Founded in 1780, Royal Aberdeen is the sixth oldest golf club in existence. For the first 35 years, the club was known as The Society of Golfers at Aberdeen, with membership being determined by ballot. The Aberdeen Golf Club was formed in 1815 on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo, and its members continued to play on the Queen’s Links, a strip of common land between the Don and Dee Rivers, until 1888 when they migrated to the current links at Balgownie.
Captain H.V. Brooke, in 1886, didn’t like the way the land was being cut up by soccer and cricket players. He felt a private course at Balgownie should be procured for “golfing purposes.” So in 1888, the Aberdeen Golfers “folded their tents and silently stole away” to the peaceful seclusion of Balgownie Links. They brought the old ballot box bearing the 1780 date and the Captain’s Chair dated three years earlier. Both items can still be viewed within the current clubhouse.
While the club received the patronage of Prince Leopold in 1872, it wasn’t until 1903 that the club officially used the “Royal” name, which was bestowed upon the club by His Majesty King Edward VII.
Many changes occurred to the Balgownie Links over its first 15 years of existence. The course was under the care of head professional Archie Simpson of Carnoustie and his brother, Robert. Renowned architect Tom Simpson made further revisions to the course and in 1925, James Braid’s “cosmetic refinements” improved the greens and bunkers.
From its earliest beginnings, Royal Aberdeen Golf Club has promoted the game by bringing elite golfers to its venue. Old Tom Morris, Henry Cotton, Tony Lema, Tony Jacklin, Greg Norman and Tom Watson have all graced the property. The club has hosted the Scottish Amateur Championship, the Scottish Stroke Play, the Scottish Boys, the Boys Amateur, the Scottish Ladies’ Amateur and in 2005, the Senior British Open. This will be the first Walker Cup held at the course. Richie Ramsey, the 2006 U.S. Amateur champion, grew up at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club.
The Balgownie Course is a classic links layout that goes out through the dunes and returns along a plateau.
Ronnie MacAskill, Royal Aberdeen’s director of golf, lists his three favorite holes as the par-3 eighth, the par-4 17th and the par-4 18th.
“The 18th is probably the most difficult hole on the course,” writes MacAskill on Royal Aberdeen’s website. “Into the prevailing wind, it is often out of reach even for the low, single-figure handicap golfer.
“With bunkers left and right and the added attraction of out of bounds to the left, a long straight drive is the only option. The second shot to yet another well-bunkered and elevated green is everything in the bag unless you are very well through the valley. Very rarely do you find the club golfer firing their second shot to the heart of the 18th green. A true classic to the finish.”