Where it all began
Links golf courses exude a fascination for me that has stayed with me ever since I first got to know them. Now the time has finally come to travel to the country where our passion originated. As there is no direct flight to Aberdeen, we first take the plane to Edinburgh. From here we take a rental car and drive relaxed on the well-developed motorway with a maximum of 70 miles to the north-east of the country.
The region of Aberdeenshire is slightly larger than Muensterland in Germany and has about 250,000 inhabitants. There are about fifty golf courses. We will concentrate on three top courses during our one-week tour, because we want to get to know as many highlights of the region as possible in addition to golfing.
Manor house from 1225
As our first accommodation we choose the picturesque situated Maryculter House Hotel, which lies a little southwest of Aberdeen, towards Royal Deeside. The River Dee, which flows into the North Sea in Aberdeen Harbour, runs directly past it.
The manor house has its origins in the 13th century. It is a former domicile of the Knights of the Order of the Temple, stylishly furnished and with wooden panelling and beamed ceilings. The Knights’ Hall and the bar invite you to linger. Our Classic River View room in traditional style is comfortably furnished and offers a great view of the Peterculter Golf Club on the other side of the river.
After a delicious breakfast with fruit, yoghurt, porridge and scrambled eggs with Scottish salmon, we explore the west and south of the region.
We drive through the scenically impressive Cairngorms National Park with its heather-covered plateaus, numerous raised bogs and forests. We make our first stop in the pretty village of Ballater.
God save the Queen and the King
We continue to the most famous castle in the region, Balmoral Castle. It is the summer residence of the British royal family. Elizabeth II stayed here between August and October, where she also died in September 2022. In the only room open to visitors, the ballroom, exhibits and photos of the royals are on display.
Actually we want to visit the nearby Braemar Castle, but unfortunately it is closed for renovation. So we drive south-east to Lochton & Leys Farm. Here we meet about 250 specimens of the typical Highland beef breed with their distinctive pony and learn interesting facts about the animals and their breeding from the owner.
We continue to the coast to Stonehaven, a worthwhile little town with a beautiful long beach and a typical small fishing harbour.
Nearby, the most sought-after photo motif in Aberdeenshire is enthroned on the cliffs. Surrounded on three sides by water, the ruins of Dunnottar Castle captivate thousands of visitors every year. We can understand why and can’t get enough of it.
Eighth-oldest golf course in the world
Then, finally, golf is on the agenda. The Aberdeen Golf Club was founded in 1780 and is a links as it is written in the book. From the venerable clubhouse with its impressive ancestral gallery, the members enjoy their food and drinks directly in front of the first tee of the championship Balgownie Course, which also hosted the Scottish Open 2014.
Separated only by the thin pane of glass, we are not impressed by this and play our drives towards the sea. In front of us are several ships waiting to enter Aberdeen Harbour.
Together with the numerous wind turbines in the North Sea, they form the typical backdrop for the course. From the second hole, the front nine runs through the hilly dune landscape directly along the sea, whose holes are considered by many to be among the most beautiful of their kind. It leads to the furthest point of the course away from the clubhouse and back from there slightly above it in parallel. The ten bunkers on the eight have a magical attraction.
While the narrow fairways and the rough on the front nine make life difficult for us, on the back nine it is the mercilessly head-on wind. Although I follow the recommendation of the starter and tee off from red, I am on the verge of giving up. But I hold out until the end and, although I am completely exhausted, I am highly satisfied with this unique golfing experience.
This is not changed by the fact that I end up in the huge bunker on the 18th below the clubhouse and have trouble getting out of it.
Murcar Links Golf Club
The next day we get to know another great old-fashioned links, the Murcar Links, founded in 1909. It borders directly on the Royal Aberdeen at its southern end and is only separated from it by a low fence. Here we can clearly see that climate change has also arrived in Scotland. The drought of the past few weeks has resulted in the fairways being an unusual colour and hard as nails, but still very playable.
The great holes run through the dunes, some right along the sea. Seven is the signature hole and is not called ‘Serpentine’ for a reason.
