Marine Golf Club

Aberdeen, Scotland - Established 2007

Balnagask Golf Course

Balnagask Golf Course is owned and operated by Aberdeen City Council (ACC).  Marine Golf Club (MGC) has a agreement with the Council which enables medal play at Balnagask, along with the older and more established Nigg Bay Golf Club.  Membership of MGC does not cover green fees, which still need to be paid before each round.  However, a round is relatively cheap, and ACC runs a series of season passes which reduce the cost considerably.

Fellow golfer Alan McPherson played both courses at Balnagask in October 2013 as part of his attempt to play all of Scotland's 651 golf courses.  You can read his reviews here (18 hole) and here (9 hole).

A history of Balnagask

By Peter Robinson (peter.robinson217@tiscali.co.uk) with Coby Needle

The Balnagask headland is dominated by Balnagask Golf Course, a publicly owned facility which is now used by the Nigg Bay, Pecten and Marine Golf Clubs as well as many pay-and-play golfers. The course originally had 12 holes and was used by the now defunct Balnagask Golf Club.  Archie Simpson, the Royal Aberdeen professional and co-designer of the world-renowned Balgownie Links, “gave valuable assistance in the laying out of the course” (Aberdeen Daily Journal, 10 August 1905) and Col. Davidson rented the land to the club.  The first captain was George F. Duthie and the greenkeeper was George Slessor.  The turf for the greens was taken from the grounds of Devanha House, which still exists in Ferryhill, and the whole layout took just 4 months to reshape, top-dress, sow and complete.  


The course was opened on the 9th of August 1905 by J. W. Crombie MP whose wife took the first ceremonial tee shot with a specially engraved club.  There followed a three round exhibition match between Archie Simpson and Arnaud Massy.  Massy, to this day, is probably the most celebrated golfer to play the course. He went on to win the 1907 Open Championship played at Hoylake and finished runner-up in the 1911 championship at Royal St Georges.

By 1913 there were 18 holes, the names of which are shown here.  Interestingly the hole called Magazine predates both world wars.  The army did have a camp and rifle range near to the fish hatchery at the time the course was built and this might explain the name.

In 1915 the military requisitioned the clubhouse and parts of the course, and membership declined as people got involved in the war effort.  Golf continued to be played on eleven holes through the war with reduced subscriptions.  It was 1919 before the clubhouse was handed back to the club and by 1921 the club was thriving again with over 500 members. 

The post-war course reopened on 13th April 1921 with new bunkers and obstacles added and in October 1922 James Braid, the professional at Walton Heath, visited the course and recommended further changes such as the creation of new 3rd and 13th  holes and a large double green for the then 2nd and 14th holes.  A five-times Open winner, Braid helped to influence the design of some of the best courses in Scotland such as the Kings and Queens courses at Gleneagles.  The changes he recommended were completed by the club staff in 1923 and 1924.  The club was privately run up until the mid 1950s and the clubhouse was a large building on land close to the present road entrance to the course.  The Torry tram line terminated next to the clubhouse and this line opened in 1903, two years before the golf club itself was established.  The Torry line then closed again in 1931.  

Golf once again temporarily ceased to be played on the course from 1939 with the onset of the Second World War and it was taken over by the army in 1940. It remained under the control of the War Department for nearly a decade, during which time it became overgrown in places.  All through the wartime period the Balnagask Golf Club continued to pay rent for the course.

This photo shows the original plaque from the old clubhouse dated 9th August 1905.

 

Aberdeen City Council then bought the land in 1949 for £17,500 and the old clubhouse was purchased in 1950 for £1900. Following de-requisition of the land, it was decided to claim some compensation (£8,182) from the War Department in 1951 and to investigate reinstating the course.  Work got underway in early 1953 to cut the long grass and restore the course. 

