dickson of Leith to “sell golf balls.” In 1780, the Society of Golfers of Aberdeen had been founded, but it wasn’t until 1815 before ‘Aberdeen Golf Club’ came to be, at which time it amalgamated with the Society. In 1888, the club moved to its existing site at the Balgownie Links, and in 1903 it received its ‘Royal’ moniker from King Edward VII.
Upon its relocation to Balgownie, Archie Simpson, the club professional, set about with brother Robert to redesign the course, and make some significant changes. Upgrades followed those changes in the early 20th century by Tom Simpson and limited modifications to bunkering by James Braid in 1925. Martin Hawtree made some further alterations, mostly in lengthening the links for the demands of the modern game in the early 2000s.
The Balgownie Links is a test of pure links golf that heads out amongst the dunes and returns via an adjacent plateau. The opening three holes at Aberdeen throw every classic links trait you can think of at you. Undulating fairways, coastal treats, small greens, deep bunkers, high dunes, and gorse! The first offers up several of those challenges before the 558yard par five, 2nd hole asks even more of you in terms of accuracy, particularly off the tee to find the undulating fairway beyond. The 3rd is a fabulous par three hole and one of the Pro’s favorites. At 249yards, it is a beast of a hole if the wind misbehaves and turns towards you, requiring in many cases, everything you have in the bag. Three deep pot bunkers further protect the ‘Cottage’ at the front of the green lying in wait for anything to come up short. Find the putting surface, and your work is not yet over.
One of the other Par threes on the front is the 8th hole known as ‘Ridge.’ This is presumably for the way the green is cut into the dunes, or perhaps it’s the several levels on the putting surface, either way, this is a tough test. Nine bunkers are surrounding this reasonably small 148yard hole. However, the wind yet again plays an all-important role in determining club selection here, and the only simple answer is to hit it straight at the center of the green and far enough to avoid the sand, and all should be well!
The host of many prestigious amateur and professional championships down the years, most notably the 2005 British Seniors Open won by Tom Watson, and the 2011 Walker Cup won by GB & Ireland, it has most recently held the 2014 Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in 2014 when Justin Rose was victorious, and in 2018 held the R&A British Amateur Championships. Royal Aberdeen Golf Club is very welcoming of visitors and play can be secured any day of the week for handicaps of twenty-four or less. No visit to the club is complete without time in the clubhouse. Here you can even find the original member’s selection box where any prospective candidate could be blackballed within three months of an application by an existing member dropping their ball into either the “Yah” or “Nay” slots. The clubhouse itself received a major refurbishment in the late 90s, and it is an excellent example of a traditional members club. Any visit to the ‘Granite City’ of Aberdeen is not complete without a visit to the prestigious Royal Aberdeen Golf Club.