The course is sportingly challenging and provides us with a wonderful day of golf in the best weather
Several national amateur championships and international professional tournaments have already been held here.
Seals within reach
After the round we head north. After a short while we come to Newburgh, where the Seals sign catches our eye. We pass the entrance to Forvie National Nature Reserve, whose car park is right next to Newburgh-on-Ythan Golf Club.
We take the short path through the dunes to the mouth of the River Ythan. In the completely deserted bay, we then see black moving dots in the water, which get bigger and bigger as we get closer. Numerous seals are enjoying themselves here and wonder about the strange figures on the beach. We have the impression that they notice us, but do not feel threatened in any way.
Castles like something out of a picture book
Castles worth seeing, such as Fraser, Fyvie, Crathes, Craigievar and Huntly are located on the Castle Trail, along which a total of 19 castles or their ruins can be found. Each one is different and impressive in its own way.
Breathtaking and unique
The conclusion of our great links trio is the championship course of Cruden Bay Golf Club, which opened in 1899. Unlike the other two courses, the front and back nine do not run parallel away and back, but in two loops, partly through the huge, high dune landscape.
The warm welcome culture alone impresses us. The original mention by name on the guest board and also the guest gift in the shape and size of a pack of balls delights us. When we want to bring them into play on the round, we can’t help smiling.
Only now do we realise that it is not balls, but a small bottle of Specially Selected Single Malt Scotch Whisky. We are happy to say Sláinte Mhath and enjoy the 12-year-old dram.
After that, we swing more loosely, which is necessary on the unusual holes 3-15. Each is an experience in itself. Among our favourites are the 8-10. The eight, a short par 4, has to be played uphill into the high green surrounded by huge dunes.
It continues steeply uphill to the highest point of the course, from where we have a fantastic view of one side of the course and the completely deserted bay.
The ruins of Slain Castle tower in the background. You can’t get more Scottish than that.
Turning around, we look from the tee of the nine across the other side of the course, also along the bay. The tee shot has to be played downhill over a deep ravine.
The ten is also a challenge. Here it’s hit and hope, because the landing zone of the tee shot deep below us is not visible. We wish each other good luck, sip the rest of the bottle once more and are glad to find the balls on the fairway after the descent. As a reward, the sun comes out and accompanies us back to the clubhouse.
But before that, we have to play the tee shot of the 15 from a mini-tee box above the low-lying green of the 14 blind through a narrow ravine. But only after the traffic lights have turned green.
Everything is just right here. The course offers a sporting challenge, a lot of fun and a unique links experience with incredible views. Top100 Golf Courses ranks it 67th in the world, just like the Royal Aberdeen (63rd).
From our second domicile, the stylish Chester Hotel, we reach the three golf courses in less than half an hour. The listed original building dates back to the 19th century and now combines traditional style with super-modern design. Our spacious, chic Grand Room offers ample space and a private terrace. Ample parking is available.
The great breakfast is topped by the excellent dinner offer. My salmon tartare and steak from the local Angus beef melted in my mouth. The Malbec red wine and the subsequent whisky nightcap in the cool bar round off a wonderful evening.
The next day we take a look around Aberdeen. We are particularly impressed by the modern Art Gallery, Provost Skene’s House and the buildings of Kings College and Aberdeen University in Old Aberdeen.
Since the weather gods continue to be kind to us, we also go to the beach. We haven’t had to use our rain gear all week and the thermometer even rises to 30 degrees Celsius.
At the end of the Esplanade, we reach the former fishing village of Footdee, which lies directly at the entrance and exit of Aberdeen Harbour. The original small fishing cottages have been lovingly restored by the current owners and now attract many tourists.
At the far end of the harbour pier is the popular seafood restaurant Silver Darling. Here, on the last evening of our trip, we enjoy the sunset not only with delicious oysters, mussels and freshly caught fish, but also watch the passing of the incoming and outgoing freighters with the same curiosity as the dolphins jumping in the bay.
The end of a wonderful trip to the north-east of Scotland could not be more beautiful.