Balgownie & Silverburn Courses
Balgownie is one of the truest linksland layouts in golf. It's a course to test the better golfer, one who can accommodate the many variable conditions this arduous links can throw at you. Balgownie's front nine holes rank amongst the very best in the world. No two are the same within a natural ecosystem, interspersed with rich turf and tight rolling fairways, that is a sheer delight to behold. The Balgownie course is a classic links layout - out through the dunes and back along a plateau. The 1st offers a wide fairway playing slightly downhill from the elevated clubhouse (the tee box set immediately in front of the clubhouse windows) before dropping into a deep hollow just before the raised green. On a course that is not known for its large greens, the 1st offers one of the more difficult, leaning towards you and sloping off to the left with Aberdeen Beach immediately behind. The following holes make up the most unaffected piece of golf terrain you are ever likely to encounter and worthy of all the praise and rancour that gets poured upon it. The 2nd is a wonderfully natural par 5, a long carry over grassy hillocks then on through the windy, winding valley with high dunes on the right and tangling gorse to the left. It can seem relatively calm in the valley and so it is easy to be deceived. Long, low irons along the markedly undulating fairway might help avoid the full strength of any bluster. The 3rd is an exceptional, and by the stroke index the hardest of the par 3’s on the course. The challenge is mainly due to its length, an elevated tee shot at 248yds off the championship tee and depending on the wind direction it can be everything you’ve got in the bag and more. There is the opportunity to land it short and to the right of the green, there the ball will tend to be gathered by the slopes and run down to the fringe or if it has the legs the green. Stroke Index 1 occurs at the 4th where you must initially find the fairway but just like the 3rd hole the high tee creates more of a wind influence. A good tee shot preferably down the right side of the fairway will allow a more favourable line into long and narrow green. If you simply place the ball over 200 yards at the 5th it can be a good birdie opportunity, leaving around 130 yards into a well-protected green. A driver’s clearly not necessary as the hole becomes more difficult the closer in you get. The front-right greenside bunker (behind which the pin is often placed) gathers up everything so be longer on the approach. The 6th is another birdie chance, not a long par 5 and hitting into a sunken valley. The 2nd shot is critical as the fairway again bottlenecks and the green is well protected by bunkers just short and front of the green, so going longer is best or lay up for a short pitch in. There is a pinch of fairway showing from the 7th tee indicating a dog-leg right but faint-hearted first-timers shouldn’t take chances and simply play a straight shot for position preferably on the left side of the fairway otherwise the least that could happen is you catch the fairway bunker on the right. From any fairway position, the narrow green entrance with its protective bunkers and mounds calls for judicious play. The two pot bunkers around 10 yards short of the green create an illusion that they are closer. It is a two-tiered green running across the putting surface so be mindful of the pin placement. The 8th is the course’s signature hole, a par 3 that changes its spots to suit conditions, a 3-iron one day, a pitching wedge the next. Nine bunkers surround the green like dragon’s teeth and the only way home is straight down its throat. The 9th curves right over the burn and climbs steadily up the dunes. A new bunker at 290 yards will catch those trying to get the absolute most out of cutting the corner. This leaves a long, uphill second shot so make sure you have enough club– at least one more to reach a long green. With gorse and thick grass on the left a visible deterrent, favour the right side once again.
