Aberdeen: The glittering jewel of Northeast Scotland

May 29, 2012
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.

Royal Aberdeen - a top ranked links,sits at the gateway to Scotland's whisky country
Aberdeen's newest golf attraction, Trump International, opens this summer and promises to bring a new focus on the region's golf
Murcar - skill and strategy will be more useful than brute strength
Cruden Bay was a combined effort of Old Tom Morris and Archie Simpson
Firmly established among Britain's very best, Royal Aberdeen belongs on your must play list

Edinburgh's fame as Scotland's romantic and historic capital is universal; its world famous castle, the medieval old town and the elegant, Georgian New Town, are Scottish icons and on the must see list of virtually every visitor. Glasgow, as the country's second city has garnered attention because of its dramatic transformation from a somewhat tacky, industrial town, to a sleek, chic modern-day metropolis. Today, Glasgow's abundance of magnificent Victorian and Art Deco architecture literally shines, attracting visitors from around the globe, who also find the myriad of shopping opportunities, irresistible.

But Scotland is not a country of only two cities and there are others with attractions, including top-class golf, that are nothing less than either Edinburgh or Glasgow, but somehow manage to escape much attention. At the top of the list must come Scotland's third largest, Aberdeen and the 40 golf courses (including a few of Scotland's best) all located within a half hour of the city center.

Dating from the early 12th century, Aberdeen is not lacking in history and is home to one of Scotland's oldest and most respected universities, which first opened its doors in the 15th century. Often called the Granite City because of the locally quarried, silver and pink granite used in the construction of many of its fine buildings, Aberdeen has a unique elegance that dazzles every visitor. Wide streets, impressive architecture, 900 years of history and a look of polished refinement, begin to tell the story.

Success is no stranger to Aberdeen and for the past three decades, the Granite City has prospered as the heart of Britain's off-shore oil industry, with all of the accoutrements prosperity brings. This is a thriving center for the arts and culture, with excellent museums, theatres and art galleries. There's a dizzying array of restaurants offering everything from haute-cuisine to pub-grub and everything in-between. Aberdeen also has a popping nightlife, some of the best shopping in Britain and for history buffs, a wealth of discoveries to be made.

The Aberdeen Art Gallery is a dramatic, granite building containing one of the most important art collections in the country. Focused on 18th to 20th century paintings, works by Raeburn, Hogarth, Ramsay and Reynolds; impressionists Monet, Pissarro, Sisley and Bonnard and more recent masters, Nash, Nicholson and Francis Bacon, all feature prominently.

The Maritime Museum is housed in a 16th century Mayor's home, the oldest surviving building in the city. Provost Skene House is a period museum dating from the early 17th century. Looking for a change of pace in sightseeing? Stop by the Fish Market in the city center, perhaps the liveliest anywhere and a fascinating experience.

A pleasant walk north of the city center is the Old Town where Aberdeen University's two original colleges are located -- Kings College, which welcomed its first students in 1483, is Britain's oldest school of medicine. Nearby Marischal College was founded in 1593. While here, don't miss the Cathedral of St. Machar, another architectural wonder from the 15th century, with an amazing heraldic ceiling and superb, contemporary, stained glass windows.

But there's much more to Aberdeen than an attractive and very interesting city. Some of the best salmon and trout fishing in all of Europe is to be found in the River Dee that reaches the North Sea at the city gates. Aberdeen marks the start of the famous Castle Trail, a road signed route that takes you around 15 or so of the best of the many centuries old castles and stately homes located surrounding the city. Spend a half day on the Castle Trail or longer, viewing as many or as few of these historic structures as you wish, but take the time to at least see one or two.

Staying in Aberdeen also places you within easy striking distance of the richest concentration of whisky distilleries in all of Scotland. Glen Garioch Distillery will be the closest and barely 12 miles away from Aberdeen. Drive little more than a half hour from the city and you will be in Speyside and the thick of some of the most prestigious distilleries of all. The Macallan, Strathisla, Glenfiddich, Cardhu and 30 more Rolls-Royce's of single malt whiskies, all conveniently located within a few miles of each other -- it's a whisky aficionado's dream.

