As a local of Aberdeenshire and a PGA professional who competed and coached in the area, Malcom Issacs takes you an insider's guide to golf in the area. If you are moving the area or spending time here on a frequent basis, or just wanting to try something new, this guide is for you.
In Scotland more than anywhere else, golf is the 'people's game'. This means that the country is not full of exclusive and private golf clubs. This couldn't be more true in Aberdeenshire. Access is not a problem at almost all courses. But more striking than that is the difference in style and attitude of the average golfer here versus other countries.
Common cliches of golf that include car parks full of BMW's, or a bag full of very expensive clubs or even a dress sense bordering on the ridiculous are simply much harder to come across. More common is a lack of fuss, of playing in around three hours and an insistence on participating in any weather!
Golf membership has changed in recent years - many clubs removing their joining fee requirements or seeing their waiting lists disappear as many casual golfers adopt a pay and play approach.
This makes the task of finding a new club much easier though. There are more options and there is less up front financial commitment. If you are just getting into golf some clubs will offer a 'beginners membership' that includes coaching and is cheaper than a full membership that would include access to competitions.
Personally I think these memberships are vital to the health of the game and ensure more women and children get into the game. Golf is difficult so the more barriers to participation that can be removed, the healthier the game will be. Equipment for hire, help to improve technique and other people who are of similar ability are important features for someone beginning their golfing journey.
Corporate golf opportunities also abound in an area that is synonymous with the oil industry. Whether it be company days out in the summer months or guest passes for a day out with clients, there is much value to be had. Not just for multi-national corporations, you will find clubs willing to offer the flexibility required by smaller companies and organisations.
And so to the Aberdeen golf scene.
The notorious Donald Trump has drawn much attention to the area with his recently built course along the stunning sand dunes of Balmedie - just a few minutes north of the city centre. It's visually one of the most striking layouts you can ever play. The scale of the sand dunes and the unique way it winds between them make it an unforgettable game of golf. Corporate opportunities abound as well as green fee deals for Aberdeen residents.
If you don't play at least get out to Balmedie for a breezy hike (or run) and enjoy the spectacle of gorgeous sandy beaches that stretch as far as the eye can see in both directions. These sand dunes play host to stunning selection of other clubs. Further north Cruden Bay, Peterhead and Fraserburgh balance historic design with the variety of holes to make it a fresh challenge for even the most enthusiastic members!
Closer to the city Newburgh-upon-Ythan GC (five minutes north of Trump’s course) and Kings Links (only a stone's throw from Pittodrie Stadium - literally!) offer stunning value whether a visitor or member. Both exist upon quality links turf that cannot be replicated by man and offer a stunning visual experience. These popular clubs offer courses that are accessible to all abilities.
One of the sternest challenges in Scotland, not just Aberdeenshire, would widely be considered Murcar Links. This course is not for the faint hearted. Having been a member myself I can attest to this! There are few bail out areas. The rough is severe. The wind sweeps across the open links land. Blind shots. Small greens. Narrow fairways. Elevation change. Doglegs. It has it all. Are you up for the challenge?
Paul Lawrie hosted his inaugural match play challenge in 2015 at Murcar. The choice of Murcar as a matchplay venue was genius. When we played the stroke-play Northern Open at Murcar (Scottish Region PGA pro's) many of us opted for quite a defensive strategy. A matchplay event creates better TV as players take on high tariff shots and the risk reward nature of the course becomes apparent. From a member's perspective, the adjoining nine hole Strabathie course is a great place to squeeze in a few holes after work or to be less penalized for the occasional stray shot!
Aberdeen's oldest course (the UK's 6th oldest!) has the rare claim of a Royal prefix. Royal Aberdeen is a club steeped in history, attached to some of the most famous names in golf. It again pushed its way into the golfing public's consciousness by hosting the Walker Cup in 2011, the 2005 Senior Open Championship and the European Tour's Scottish Open in 2014.
The events were a success with the USA, Tom Watson and Justin Rose running out victors. Rory Mcilroy too, left his mark, shooting a course record 64 and hitting a drive 430 yards!
Although not as well known as its coastal cousins, Aberdeenshire's inland golf scene is vibrant and original. I'm biased towards Newmachar with it's challenging thirty six holes, slick greens and awesome practice facilities. It's one of the few to offer a grass range as well as a range only membership. Membership options are many to cover a range of course, golfer types and multiple corporate members located nearby in Dyce.
Meldrum House offers great value and facilities and if you are based on the north side of the city it shouldn't take too long to reach. It’s a very American in design with many water features and multiple sets of tees. The biggest challenge we faced in competing there was the greens - vast in size their severe contours made good putting an essential attribute to have.
The most traditional and perhaps popular club (maybe due to its central location) is Deeside Golf Club. One of the few clubs in the UK to maintain a joining fee and waiting list, Deeside can count on having Paul Lawrie as a member and a clubhouse that is the popular centre of the local community. If you get the chance to play - do not bypass the opportunity to enjoy the clubhouse restaurant afterwards!
Honourable mentions must go to Peterculter, Banchory, Kemnay and Aboyne for having a wonderful setup - I wish I had the space to detail each one!
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DRIVING RANGES & SHOPS
Across the River Dee from Deeside GC, lies Paul Lawrie's very own facility. His golf centre features a par three course that forces you to use almost every club in your bag, a covered range with around thirty bays, a bustling shop, a delightful coffee shop run by his wife and a short game are you could only dream of! Certainly the coaching centre of the north, the three full time coaching professionals give the place a real buzz day to day. With cutting edge tech such as Trackman in place you will get an experience highly rated by many.
Another well known golf shop and indeed with an international e-commerce reputation is Gamola Golf. Located close to Union Square in the city, Gamola is housed a grand old building once home to a popular casino. The vast space and high ceilings make for a fantastic shopping experience. With a huge warehouse on site for the internet orders you will have a choice from tens of thousands of items!
Above the store is Aberdeen’s only indoor golf centre. A facility more common in countries such as Canada and Norway, indoor golf offers protection from the elements and relaxed atmosphere to enjoy the game.
Perhaps the busiest golf 'location' in Aberdeen is Kings Links Driving Range and shop - located beside Kings Links golf course and also beside Pittodrie Stadium. You will see it clearly from the beach boulevard. A floodlit range with quality balls and excellent shop awaits!
In a thriving golf community such as Aberdeen it can be very hard to make a recommendation for your new home club. Everyone requires such different things from a club - some may want a busy club where hundreds compete in each medal, others wish for a quiet course on which they can play varying routes and many require only a vibrant nineteenth hole experience! It's always worth asking the club to pair you up for a round with a member so you can get an opinion and overview on what it's like to be a member at the club, as well as seeing if the course is to your liking.
This article was written by Golf Pro Malcolm Isaacs, founder of Dogleg Golf. Launching in 2017 Dogleg Golf is an international social golf network to help golfers create and join awesome golf experiences!
Add your friends, find other golfers in your area and make a great game of golf a piece of cake to organise. Sign up at www.golfdogleg.com