Author: Callum Taylor, Managing Director, Golf Concierge Scotland Ltd, Edinburgh.
In a little under a 2-hour drive north of St Andrews you will find the region of Aberdeenshire in Scotland’s north east.
Aberdeen is often referred to as the “Oil capital of Europe” and when playing golf you will notice overhead the frequent passing of large passenger helicopters taking offshore workers out to the oil rigs in the North Sea.
Aberdeen is Scotland’s 3rd largest city, home to over 200,000 people. The granite city has an impressive sparkling skyline, dominated by the Flemish-Gothic architecture of The New Town House and Marischal College.
Golf in the North East of Scotland is equally as impressive, with some of the largest sand dunes found in the world which stretch along 165 miles of coastline, some up to 100 feet high.
In this extraordinary sandscape are some of the world’s most challenging links courses, designed by top names in golf architecture including Old Tom Morris, James Braid and Dr Martin Hawtree.
What we discovered on our latest tour is how much the new Aberdeen bypass has improved travel times around the city. With reduced traffic Royal Aberdeen and Murcar are now both barely 10 minutes from the city centre.
Further up the coast you will find one the most highly acclaimed new courses to open in the last 10 years, Trump International, while 15 miles further north lies Cruden Bay, a world-renowned Old Tom Morris design.
As we explored the areas highest ranked courses and also some undiscovered ones this September, we were treated to a combination of dry, sunny Autumn days mixed with sudden downpours and 25 mph winds, typical Scottish weather really.
Where to play:
Royal Aberdeen Golf Club – Balgownie Links
The front 9 is often referred to as the best in Scotland and it does begin in dramatic style as the golfer on the 1st Hole feels as if they are playing towards an infinity fairway and green straight towards the North Sea. On the day we played, the front 9 unusually played into the wind which made the holes extremely long and tough. More respite was given on the back 9 which are elevated and provide wonderful views of the previous holes and coastline with the city of Aberdeen in the distance.
The Par 3 8th is Balgownie’s signature hole, only measuring 147 yds but playing to a narrow green protected by no fewer than 10 bunkers.
Off the course golfers are treated to a historic clubhouse. When entering the lobby it has all the characteristics of a Royal club with photos from past tournaments including The 2011 Walker Cup where the US team was made up of amateurs including Jordan Spieth, Harris English and Patrick Cantlay. The clubhouse with its panoramic views, lunches with warm, friendly service from the bar staff adds to the whole experience of Royal Aberdeen, the world’s sixth oldest golf club and truly one of Scotland’s premier clubs.
Located directly beside Royal Aberdeen to the north, Murcar Links hosted the European Tour’s 2015 Paul Lawrie matchplay and will host the 2021 Scottish Men’s Amateur Championship. Murcar was originally designed by Archie Simpson, revised by James Braid and is a classic links test playing amongst sand dunes with pot bunkers, whin, gorse and heather ready to trap any errant shots.
Trump International Golf Links
The standout feature of Trump International is the attention to detail in the set-up and condition of the golf course. The fairways, greens, 1st cut, bunkers, tees, pathways everything is immaculately presented. The Dr Martin Hawtree layout is extremely fair, its modern design allows the golfer to see all the danger from the tee box. We felt the 3rd, 14th and 18th were all standout holes but there was not a hole we didn’t enjoy. The drive into the property is pretty special too past MacLeod House, renamed in honor of Donald Trump’s mother Mary MacLeod who was from Stornoway.
Trump International has quickly become one of Scotland's must play courses and needs to be included in any Aberdeenshire tour.
Cruden Bay Golf Club
Similar to other Old Tom Morris designs such as Lahinch and Prestwick there are numerous blind shots at Cruden Bay which has given the course a reputation of being a bit quirky. However what we found was a truly natural layout and one of the most fun links courses we have ever played. Holes 3-16 is a collection of holes that takes the golfer on a journey through sand dunes and numerous elevation changes revealing views of the rugged coastline and of the forbidding Slains Castle ruin, the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The story of the Vampire.
The Cruden Bay staff including General Manager Les Durno and assistant Elaine are part of the fabric at Cruden Bay and live and breathe the club’s history and reputation in world golf where it is currently ranked 70 in the world’s top 100 courses. Source: www.top100golfcourses.com
The St Olaf 9 hole lies on a more level piece of land in the middle of the property and is a fun way to spend an hour working off a nice lunch.
If you enjoy the classic features of links golf while using your imagination and shot making skills then Cruden Bay will be one of best courses you will ever play in your life.
