Golfers the world over know St. Andrews is where the game began. Consequently, a pilgrimage to golf's homeland is high on the wish list of all those who care about golf's history and traditions.
There's much more to Scotland than simply St Andrews, however, and hundreds of fabulous golfing delights are located outside the Kingdom of Fife. Some are renowned throughout the world, while others are comparatively unknown. But because of the democratic nature of golf in Scotland, nearly all welcome visitors.
With that in mind, let's take a look at golf in Aberdeenshire.
Situated on the eastern half of Scotland, well to the north of Edinburgh about half-way to the extreme northern tip of Scotland, Aberdeenshire gets progressively more mountainous the further inland you go. Although famous for its historic links golf courses that border the North Sea, there are some fine inland challenges, especially along the banks of the beautiful River Dee.
Ballater Golf Club
One of the loveliest of these is beautiful Ballater Golf Club. Just down the road from the Queen's favorite residence, Balmoral Castle, the course is primarily heathland with touches of parkland. With the 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 to 1892.
Royal Aberdeen Golf Club
Following the River Dee for about 40 miles as it swiftly flows downstream and you arrive in the port of Aberdeen. A city that received a massive boost in the 1960s when oil was discovered in the North Sea, it is now the established hub of the offshore oil industry. Just on its northern edge is Royal Aberdeen, which was founded in 1780 and is the sixth-oldest golf club in the world.
Originally designed by Archie and Robert Simpson of Carnoustie and later re-bunkered and lengthened by James Braid, 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 at its brilliant best.
Next door to Royal Aberdeen is Murcar Links, another outstanding course that was originally designed by Archie Simpson and later improved by James Braid. Possibly slightly overshadowed by its famous neighbor, Murcar is less well known and has not really received the accolades and recognition it undoubtedly deserves.
It has everything you would hope to find in a top quality links course, including wonderfully springy turf and an exceptionally wide variety of holes. And the greens are both supremely quick and extraordinarily true. Maybe these qualities have helped produce a remarkably talented membership because no fewer than 100 members have a 5 handicap of less and the highest handicap in the 12-man club side is 1.
Former British Open champion Paul Lawrie is a regular visitor and formally opened the new clubhouse in 2006. Although you might lose a ball or three, you certainly won't regret playing this spectacular course and you might enjoy it even more if you book a caddie in advance.
Trump International Golf Links
Just a few miles north along the coast near the previously sleepy town of Balmedie, a new course is nearing completion that has created an even bigger stir in the area than the discovery of oil did all those years ago. Scheduled to open in July, there can be few golfers on the planet unaware of the ballyhoo and controversy that has surrounded the much-heralded new Trump course, Trump International Golf Links.
According to both eyewitnesses and the photos, it very much looks as though all the fuss and hype are justified. With a sensationally promising stretch of land with which to work, all the indications are that Trump and his team have produced something truly outstanding.
Cruden Bay Golf Club
Carry on north along the coast and after 18 or so miles you will arrive at one of the most glorious golf courses in Scotland, if not the world. On arrival at Cruden Bay Golf Club, before doing anything else, simply walk into the clubhouse and gaze through the picture windows out over the dune-filled course to the North Sea beyond and soak in the magnificence of it all.
Although most of the original greens designed by Old Tom Morris and Archie Simpson at the end of the 19th century have survived, Tom Simpson and Herbert Fowler changed much of the routing in 1926. Like many others, it has also been stretched over the years. Originally 5,290 yards, it now measures 6,287 yards of the regular tees and 6,615 yards off the championship tees.
A favorite of Tom Watson, Cruden Bay is paradise and possibly the most perfect of the splendid courses to be enjoyed in Aberdeenshire.