Home Again Turning at the 10th with the wind most often coming out of the southwest, Balgownie’s back nine is different in appearance and nature from the seaward holes but every bit the stalwart test and much improved over recent years. Less undulating than the front nine, the remaining holes use blind tee shots, hidden troughs and more difficult putting surfaces to oppose you. On the 10th, drive over the correct marker poles – coloured according to the tee you are on. Depending on wind direction a driver may not be not necessary here and a good tee shot should leave you with a mid to short iron into a green that slopes from back to front. The 11th hole is straightforward protected mainly by its pin placement on a noticeably undulating green. Consider an extra club to allow for wind and avoiding the three bunkers which surround the front of the green. Find the correct side to where the pin is or you are left with a tricky putt or even in 3-putt country. The 12th to the 16th is a string of holes each with its own set of hazards aptly described by the name of the hole such as Blind, Dyke, Well and Hill. The 12th offers a wide tee shot and it is difficult to find the two pot bunkers on the right at 286yds. The 2nd shot narrows considerably close into the green; stay around 100 yards short where the fairway remains wide. The green is an upturned saucer so it sheds the ball quiet readily. If you are playing into the wind, go short and wedge into the green avoiding the pot bunkers. The 13th is aptly named Blind due to its blind tee shot, and sometimes your second. Here, the best line is to hug the right side. A long drive that carries the hill will find a fairway that slopes and kicks the ball forward. The 2nd shot is awkward as the green is narrow front to back. Don’t miss this green as there’s trouble behind. A good drive away on the 13th could give you a birdie but make sure you hit the green with your approach. Depending on the tee of the day on the 14th a lay up, short of the dry ditch is recommended. A longer hitter can clear the ditch but it is a big penalty if you go in. Play to the right side of the fairway leaving round180 yards to middle of green so it’s a good two-shotter. Again this is a long green and favour the right side. Another blind tee shot occurs at the 15th with the harbour-side lighthouse being the line. This is another birdie opportunity into a big green with a relatively short second shot although employ enough club to carry the trouble. The concluding three holes form an excellent 4-3-4 finish. The 16th plays to the top of the hill giving a view of the green. Otherwise it’s a blind 2nd shot favouring the right hand side. If you clear the crest it's 160 yards to the front edge of a fast green that slopes front to back quite severely. The 187-yard, par 3, 17th is an outstanding example of the excellent short holes on this course. Longish and playing to a three-tiered green you must try and find the correct level. The prevailing southwest wind tends to push you away from trouble although you don’t want to go too long either. In terms of disguised difficulty, there are few that can top Balgownie’s 18th. From the tee it doesn’t seem so defiant but this is a par 4 to take advantage of the over-confident or over-tired. It requires two cracking shots; most members play it as a par 5. Avoid at all costs bunkers off the tee. In the summer with a great drive you could catch a running bound going through the dip leaving a mid to short-iron home. But mostly it is into wind with captivating rough and gorse either side. The green is slightly raised and like most Balgownie greens well protected with bunkers and this time (for good measure) out of bounds at the back. This ensures that you must remain as focused as you were on the first tee if you are to find this green in two.
THE PRO'S CHOICE Royal Aberdeen’s Director of Golf, Ronnie MacAskill picks his three favourite holes. 8th, 147 yards, par 3 (medal tees)"A classic par 3 where only a well struck tee shot to the left side of the green is acceptable. Missing the green and its ten sandy bodyguards means that you may be inviting the group behind to play through. In a professional tournament many years ago, my partner walked on to the 8th tee - 3 under par and walked off 5 over. My tip is not to play the distance on the card but take a couple of clubs more to play a little punch shot under the wind for better control." 14th, 441 yards, par 4 (medal tees) "On a normal northeast day this is a wonderful hole requiring two perfectly struck shots. A dry ditch runs across the fairway at about 230 yards out which gathers more than its fair share of good tee shots. A long iron into the narrow right side of the fairway is the "safe play" leaving a simple!!! 190 yard second over an old dyke to a narrow well bunkered green. Two putts completes the examination and onto the 15th with a spring in your step. On the rare down wind day and a kind bounce, a 9 iron to the green is the reward." 18th, 440 yards, par 4 (medal tees) "The 18th is probably the most difficult hole on the course. Into the prevailing wind it is often out of reach even for the low, single figure handicap golfer. With bunkers left and right and the added attraction of out of bounds to the left, a long straight drive is the only option. The second shot to yet another well bunkered and elevated green is everything in the bag unless you are well through the valley. Very rarely do you find the Club golfer firing their 2nd shot to the heart of the 18th green. A true classic to finish."