Balnagask was re-opened on Good Friday 8th April 1955 after 15 golf-free years. It was now under council jurisdiction and back then it measured 5513 yards.  There were some steep climbs on this old course, notably the second hole (Double) which had the nicknames “Heart Attack Hill” and “Thrombosis Hill”.  The greenkeeper from the 1950s to the 1970s was Mr. Frank Hunter who lived for a time at Greenkeeper’s Cottage.  This cottage (called North Kirkhill on older maps) was just at the back of the allotments and was demolished in the late 1960s.  It was proposed to rebuild a greenkeeper’s cottage on the same spot in 1978 but those plans came to nothing.  The nearby Granton Cottage was also considered as a potential greenkeeper’s cottage in 1979 but it too was not followed up.

 

The old clubhouse was demolished around 1957 having fallen into a state of disrepair.  The council also reported that it was the illegal home of four families in 1953.  The remains of the boundary wall of the old clubhouse are still visible by St Fitticks Road.  The Balnagask Golf Club was officially wound up on 28th April 1955.  The wooden starter’s hut, still there today, was installed around 1955.  Plans for a permanent clubhouse were approved on November 24th 1954 with an estimated cost of £9800.  The present clubhouse and home to Nigg Bay Golf Club was eventually opened on March 1st 1958.   Here is the scorecard from 1962 (distances in yards).  

 

1.

Channel

260

4

2.

Double

283

4

3.

Battery

453

5

4.

Plateau

150

3

5.

Walker Park

370

4

6.

Magazine

300

4

7.

Ravine

236

4

8.

Bank

300

4

9.

Valley

333

4

10.

Girdleness

321

4

11.

Nigg Bay

381

4

12.

Shelter

366

4

13.

Spion Kop

133

3

14.

Double

433

4

15.

Gates

287

4

16.

Sand Pit

334

4

17.

Slope

190

3

18.

Home

383

4

 

An extensive redesign (referred to as a re-alignment) of the course was proposed in July 1966 by course architects Hawtree and Son (perhaps better known for their recent work on the Trump International course at Balmedie).  This was carried out in 1976.  They introduced many larger greens to the main course and made some changes to the layout to avoid previously very steep climbs.  More land was made available down in Nigg Bay itself, and the “St Fitticks” hole was added in this area.  Many of the old smaller greens and tees were largely left in situ and some are now used as winter greens.  The changes also made room for a nine-hole par-3 course to the north of the main course, which is popular to this day with local golfers looking for a quick round at lunchtime.

Here is a note from 1976 showing how the course was to differ after the re-alignment.

[table to follow]

The main course now has a playing distance of 6121 yards with extensions continuing to be created.   One more recent home grown success for Nigg Bay was Donald Jamieson who won the 1980 Scottish Amateur Championship played at Royal Aberdeen. 

 

The course

Course plan (blue dotted lines are roads or paths):

Below are photos of the holes, along with the Secretary's tips for playing them - remember that I am a relatively high handicapper, and that there may well be much more sensible ways of tackling these holes.

Note for 2012: The course has been made far tougher this year, and is playing harder (I think) than at any time since I took up golf ten years ago.  Most fairways are much narrower than before, the rough is much longer, and places which would have been safe previously are no longer so.  I think the course managers have gone a little too far myself, but then I will insist on not consistently hitting the ball straigh!

Hole 1 "Greythorpe" (par 4, 366 yards)

A tough opener.  Hit your drive towards the 18th tee, and the prevailing wind and slope should take your ball towards the centre of the fairway.  Take a provisional if your ball goes left, as the rough there is very secretive.  From the fairway you have a blind second - aim a mid-iron at the marker post on top of the hill.  The only danger around the green is a bunker to the right.  Any score is possible here, but a mid-to-high handicapper will be happy to start with a bogey five.

New for 2012: The entire left side of this hole (between the fairway and the par-3 course) is now marked as OOB.  This has been done to prevent big hitters playing down towards the 8th green of the par-3 course and thereby getting a better line into the 1st green of the main course - a route that never once occurred to me, I must admit! Snap hooks beware...

