Appeared in Fall 2011 LINKS
BERNARD DARWIN called it a “noble” links and there is probably no finer description of the course that will host this year’s 43rd playing of the Walker Cup Match between the United States and Great Britain and Ireland. The Balgownie Links, home of the Royal Aberdeen Golf Club, certainly deserves its standing among the bluest of golf’s blue-blooded nobility.
Royal Aberdeen commands the sixth spot in the rankings of the world’s oldest golf institutions, while any list of the world’s greatest courses that does not have Balgownie figuring prominently in the uppermost strata can simply be dismissed for lack of credibility.
This is links golf at its most traditional and authentic, an invigorating journey through a maze of mighty sand dunes that are a feature of this stretch of northern Scotland’s Aberdeenshire coastline where not far distant Donald Trump continues his quest to build the “world’s greatest golf course,” although when the hue and cry and the sand finally settles he may well still find himself very much the “apprentice” on the other side of the fence.
It can be very fairly argued that the front nine at Royal Aberdeen ranks among the best, most picturesque, and most testing of any the British Isles has to offer. There is enormous beauty and charm on this outward stretch when the player is only ever out of sound or sight of the sea when he dips into the valley between the dunes.
Many of the tees are perched high in the sandhills overlooking Aberdeen Bay and for those who take time, as Walter Hagen so sagely advised, neither to hurry nor worry “and be sure to smell the flowers along the way,” the rewards will be many. Wildlife is abundant; seabirds constantly call their approbation of the wild and natural surroundings of the place, eider ducks patrol just off the shore, and swans on their way to the sanctuary of the Ythan Estuary a few miles to the north are regular passing observers of the scene.
The test facing the world’s top amateurs when they do Walker Cup battle in September will be as tight and demanding as many of them will have ever encountered, particularly if the wind becomes the factor that it usually is on this exposed North Sea coast. If it marginally eases the journey on a front nine that has everything, including great two-shot holes, two majestic one-shotters, and in the par-five second hole one of the finest long holes in Scottish golf, it will surely make the journey home a dour encounter, despite the fact that it is much shorter in pure yardage terms.
The Walker Cup men will have little time to ponder the history of these ancient links where some form of the game has been played since the middle of the 16th century, but if they stray into the heavy Royal Aberdeen rough they may well have cause to regret that it was here that the members decreed in 1783 under Rule Xll of the Laws of Golf drawn up by the Society of Aberdeen Golfers, that only five minutes should be allowed to search for a missing ball.