The earliest record of golf in Aberdeen was in 1565 when it was classified as an ‘unlawful amusement’ in the Aberdeen Register. 'Het Kolven', Colf, Kolf, Chole and Jeu de Mail were all ancient club and ball games played in France, Belgium and the Netherlands where a game was played on ice in the sixteenth century. Ships from these lands would certainly have traded with the port of Aberdeen. Golf as we know it was undoubtedly developed in Scotland where club making skills were required to play on the links. The earliest mention of a golf hole at Aberdeen was in 1625 when the Queen's Hole was mentioned as on the Links of Aberdeen.
In 1780 the Society of Golfers was formed with membership of the Society being determined by ballot. They played their golf on the Queen's Links which was public land close to Aberdeen city. Wealthy merchants and businessmen would obtain the clubs and balls for this new activity and start from the Footie hole on the Queen's Links. The Society introduced the five minute rule in 1783 limiting the time for searching for golf balls. A sensible idea that would be used for generations to come. In 1815 the Society changed its name to Aberdeen Golf Club. The golfers chose in 1827 to have a uniform coat worn by members when playing the game. A light-coloured Lincoln green coat was selected and may have been ready to wear at the competition for the first Gold Medal played in March 1827. However, green was not popular and in 1828 was changed to a scarlet coat with gilt metal buttons with the inscription “Aberdeen Golf Club” and a Scotch Thistle. An original red jacket is on display in the entrance foyer of the Club.
Captain H. V. Brooke in 1886 moved that 'considering the way that the links was being cut up by cricket and football players, a private course at Balgownie should be procured for golfing purposes'.
In 1888 the Club moved to Balgonie on the northern side of the River Don. It was a sound decision because this links land encapsulates the spirit of the truest form of the game. The course was originally designed by the Simpson Brothers, Archie and Robert of Carnoustie. James Braid later advised on alterations to the greens, bunkering and lengthened the course to ensure the classic links kept pace with the modern game. Hawtree and Company have more recently added their touches.
In 1872 the club received the patronage of Prince Leopold. However, the Royal title was not applied for until 1903 and granted by His Majesty King Edward VII on the 10th August that year. The course received its royal patronage after Edward VII visited member’s homes prior to a banquet on Balgownie Links, before playing nine holes there. Founded in 1780, Royal Aberdeen is the sixth oldest golf club in the world.
Royal Aberdeen Golf Course (6922yards, par 71)
Royal Aberdeen is a classic out-and-back layout. This typically means that the wind might be kind for half the holes and simply cruel on the other. The front nine runs closest to the North Sea but has more protection winding low between the dunes. The course is normally downwind and is the more attractive as it snakes between the sand dunes. It is here that you must make your score because the second nine into the wind is a battle to hold onto your score. Balgownie's front nine holes rank amongst the very best in the world. No two holes are the same except for rich turf and tight rolling fairways that are a sheer delight to behold. The Balgownie course is a traditional links layout, routed out through the dunes and back along a plateau. The front nine is especially severe and is arguably the most difficult in Scotland. It meanders between huge dunes on both sides, a visually stunning and dramatic series of golf holes. There are some carefully selected elevated drives from the top of dunes on the way out. The tee shot on the second is particularly visually appealing, a wide fairway narrows quickly before snaking out of sight between the sandhills. The challenge comes from the general topography of the undulating fairways, the bunker placement and the wonderful challenging greens. Carefully routed fairways roll like an ocean swell and greens and flags are always visible. There is little room for error. The four par three holes on the course are all challenging but the third hole is really exceptional. At 236 yards it is test of distance and accuracy with the ever-present wind to take into consideration. Downwind out and upwind in is the normal prevailing conditions. The whole course is very challenging with several blind shots particularly on the back nine. The views of the course are spectacular. The front nine could well be the finest nine holes of links golf in the world, meandering over and around massive dunes and cutting its way through some wonderful dune formations. Hole after hole the course just keeps on delivering world-class holes for us to enjoy, savour and remember. In contrast, the back nine sits on a high plateau above the links along the coast. Sweeping and exposed, the back nine is as stern as the front nine is capricious.
At the turn, you slip inland where the landscape rises above the opening holes. Not much, but enough to give you views, both out to sea and towards Aberdeen. The fairways on the back nine are less chaotic in shape, but flags are still visible and greens still deceptively tricky to find, with strong, deep bunkering.
It is a challenging links course with some very narrow fairways. The front nine is tough, the back nine is more gentle but there are no weak holes. At times some say that you can be over penalised by finding gorse just off the fairway, but the gorse does add more than a dash of colour. If you think that you are up to the challenge try the course on a windy day. If you survive, you are a true links golfer. Balgownie is one of the finest links routings in golf. It's a course to test the better golfer, one who can accommodate the many variable conditions this arduous links can throw at you.