 
 

Hole 2 "Battery" (par 4, 447 yards)

Pause for a moment on the tee to take in the marvellous view of Aberdeen beach and harbour.  Aim your drive between the two fairway bunkers: if you are going to miss, go right as there is OOB and claggy rough down the left.  Unless you've hit one right off the screws you will have another blind second.  It is quite a long way, but take less club than you think as it is steeply downhill and the prevailing wind will usually be behind you.  Try and hit straight, as there are a series of bunkers down the right and left is lost-ball territory.  You are also better to be short on the approach than long: there are all kinds of unpleasantness behind the green.  Another hole for which bogey is acceptable.

Hole 3 "Walker Park" (par 4, 408 yards)

One of the most frightening drives on the course, with a road and OOB down the left and a magnetic heather outcrop at driving distance on the right.  Don't be greedy with your second - it is further than it looks, uphill and usually into the wind, and well bunkered on the right.  There is a wall and OOB on the left of the green that will be invisible as you take your second shot.  The third hole for which you would be happy with a five.

 
 

Hole 4 "Shelter" (par 4, 351 yards)

At last a chance to let rip with the big dog.  Not too much trouble off the tee, and as it's downhill and generally downwind you should be able to get within 100 yards of the green.  A pitch from there over the road will give you a par chance.  Here it is better to be long than short with your approach.  The green is large and weirdly sloped, so be careful with your putts.

Hole 5 "Spion Kop" (par 3, 132 yards)

The first and (sometimes) easiest of the par-3s.  Depending on the wind and tee placement, you will need a short-to-mid iron.  Landing short of the green is no hardship as you will usually have an easy chip.  Left is less fun as you need to negotiate a ridge with your chip while not overhitting it - right of the green lies probably the course's nastiest bunker.  Running through the green might be fine, but it will depend on the lie.

 
 

Hole 6 "Gregness" (par 4, 433 yards)

Stroke index 1 for a reason.  This is a tough par-4 with an uphill drive and an uphill approach, separated by a valley.  Your drive will need to be up by the marker post for you to have a realistic chance of hitting the green in regulation, and the plateau green can be hard to hold in a strong wind.  Two shots out of the middle are needed to reach here, and many will be happy to lay up and try for a single-putt par.

Hole 7 "Gates" (par 4, 309 yards)

Requires a bold (and blind) drive between the fairway bunkers, which are further away than they look from the white tee.  From a flat landing area, you should have a short pitch to the green - be careful, though, as this can be tricky to hit.  The best option is often to land short and right of the green, and let the slope take your ball towards the pin.  Left of the green an evil bunker awaits, while if you go long you might not stop until you reach the 5th tee.

 
 

Hole 8 "Girdleness" (par 4, 313 yards)

Usually a good opportunity for a par (or better).  Aim for the lighthouse with your drive and you should find the fairway - or the green if you really connect.  The only danger is out-of-bounds all the way down the left, but this doesn't often come into play.  From the bottom of the hill a chip is usually sufficient to reach the green in regulation: don't be clumsy, though, as there is a bunker behind the green that isn't often visible.  The green is one of the few at Balnagask with a pronounced slope.

Hole 9 "Nigg Bay" (par 4, 346 yards)

The front nine ends with this deceptively tricky par-4.  The new white tee is above and behind the road - from here, you want to aim your drive straight at the spine of the humpbacked fairway that faces you.  Your ball will doubtless bounce off this spine, but deviating left is better than plunging into the rough-filled gully on the right.  Your approach shot to the elevated green needs to be long enough to take the greenside bunkers out of play, but don't overdo it as you will be left with a nasty downhill chip.

 
 

Hole 10 "Magazine" (par 5, 485 yards)

Balnagask's only par-5, and a beautiful, thought-provoking hole.  Several members will play this with three consecutive seven-irons - one into the valley in front of the tee, one over the hill, and one down the next valley to the green.  This is the wise approach.  On the other hand, you might like to get over the hill with your drive (difficult but possible), and then smack a long iron through the narrow approach to the green.  If you miss this shot on either side, however, you may as well take out a shiny new Titleist and try again, as your first ball will be a goner. A great hole that can be birdied with luck, but which can also cost you many many shots.  Keep an eye out for the foxes that live here.

