Aberfeldy Golf Club in Perthshire, Scotland: More than an "old tin hut"
ABERFELDY, Perthshire, Scotland - As visitors approach Aberfeldy Golf Club, they see a humble green clubhouse and the first tee and 18th green wedged cheek-by-jowl between the clubhouse and the street, with the storied River Tay burbling loudly behind. If you didn't know better, you might think, "Easy golf course, peaceful layout, nothing special here."
The thing about Perthshire, the district in which Aberfeldy is located, is that it is squarely in the heart of Scotland. As such, it is home to some of the most ancient and historical sites in the country. And even an unassuming golf club just might boast a pedigree stretching back well over a century ... not to mention a few holes that'll leave even the best golfer shaking his head.
Jurek Post has been club manager for 21 years, overseeing the golf course, managing the aforementioned green clubhouse, pulling pints and serving up fine pub fare. When asked about his characterization of the course, he squints a bit before offering up, "It's a pleasant parkland course on the banks of the silvery Tay."
When pressed for something less poetic and more practical for the first-time golfer, however, the taciturn Post gives his lone piece of advice. "You won't clout around with a driver," he warns. Then, after a brief pause, "That's basically it, isn't it?"
How Aberfeldy Golf Club plays
The first nine holes of Aberfeldy Golf Club were laid out in the level floodplain of the River Tay in 1895, making it one of the oldest courses in the highlands. In 1993, plans were adopted to extend the course by nine holes, and over the river. In 1995, almost 100 years to the day after the christening of the original nine holes, the 5,283-yard, par-68, 18-hole course opened to members and the public.
The two halves of the course are connected by a private suspension bridge across the river, a bridge that is as visually striking in its design as it is unnerving in its bounciness. While the newer holes on the other side of the Tay have a character quite distinct from the original holes, a consistent quirkiness runs throughout the entire track, which is quite typical of parkland golf.
Take for example the interlaced fairways of the 337-yard second, 335-yard fifth and 367-yard 17th. For a first-time visitor such as myself, the sight of a foursome wandering across what I thought was my path toward the second green (which lies blind from the tee and well across the Moness Burn) led me to believe that the fourth green was the one I should be aiming at. This mistake resulted in the first time in my career where I've hit the green I intended to off the tee and ended up double-bogeying the hole.
Another prime example of the impish nature of Aberfeldy is the 361-yard ninth, where a large tree sprouts in the middle of the fairway and a random hiker was wandering up toward the green as I waited to tee off. In fact, hiking trails ring the course and cut through it in many places, inducing more than a few distractions. (One can only speculate what Tiger Woods' caddie, Steve Williams, would have done to the shrieking child who materialized in the middle of my backswing on the fourth tee ...)
Most memorable of Aberfeldy's quirks is the 115-yard closing hole. The petite yet pernicious par 3 plays slightly uphill to a green guarded front right by a cavernous sand bunker. More daunting, though, is the clubhouse, whose porch sits only a few yards to the right of the 18th green, and whose patrons routinely stand smoking, chatting and watching as you tee off.
"Please don't let me kill anyone" is not a good swing-thought.
The verdict on Aberfeldy Golf Club
Club Manager Post's assessment of his course is spot-on. With only one hole over 400 yards (the 515-yard, par-5 fourth), and water, trees and OB lurking on many holes, visitors who do not have full confidence and control over their drivers would be well-advised to keep them sheathed.
However, the lack of length does not imply a lack of natural beauty. Besides the omnipresent rushing River Tay, golfers are treated to views of the stately and sometimes snow-capped mountains Farragon, Schiehallion and Ben Lawers.
The demure length also does not imply ease of play, as even the supposedly gentle holes can kill your score. Case in point, the 163-yard 14th, where players must tee through a chute of tall trees, over the burn. The river lies hard on the left, and the bailout area is over and beyond yet more towering hardwoods.
After your round, take time to have a pint in the clubhouse, ask to browse through the centennial club history (titled Never an Old Tin Hut, from which I adapted the title of this article), and ask the locals what the hole names - like Na Croitan, Am Freicfadan Dubh and Obair Pheallaidh - mean.
And revel in the discovery of yet another hidden gem of Scottish golf.
Greens fees range from 18-23 £ for 18 holes and 29-32 £ for an all-day pass.
Where to stay
The Kenmore Hotel is in Kenmore, roughly 20 minutes up the road toward Loch Tay, and is Scotland's oldest inn, dating from 1572. The whitewashed façade is not much changed from the days when poet Robert Burns was so taken by the view from the stone arch bridge over the River Tay that he wandered back inside and wrote a poem in pencil over the fireplace in what today is the hotel's Poet's Bar. The poem remains in its original place today, covered by plexiglass.
The walking bridge between the old and new portions of Aberfeldy Golf Club won the 1993 Saltire Award for Civil Engineering Design, and is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.
July 11, 2008