ABERDEENSHIRE, Scotland -- The northeast of Scotland can boast some truly outstanding golf courses, and Aberdeenshire can claim a fair chunk of them.
Shaped like a divot that's at its broadest on the North Sea coast and narrows as it climbs inland, the county lies roughly halfway between Edinburgh and the northernmost tip of Scotland.
Although rightly famous for its historic links, there are some outstanding inland challenges -- especially along the banks of the beautiful River Dee -- that should not be overlooked.
A few miles down the valley from Balmoral Castle, the Queen's favorite residence, Ballater Golf Club is primarily heathland with touches of parkland. With the fast-flowing river and leaping salmon on one side and the heather-covered mountains all around, you can't fail but enjoy this exceptionally scenic course that dates back nearly 125 years to when Queen Victoria was on the throne.
Flow swiftly downstream on the Dee for about 40 miles and you will arrive at Aberdeen. Known as the Granite City, it received a massive boost in the 1960s when oil was discovered in the North Sea and it rapidly became the hub of the offshore oil industry.
Just on its northern edge of town is Royal Aberdeen Golf Club, which was founded in 1780 and is the sixth-oldest golf club in the world. Royal Aberdeen's Balgownie Course runs out and back along the North Sea coast in the time-honored way. With its revetted bunkers, towering dunes, coastal plateaus, rolling fairways, tight greens and constant breezes, it provides a delicious taste of traditional links golf.
Right next door is Murcar Links Golf Club, another outstanding course originally designed by Archie Simpson and later tweaked by James Braid. Recent sympathetic alterations have improved it further, and it could soon emerge from the shadow of its more illustrious neighbor to receive the recognition it undoubtedly deserves.
The course has everything you would hope to find in a top quality links, including wonderfully springy turf and an exceptionally wide variety of holes. And the greens are supremely quick and remarkably true. Although you might lose a few balls, you certainly won't regret playing this spectacular course, and you might enjoy it even more if you book a caddie in advance.
Travel a few miles farther north along the coast and near the previously sleepy town of Balmedie, you'll discover a dramatic new course that has created almost as big a stir as did the discovery of oil all those years ago. Designed by the extremely highly regarded Martin Hawtree on an extraordinarily promising stretch of dunes, Trump International Golf Links has already attracted plenty of plaudits.
At 7,400 yards it's certainly long enough, and the six sets of tees on each hole render it genuinely playable for golfers of all standards. If you can afford it, you really should try it out and decide for yourself if all the fuss and hype is justified.
Keep going north up the coast and you will pretty soon reach Cruden Bay Golf Club, one of the most glorious golf courses in Scotland. As soon as you arrive, walk into the clubhouse and gaze out over the dune-packed course to the North Sea beyond and soak in the beauty of it all.
Although most of the original greens have survived, much of the routing was changed about 90 years ago. Like many others, it has also been stretched over the years. Originally 5,290 yards, it now measures 6,287 yards off the regular tees and 6,615 yards off the tips.
A favorite of Tom Watson, Cruden Bay is paradise and possibly the most perfect of the splendid golf courses to be enjoyed in Aberdeenshire. Though don't tell Donald Trump I said so.