Royal Aberdeen: A course to impress every connoisseur

January 28, 2011
David Brice, Golf International, Inc.

David Brice, CEO of Golf International, reviews destinations on PGATOUR.COM that can be experienced by purchasing a package with Golf international, a leading provider of high-end international golf travel. For more information about this trip or any other of Golf International's destination trips, [click here].

When the Aberdeen Golf Club received its Royal designation from King Edward VII in 1903, there was unanimous agreement from the golfing world - the prestigious honor couldn't have gone to a more worthy club; the proud possessor of one of the worlds finest links courses. A similar opinion has recently been voiced by Golf Digest Magazine in its ranking of the World's 100 Best Courses Outside the USA, where Royal Aberdeen is listed in 48th position.

Ranked among the world's top 100 Royal Aberdeen flies under most visitor's radar.
Royal Aberdeen's notorious 8th hole is protected by 10 very serious bunkers.
Serious rough strategic bunkering and a cantankerous North Sea wind only add to the test.
The Royal Aberdeen clubhouse offers welcome relief when the battle is done.
Drama is Royal Aberdeen's middle name.
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In a country blessed with as many outstanding golf courses as Scotland, it's understandable that some escape the attention of visitors. The fact that a healthy smattering of these "forgotten" courses are among the best layouts in the entire country, is a little more difficult to comprehend. For the visiting golfer prepared to venture even just a little off the well-trodden path and look beyond the dozen or so courses with household names, there are amazing discoveries to be made.

One of the most overlooked of all Scottish golf regions is the northeast coast, surrounding the proud city of Aberdeen. Within a 20-mile radius of the city center you will find over 30 courses, the names may not be familiar, but each one is top quality and almost a third are seaside links.

The undisputed King of the area's layouts is the historic, Royal Aberdeen Golf Club, located at Balgownie links, just a mile north of Aberdeen. Founded in 1780, this is the 6th oldest golf club in existence, though the club moved to its current home in 1888. Ranked among Scotland's top 12 courses, Royal Aberdeen has one of the strongest front 9's of any course on the planet and arguably, the toughest series of closing holes in all Britain, yet this beauty remains virtually unheard of by most American visitors.

One of the few Americans quite familiar with golf in and around Aberdeen is our own, Donald Trump, who, five years ago acquired an 800-acre seaside site, not far from Royal Aberdeen. Mr. Trump "modestly" promises to build a pair of the best links courses in Scotland, boasting they will be hosting both The British Open and The Ryder Cup someday! Perhaps, Mr. Trump, but Scotland has a few other great courses that have been standing in line for a century or so for the honor, Royal Aberdeen among them.

Of course Mr. Trump also wants to build a large luxury hotel on the site, with all the usual Florida-like trimmings, including private homes and heaven knows what else, but don't be frightened away. The Donald's plans have been fraught with delays, so you still have time to experience the unspoiled Aberdeen coast, patiently waiting to show-off its historic, golfing treasures.

Royal Aberdeen is the epitome of all that is good with traditional links golf; it does so unabashedly and with the pride only a veteran could muster, proving its point from the very first tee box. This is a course for the true connoisseurs of links golf.

At first glance the layout appears to be a relatively straightforward, out and back track, running alongside the crashing North Sea. The fairways are lined with impressive sand dunes, bringing a sense of majesty to the scene, but don't be fooled by the good looks -- they belie the challenges that await. This is a seasoned old-timer, with all of the cunning and mischievous quirks, only a world-class links layout can provide. Never ever underestimate any links, least of all this one.

The original design came from brothers Archie and Robert Simpson of Carnoustie, then in 1925, the great James Braid was called in to refine the course and add some length. The Royal Aberdeen that confronts today's visitor is deceivingly short, measuring less than 6,500 yards from the tips, but be warned, it's a treacherous journey every step of the way.

There are a total of almost 100 bunkers, each and every one thoughtfully placed along the narrow fairways and around deceptively generous greens; they are ominously deep and voraciously hungry. The rough is even more fearsome -- wherever there are breaks in the liberal outcroppings of gorse and tough undergrowth, gnarly sea grasses immediately take over - this is rough you really don't want your ball to find.

The wind coming in from the North Sea is a special challenge at Royal Aberdeen where it always manages to blow a little bit harder and more erratically than elsewhere. Although the out and back layout may suggest the wind will be behind on the front nine and in front on the back, that's not quite the case. Each hole takes off at a slightly different angle than the hole before, providing a constantly varying wind direction, confusing matters even further. The meandering burn that winds its way through the course doesn't make matters any simpler.

Make no doubt about it, Royal Aberdeen is the equal of the toughest course you have ever played before and somewhere along the way, it has lost any manners it may have been taught during its youth. Rather than taking the customary approach and gently ease the player into the challenge with a couple of forgiving opening holes, the gauntlet is thrown down at the start and the fight doesn't end until you reach the 19th hole.

You may be a little battle worn at the end of your round, but there will be that wonderful feeling, perhaps known only to golfers, that you have been tested to the extreme and lived to tell the tale. After playing Royal Aberdeen, there will memories to last a lifetime and plenty of cocktail stories You will also be wondering how this remarkable links has escaped the fame it so justly deserves - but maybe those days are numbered - best get there before the crowds discover one of Scotland's best, true links gems.

For suggestions on how to best include Royal Aberdeen on your Scottish golf trip, contact the Scotland experts at Golf International by calling toll free 1 (800) 833-1389, or click here.

©2011 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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