Newburgh-on-Ythan Golf Club
Just 10 minutes further north than Trump International, Newburgh is still a relatively undiscovered links course in a beautiful natural setting of the Ythan estuary and Forvie Sands. It’s affordable golf, with the green fee around the £40 mark. The original back 9 plays as a traditional links while the front 9 which was added in 1994 plays over more undulating land. A modern clubhouse was opened in 2001 by Aberdeenshire resident Paul Lawrie who continues to invest in junior and grass roots golf in Scotland.
Fraserburgh Golf Club – Corbiehill
A James Braid designed links course which is 1 hour north of Aberdeen. Fraserburgh is the 7th oldest golf club in the world and golfers are treated to wildly undulating fairways, sand hills and some truly spectacular holes.
Peterhead Golf Club – Craigewan Links
The town of Peterhead is known for its seafood and is the largest white fish port in Europe. The Craigewan Links offers a classic seaside links. The original 9 hole course was designed by Willie Park Jnr and extended to 18 holes by Archie Simpson. The best stretch of holes is from 6-10, the holes furthest from the clubhouse which play amongst large sand dunes. On arrival golfers need to park up and walk over the footbridge crossing the River Ugie before arriving at the clubhouse and 1st tee, where we found the staff and members to be very welcoming and rightly proud of their club.
Newmachar Golf Club - Hawkshill
A Dave Thomas design which opened in 1990 and has quickly become Aberdeen’s premier parkland course for hosting PGA EuroPro and amateur events. Newmachar is a nice contrast to the areas leading links courses and is easy for arrival and departure day golf being situated only 10 minutes drive from Aberdeen International Airport.
Where to stay:
Meldrum House Country Hotel & Golf Course
A charming 13th century baronial mansion house with its very own stunning parkland course which is beautifully manicured. Significant investment at Meldrum House in the last few years has seen additional bedrooms and development of the public areas including the new 1236 @ Cave bar. Meldrum House is located in 240 acres outside Old Meldrum, 30 minutes to Cruden Bay, Trump International and Royal Aberdeen.
Sandman Signature Aberdeen
The Sandman Signature Hotel is one of Aberdeen’s newest hotels located in the fully converted old Robert Gordon University St Andrews Street campus. The luxurious interior offers modern rooms and apartments with high ceilings, on-site Chop Bar & Grill and atmospheric Whisky Lounge. The Sandman is within 5 minutes walking distance of Union Street and the cities historic district where you can find cocktail bars and many top Scottish seafood, Italian, Indian and steak restaurants.
The Chester Hotel
Expanded in the last year it now has 72 stylish bedrooms, The Chester Hotel is located in Aberdeen’s popular West End. The hotel has its own golf storage and drying room and award winning IX Restaurant which holds two AA Rosettes. For something less formal The Gallery Bar has its own comfort menu and serves coffees and an extensive choice of cocktails, whisky, gins, spirits and craft beers.
An historic building which dates back to the order of the Knights Templar in 1225 AD. In the last 2 years Maryculter House has undergone an extensive refurbishment transforming the entire property including the Poachers Brasserie & Bar bringing it up to modern design standards and 4-star quality.
Situated in attractive countryside on the banks of the River Dee, residents can enjoy drinks outside watching golfers play Peterculter Golf Club on the far side of the River Dee. Maryculter House is well situated for accessing the Aberdeen bypass and on to the areas leading golf courses in 25 minutes.
Furthermore, Maryculter House is ideally located at the beginning of Royal Deeside. Each year the world famous Lonach and Braemar Highland Games are held in this area and Queen Elizabeth II spends every August at the exclusive Balmoral Castle & Estate which has its very own 9-hole private parkland golf course.
Kilmarnock Arms Hotel
Bram Stoker was a regular guest during his trips to the area in the late 1800’s. Kilmarnock Arms is a small 3-star VisitScotland hotel located in Cruden Bay and offers 19 refurbished bedrooms, lounge, public bar and a popular restaurant.
The Marcliffe Hotel and Spa
The Marcliffe Hotel has welcomed political leaders, sporting icons and musical legends and is the ideal golfers retreat in luxurious surroundings. The hotel has its very own private Snooker and Golfing Memorabilia Room along with superb dining facilities serving high quality Aberdeen Angus steaks, Russian King Crabs and a wonderful selection of local seafood.
The whisky bar is well stocked with a popular choice being Aberdeenshire’s very own Glen Garioch 12-year-old single malt.