Friday, 25 October 2013

Balnagask Golf Course - course no 626

It's always good to hear from readers of my blog and particularly from those who invite me to play at what for me is another new course. Craig, Stu and I enjoy each other's company when we play new courses together but since their still working full-time and I'm not, I usually play new courses by myself.  That's good, but it's so much better to play with a local member (apart from anything else, it prevents me from getting completely lost on courses without adequate signage and advice on lines to take and the history of courses etc. can really help add to the enjoyment in playing new courses). Accordingly, I was delighted when Coby got in touch with me a few months ago about playing at Balnagask, his local course in Aberdeen. This is Coby and me by the Starter's Office when we played at Balnagask on 24 October 2013.

Balnagask is an 18 Hole links course on the south side of the Dee estuary, overlooking Aberdeen Harbour and is owned and operated by Aberdeen City Council.  The course is also home to Nigg Bay GC, Pecten GC and Marine GC (a small non-course owning club set up by Coby and some friends).  Regular readers of my blog will know that most of the "Cooncil" courses that I've covered in blog reports suffer from chronic under-investment and are rarely very memorable. Aberdeen Council suffers from the same financial pressures as other Scottish local authorities, but I'm pleased to say that this doesn't show at Balnagask, which is an absolute gem of a course in terms of its design, condition and above all the tremendous views from almost every hole.  The course sits on the Balnagask Headland between the Dee estuary and Nigg Bay and there are great views out to sea, the Girdleness Lighthouse and across to the Harbour and the city beyond.  The course is operated for the good of the local community, but £12 for a round on such an excellent course is an absolute steal, particularly when contrasted against the far higher visitor green fees at other privately-run courses in the area. Visiting golfers to the Aberdeen area will naturally focus on playing at Royal Aberdeen, Murcar and Trump International etc. and whilst those courses are justifiably famous in their own right, Balnagask is probably more playable by the average golfer.  OK, there's maybe no great kudos in playing a Cooncil course that's also a public park (popular with dog walkers etc.) and a couple of holes overlook a jaded-looking housing development, but anyone who turns up their nose at the thought of playing here is really missing out on a quality course.

Balnagask measures 6121 Yards Par 70 and has been substantially re-modelled over the years since it was first established in 1905 as a 12 hole course.  Given its strategic location, the course it was commandeered for military use during and after both World Wars.  Indeed, the course was closed completely for 15 years before re-opening in 1955, under the Council's control for the first time. Over the years it has varied between 11, 12 and 18 holes, with James Braid and Hawtree & Son making substantial design changes at different times.  The current layout dates back to a major re-alignment  (designed by Hawtree & Son, now better known as architects of the Trump International Golf Links and many other famous courses) in 1976.  This work involved larger greens and extensive layout changes that avoided some of the steeper parts of the headland, making the course an easier walk (and providing land for what is now an excellent 9 hole pitch and putt course, closer to the estuary and the Aberdeen Harbour entrance).  I'm indebted to Coby for this insight into the history and development of the course and for his in-round descriptions of the former layout and other features on the course.  

Balnagask now begins with an intimidating looking 368 Yard Par 4 with a blind second shot played steeply uphill, with OOB coming into play on the left side of the fairway.  The course is still quite undulating and if you ever play here, you'll probably linger for a while to enjoy the panoramic view from the 2nd tee, offering your first clear view of the sea beyond the course (and the Harbour, miles of sandy beach and the townscape beyond).  This is a view of the 2nd hole, a 447 Yard Par 4, from the tee and below that, a view from the fairway down to the green.  Coby and I clearly had a warm sunny and almost wind less day for our game!

The tough start to Balnagask continues with the 3rd, a largely uphill 406 Yard Par 4.   As Coby noted, there's space behind the tee to stretch this hole into a Par 5 or make it even tougher, but I think it's fine as it is.  The wall behind the green is OOB, as shown here.  I'd started with a run of 3 bogey 5s, but I was determined to keep a 6 off my card and play to my handicap.  It was an ideal day for golf, I'd great company and the course was in great condition for the time of year.  Just perfect really.  The 4th is a short steeply downhill 360 Yard Par 4 and another chance to really go for a long drive.  I played an easy wedge to the green but I really needed a fuller swing, as my ball got stuck in heavy rough just beyond a path that runs in front of the green.  Another bogey and my hopes for a low round were fast receding. 
The 5th is the shortest hole on the course at 133 Yards, steeply uphill, but the tee markers were forward and my easy 9 iron looked good all the way.  A first par, at last.  Next, the Stroke Index 1 6th, and at 432 Yards, an excellent links-style Par 4.  I had a comfortable bogey there and managed to birdie the shorter 7th, as shown below (at only 310 yards, this was just a drive and an easy wedge).  More steady play and I was out in 40 and loving the course.

The Front 9 is pretty open, but the Back 9 is a bit tighter.  For example, this is the 10th, a 483 Yard Par 5.  The drive is easy enough as the first 250 yards or so of the fairway is generously wide.  However, if you've hit a good one and fancy getting on in 2, your second shot must thread its way between gorse covered hillocks.  I played the hole as a 3-shotter and had a reasonably comfortable 5, despite leaving myself a 5 foot putt for par. The Back 9 is also significantly shorter than the Front 9 and with the first cut of rough being so light, a slightly wayward shot wasn't really punished.  Go further offline and it was a different story, as I'm afraid Coby found out.  His swing change will bear fruit but was still work in progress, but the man can play and was out-driving me - a feat that's becoming increasingly easy!  

I was scrambling pars and the odd bogey (with another birdie at the short 296 Yard Par 4 12th), but a hooked second shot on the 17th left me in heavy rough.  I had this bunker between me and the hole but I managed another somewhat lucky scrambled bogey. The last hole is a 216 Yard Par 3.  The ideal line is a chimney on the horizon, left of the green, to allow your ball to roll down the side slope onto the green. A bunker some 50 yards short of the green doesn't really come into play (and I'd move it far closer to the green, on the same line, to toughen the hole). As it stands, anything up the left side of the hole feeds off the side slope onto the green.  I finished just short of the green with my tee shot and a bogey from there was slightly disappointing, but I'd gone round in 81, net 70 with 32 putts. I'd matched net par and avoided a 6 on my card and thoroughly enjoyed my first ever round at Balnagask.  I hope to play it again sometime.  Coby was the perfect partner and we had perfect golfing weather (the following day was apparently stormy and blowing a gale!).  I strongly recommend you play Balnagask.  If you're very lucky, you'll get good weather too, but be warned, the course is seriously exposed to the elements.


  1. Excellent review

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  3. Great review! You don`t see so many useful reviews online these days.

  4. I really enjoyed your review. I love playing golf and also real related stuff about it online. Your article was a useful time to spent.

  5. This is a great review on golf courses. I still remember 4 years ago when I`ve played golf for the first time.

  6. I would love to hear which are the best options for golf courses in Palm Beach if anyone knows this please.

  7. Palm Beach has always been one of the most beautiful places I visited, but never got to play golf there. I hope this will change sometimes soon.

  8. I don`t know what I would have done if I didn`t discovered the pleasure of playing golf. It`s the most relaxing game hobby you can think of.