The inward nine while not quite as gruelling is nearly always played into the prevailing wind. Royal Aberdeen is one of the truest linksland layouts with the North Sea in the near distance. The inland nine returns south over the flatter plateau. A traditional old Scottish links, it is well-bunkered with undulating fairways and large greens. It has an excellent balance of holes, strong par 4's, tricky par 3's and three classic par 5's, The ever-changing wind, tight-protected greens and a magnificent finish makes Balgownie a test for the very best. It is the embodiment of an authentic, genuine and pure links golf experience which not only gives us eighteen fabulous holes but it takes us on a thrilling journey of discovery through the dunes on the outward half before testing our metal into the wind on the back nine along the plateau. Played over the keenest of turf and maximising the natural undulations of the land quite exquisitely you find yourself in golfing dreamland at Royal Aberdeen, situated just on the northern edge of the Granite City. With even just the slightest of breezes the ground game is the preferred way into the majority the greens which are not the most heavily contoured but feel just perfect for the environment. The links produces the perfect mix of challenge, fun, exasperation and reward. In comparison the run for home isn’t as magical, but the test of character required on the inward half played into the prevailing wind is just as rich and rewarding. The holes themselves, both individually and collectively, are still of an exceptionally high standard. Holes 10, 11 and 12 would still be the envy of most courses and serve up classic links golf. The views coming in on the back nine towards the spires of Aberdeen city centre are unique in the game. The club has a progressive attitude towards continuous course improvements and that, combined with excellent reports on the superb condition of the course, means it thoroughly deserves to hold its high place in the top ten of the Scottish rankings.
Some Memorable Holes
Hole 1 – 409 yards, par 4, index 9 - The tee box is located directly to the front of the clubhouse windows. You drive to a wide well bunkered fairway that rolls gradually downhill with the sea as a backdrop. The approach is across a sunken valley with a deep hollow just before the elevated table top green, with a back drop of the North Sea sparkling in the distance on a good day. The green with a false front is just about 50 yards from the North Sea.
Hole 2 - 595 yards, par 5, index 3 - The second is a wonderful par five that requires both length and accuracy. The contours are big and bold and completely natural. It needs a long carry over grassy hillocks then on through the windy, winding valley with high dunes on the right and tangling gorse to the left. Finally a challenging approach shot to plot a course to the green. It runs parallel to the sea and is a wonderful introduction to the dunes.
Hole 9 - 465 yards, par 4, index 5 - This hole is said to be Tom Watsons favourite. The hole is a classic dog leg right with all kinds of trouble requiring conservative play. The approach will be a long, uphill shot needing plenty of club to reach the green tucked in the dunes
Hole 17 - 181-yard, par 3, index 18 - This short par three is enchanting with a cascading three tiered green ringed by bunkers. You must try and find the correct level and do not go long. The sea provides a wonderful backdrop.
Hole 18 - 440 yards, par 4, index 10 - This is a most brutal finishing hole especially when it is played into the wind. It requires a fairly long drive to clear a hill otherwise you could find your ball ending up going backwards. It then needs a long iron or wood to reach the distant green. There is endless trouble to avoid. It is a classic tough finishing hole.
Selected Tournaments at Royal Aberdeen
Over the years Royal Aberdeen has played host to many memorable tournaments. It is at traditional out-and-back links with outstanding conditioning, coastal views, blind shots, undulations, and plenty of long-rough. Presentation from rough, second cut through to fairways blends harmoniously with the dramatic contours of the landscape and could not fail to impress. Royal Aberdeen should be near the top of the must-play list for links connoisseurs. A high-quality course at an historic club that the links purist will love. It’s rugged and rumpled but carefully thought out and the surfaces are of the highest possible quality.
2005 The Senior British Open Championship at Royal Aberdeen
This was the first time the club had hosted a major championship on any golf tour, the tournament was won by Tom Watson with a 4-under par-score of 280 following a play-off against Des Smyth.
2014 Scottish Golf Open at Royal Aberdeen
This was the first time a European Tour event had been held at Royal Aberdeen. The defending champion Phil Mickelson and world number one Rory McIlroy plus countless other stars from around the world competed. During the first round of the tournament, Rory McIlroy set a new course record with a 7-under-par 64 but dropped back with 78 in the second round. In the last round England’s Justin Rose held off a strong challenge from Sweden’s Kristoffer Broberg to win with four sub 70 rounds (69, 68, 66, 65) and a 16 under par total of 268.
Rose had also won two weeks before in the Quicken Loans National, hosted by Tiger Woods. This was the first time he's won back-to-back tournaments in which he's played and it moved him to third place in the world rankings. Coming into the final round tied with Marc Warren, Rose made five birdies on the front nine to give himself a three-shot lead going into the home stretch. He made a further birdie on the twelfth and calmly parred out.