Hole 11 "St. Fitticks" (par 4, 367 yards)

The second most terrifying tee shot on the course - but one that looks quite innocuous on first sight.  Only bitter experience will lend this drive the proper patina of horror.  Out-of-bounds and some evil rough await you down the left, but the real monster is the gorse-covered slopes to the right from which no ball has ever been extricated.  The strong prevailing left-to-right wind doesn't help, and a long iron is often advisable just to stay on the short grass.  For your second shot you may not be able to see the green, but it is worthwhile having a quick walk forward - you should be able to get a line on one of the houses to the west of the course.  There are a couple of "spectacle"-type bunkers short of the putting surface to be wary of.

 
 

Hole 12 "Ravine" (par 4, 306 yards)

A straightforward drive up the hill as long as you don't slice wildly.  The approach is not so easy - go right or long and you're into the same gorse that you might have tangled with during the previous hole, while a steep slope and a tricky flop await to the left.  The green is reachable, but if you're in doubt it is better to lay up short.

Hole 13 "Kirkhill" (par 4, 337 yards)

Missing your drive to the left is probably better than going right, as up the hill the rough is very claggy and it will be hard to reach the green in regulation.  The green is always slightly further away than it looks on this hole, and features a bunker to the left.  It also slopes from right to left, so it is often a good idea to aim your approach right and let the slope bring it back.  The green is raised by a couple of feet above the fairway to the left and rear, and the short rise can can be awkward to negotiate if you miss the green.

 
 

Hole 14 "Mound" (par 3, 201 yards)

A great (and very difficult) par-three.  It is quite long, but the wind is generally behind you so the green should be reachable with a mid-to-long iron.  Distance isn't the problem - the focus should be on accuracy.  The road all down the left is out-of-bounds, the slope to the right can be difficult to recover from, and the bunkers which frame the front of the green are deep and steep-faced.  I've never seen anyone go long over the back at this hole, but I have a feeling you would bounce on quite a long way.  The smart shot from the tee is often to fall short of the green and then chip close from there.

Hole 15 "Bank" (par 4, 358 yards)

An inviting drive down the valley, usually with the wind behind you - watch for the hill to the right, though, as the rough there can be awkward.  To balance the relatively stress-free drive, the plateau green is a real pain to try and hit with your second - particularly if you are a couple of feet short and the ball rolls all the way back down again.  Take at least one more club than you think the shot will need.

 
 

Hole 16 "Valley" (par 4, 340 yards)

Getting your drive over the "Valley" and past the path shortens this hole considerably: otherwise you may be left with a very long second from the bottom of the hill.  For your approach you will be faced with another humpbacked fairway leading into a green that is often blind.  Some will play their drive down the 15th fairway so as to at least have a sight of the flag with their second, although only do this if there's no-one playing behind you! The chief dangers at the green are a deepish bunker to the right, and a steep slope to the left: you may be better to go long if in doubt.

Hole 17 "Sand Pit" (par 4, 335 yards)

Your drive here should be straight over the right half of the fenced area where the green staff keep their equipment.  In days of yore this was open (the "Sand Pit"), and you were expected to play your ball as it lay if you landed therein - now we use a local rule whereby any ball that lands in the area or hits the fence can be freely replayed.  Given a good drive, your approach should be over the lefthand fairway bunker.  Don't be too hefty with this shot as the slope behind the green is out-of-bounds.

 
 

Hole 18 "Home" (par 3, 214 yards)

An excellent closing hole back towards (for many members) their place of gainful employment.  The line off the tee should be over the lefthand fairway bunker, aiming to drop short of the green and roll in.  Going too far left is not a good idea, as the rough will make the necessary delicate chip shot very hard to pull off.  If you miss the green (and many do), go right as you will then have a better lie and an uphill chip - assuming you don't plunge into that greenside bunker. 

New for 2012: the OOB markers on the left have now been brought down towards the fairway, thus tightening the playing area by about 20 yards for the whole length of the hole.  The plan is for very long rough in this area, so the OOB might be a blessing in disguise - if you hook one, reload immediately rather than spend 5 minutes looking for an invisible ball.