Whisky, salmon fishing, castles, an intriguing city and gorgeous Highlands scenery is already a full plate and more than enough to satisfy the most insatiable visitor curiosity, but not the golfers, a group Aberdeen will not disappoint. There are some 40 quality golf courses located within a 20-mile radius of the city and no more than a 30-minute drive, with many, including some of the best, much closer.

Two names that should be at the very top of every serious golfer's play list are Cruden Bay and Royal Aberdeen, a pair of links jewels that are on Golf Digest's new, 2009 rankings of The World's Best 100 Courses Outside of the USA. Every player with any appreciation for links golf will only be enthralled with these two classic centenarians, but they are still only the beginning of Aberdeen's golfing extravaganza. The names may be unfamiliar, but don't let that deter you, this is a golfers paradise, filled to over-flowing with golfing gems.

There are prime links layouts such as Murcar, sharing the same dunes and coastline with Royal Aberdeen, which many locals maintain is every bit the equal of its celebrity, next-door neighbor. The dispute over which is the better course, has gone on for years and will probably never be resolved, so play both and come to your own decision.

Cruden Bay sits a short half hour drive along the coast road, north of Aberdeen and just 10 minutes further brings you to Peterhead Golf Club, a raw links with a fighting spirit that will test the mettle of any challenger. Founded in 1841, this is the world's 18th oldest course and one that can only earn a place in your memory book.

It will take another 10 minutes along the coast road to reach Fraserburgh Golf Club, which lays claim to being the 6th oldest in the world, having been organized in 1777 -- if you were looking for history, this is it. Wildly undulating fairways, sand hills, unpredictable winds, wonderful views and some truly spectacular holes makes Fraserburgh a stern test from start to finish -- don't be surprised if this oldie gives you one of the most exhilarating rounds of your trip.

Head south from Aberdeen and 20 minutes of driving will bring you to Stonehaven Golf Club, another centenarian with the good-looks of a movie star. Enjoying an idyllic cliff-top location and unbelievable views, Stonehaven is far more that just a pretty face, with an invigorating, spunky challenge that is nothing less than pure delight.

Leave the North Sea and experience one or two of Aberdeen's inland courses, they provide a welcome break from the constant wind battering of the links layouts and here in the Highland's, have a special beauty and personality entirely of their own. They also give the opportunity to turn a half day's golf into a full day excursion of golf and sightseeing, taking in a couple of castles after golf, or perhaps a whisky distillery or two.

Banchory Golf Club sits less then 20-miles from Aberdeen, amid some of the most enchanting scenery. Flanked by the picturesque River Dee with a backdrop of mountains and forests, the setting is picture perfect and unadulterated Highlands. The course is short, only a hair over 5,800 yards, but don't let that fool you. Cunningly positioned bunkers, mature trees and the inevitably fearsome river, combine to form a serious defense arsenal and a testy though thoroughly enjoyable challenge for all.

After golf, stop by Crathes Castle, a fairytale, 16th century castle, located three miles outside of town. Visitors are welcomed and if you are lucky, you may get a glimpse of the ghost, said to reside in the castle's Green Lady's room.

Ballater Golf Club is another charmer with a lot of appeal to those who enjoy the pleasures of Highland scenery, but with the famous Royal Lochnagar Whisky Distillery only a few miles up the road, whisky lovers will take a liking to Ballater as well. Royal Lochnagar is one of the most exclusive whisky's and was awarded its Royal title by Queen Victoria in 1884 when she was staying at the nearby Royal residence, Balmoral Castle, another sightseeing treat that shouldn't be missed while you are here.

Aberdeen has been blessed with so many attractions; it really does have something for everyone and perhaps, especially for golfers. Come here to play Cruden Bay and Royal Aberdeen, but don't overlook the other three dozen courses in the area or the many other off-course attractions that abound.

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

©2012 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Golf International -- Providers of quality golf travel arrangements since 1988.