At Almost 250 Years Old, Royal Aberdeen is a Links with History

Golf in the North East of Scotland

The northeast is not the most famous of the golfing regions of Scotland. The majority of visiting golfers tend to go the Ayrshire, the St Andrews area, East Lothian and north of Inverness. However, the northeast has so much golf to offer those who are not afraid of trying something new. On this trip, we will visit and play at Cruden Bay, Newburgh on Ythan, Trump International Aberdeen and firstly, Royal Aberdeen. You should note that these four are among over FIFTY golf courses within an hour’s drive of Aberdeen. There is plenty of choice to suit all tastes and budgets both in golf courses and accommodation.

Royal Aberdeen

The 19th Hole

The Royal Aberdeen Golf Club is one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious golf clubs. Founded in 1780, just four years after the American Declaration of Independence, it boasts a legacy deeply rooted in the Scottish golfing tradition.

The club’s origins trace back to when golf was gathering momentum in Scotland, evolving from its humble beginnings on the linksland. Initially known as the Society of Golfers at Aberdeen, the club was granted its royal status in 1903 by King Edward VII, in recognition of its esteemed reputation and contribution to the sport. The club’s original course, known as the Queen’s Links was closer to Aberdeen than the course as it is today.

Moving On

The layout was designed by the renowned architect Archie Simpson, an apprentice of Old Tom Morris. It opened in 1888 and is 5 1/2 miles north of the city centre. The course was later lengthened and re-bunkered by James Braid. The current layout utilises the natural contours of the land, incorporating strategic bunkering and undulating fairways that continue to test the skills of golfers to this day.

The course’s reputation precedes it as it’s considered one of the best in Scotland. It’s our first visit to Royal Aberdeen and we were looking forward to seeing how our golf game copes on this championship links.

The Links

The course has five sets of tees to play from. These vary in yardage from 5199 yards to 6916 yards. As always, choose the set of tees to match your handicap and game. We chose to play from the yellow tees at 6245 yards with a slope rating of 138 and a par of 71.

We were joined on the first tee by a South African couple, Rhett and Samantha, who were in the UK on holiday. They were both members of the Royal Port Alfred Golf Club, located on the coast midway between Durban and Cape Town. Rhett and Sam were trying to play as many of the Royal clubs as they could on this trip.

The Vagaries of the Scottish Weather

Standing on the first tee, we couldn’t have asked for a better day to play links golf. It was warm, with very little wind and the sun was peeking through the high clouds. Within 20 minutes of teeing off, the temperature dropped by 10 degrees and the haar came in off the North Sea. The haar or marine layer, happens when the warm air passes over the cold sea and a mist or fog forms. It wasn’t that bad as we could still see far enough to play golf however it meant putting on extra layers. The South Africans were getting the full East Coast Scottish Links experience!

It also meant that many of the photos we took of the holes couldn’t be used in this article. We contacted Richard Johnstone, Master Greenkeeper and the Course Manager at Royal Aberdeen. Richard has provided all of the photos you will see from now on. Thank you, Richard.

Playing Out

Like most historical links courses, the front nine holes move out from the clubhouse and along the coastline. Royal Aberdeen is no exception to that “rule”. The front nine has a par of 36 and our favourite holes were the opening 3 holes and the 8th. That’s not to say that we didn’t like the rest, it’s just that we thought these were the standout holes. It’s all about opinions after all.

The view from the 1st Green 

The opening hole is a toughie. At 400 yards, it’s not overly long however there’s out-of-bounds to the left (as we found out) and your second shot is all carry to the green. What you can’t see from the fairway is a gully which runs up to the front of the green. You need to pick a club that will reach the centre of the green although not enough that you go over the back. You have been warned!

The 2nd hole 

The second hole is the longest hole on the course. A par 5, which from the championship tee is almost 600 yards. It was no pushover from the yellow tee at 549 yards and it plays slightly uphill. It’s a challenging hole due to the topography, lumps, bumps and swales everywhere. Depending on where your tee shot finishes, you might be able to advance your second shot 200 yards. Alternatively, you may be hitting a wedge and leaving yourself a 200-yard third shot. That is the essence of links golf, sometimes you are lucky, and other times patience and strategy are required.

Tricky Par 3’s

The longest par 3

The longest hole on the course is quickly followed by the longest par 3. At over 200 yards, the third is challenging, to say the least. From the championship tee, it’s almost 250 yards! The hole plays slightly downhill (thankfully) and the green is a really small target to find, especially with a long iron or hybrid. There is a bunker on the left so err toward the right side where you can putt from if not on the green.

The 8th hole

Standing on the tee at Royal Aberdeen’s signature hole, the 8th, you don’t get any sense of the danger that awaits you. The 8th is the shortest hole on the course at less than 150 yards, you need to hit an accurate short iron to find the green. Miss the green; chances are you will find one of the NINE bunkers surrounding the putting surface. Par 3’s don’t have to be long to give you nightmares!

Playing In

The back nine is not as dramatic as the front nine. That’s due to the front nine being played through the dunes and the back nine sitting on a plateau inland. That said, it has some fantastic challenging holes with blind tee shots and undulating greens more prevalent. Our favourites were the 10th and the closing two holes.

Approach to the 10th green

The 10th has a blind tee shot over a dune. There are markers on the top of the dune and the line depends on what tee you are hitting off from. Find the fairway and the photo above shows you your second shot. Out of bounds and bunkers right at the green, and don’t be short, left or long, this is a very tricky hole where par is a great score.

Finishing Off in Style

We loved the opening three holes to the championship course at Royal Aberdeen and we also loved the closing two holes. A tough par 3 followed by an even tougher par 4. Finish with two pars and you will deserve that pint in the 1780 Bar.

Another great view from the 17th green

We think the 17th was one of the hardest holes on the course to make par at. At 165 yards it’s not the longest however with a three-tiered putting surface, two putting is not a given IF you hit the green. The green is protected by 5 bunkers with a run-off area on the left side. Do not take on the back pin as going long is not an option!

Looking back down the 18th

The 18th is a strong finishing hole. It’s 426 yards and the difficulty is the second shot. It’s uphill and the green is on a plateau so it’s difficult to judge. The green is large and undulating and even if you are successful in reaching the putting surface, two putts are not guaranteed.

In Our Opinion

Royal Aberdeen is in many ways a classic links course. Dramatic holes through dunes, blind shots, undulating fairways, run-off areas and tough-to-read greens. We were lucky. It was challenging enough for us on a calm day, it must be really difficult on a windy day. If you are a lover of pure links golf then this is a must-play. You should add it to your itinerary if you are heading to the east coast of Scotland. After all, it’s only 82 miles north of the Home of Golf in St. Andrews.

Thank you to General Manager Keith Grant for hosting us. Thanks also to Kamran in the pro shop for looking after us and showing us around. Thank you to Richard for the photos and also to our playing companions Rhett and Sam. We hope the rest of your trip is as good as the first three weeks.

At a Glance
  • The Sixth Oldest Club in the World
  • Traditional Scottish Links Courses
  • The Balgownie and the shorter Silverburn courses
  • The Club is almost 250 years old
  • Well-stocked Pro Shop
  • 10 minutes north of Aberdeen City Centre
  • 2 1/2 hours drive from Edinburgh Airport
  • 50 courses within an hour’s drive
  • For more info, visit



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