Ballater Golf Club: Always a Surprise for the Unwary
Ballater, often described as the jewel in the crown of Deeside, nestles in a fertile valley surrounded by hills on three sides; the village was built on the flat ground of the River Dee floodplain, approximately 40 miles from Aberdeen. The settlement unfolds in the shadow of Lochnagar, and as one approaches from the East, the view as you near the village is never forgotten. The village, through its long association with the Royal family, is rightly one of the most visited places in the Scottish Highlands and one of the most picturesque.
The golf course was founded in 1892 originally as a nine-hole layout, but the Laird of Invercauld allowed the club to purchase more land in the early 1900s and the course was extended to 18 holes by 1906. The notable golfer and pioneer course designer James Braid had a hand in the extension work and in August 1906, a match was staged between Braid and his great friend and rival Harry Vardon to celebrate the construction of a pavilion and the extension of the course.
The course itself is slightly undulating and of medium length; a number of the holes lie close to the River Dee and people with a tendency towards the occasional hook shot should be wary when playing these.
There is a mixture of parkland and heathland at Ballater and the ancient river terraces formed on the floodplain give the course a distinctive style which is never quite what one expects of this type of golf course. There is always a surprise for the unwary. Being seven hundred feet above sea level means that the growing season is appreciably shorter here and this is typified by the rough, which can be penal, but only in the late spring/early summer season. Generally, the rough is not too severe outwith this time, unless there has been an application of fertiliser.
The course does not require great length off the tee but accuracy will be well rewarded as the course is tree lined for the most part and the fairways are narrow and contoured; the river is also another consideration to be taken into account on three or four of the holes. The first six holes are the toughest on the layout, mainly due to being played into the prevailing wind and the length of the holes, and if one can navigate round these without any major catastrophes, then it is possible to compile a good score. Picking out the most challenging of the first six can be difficult, but to anyone with an ounce of daring the 4th and 5th will stick in the memory. The 4th, at 407 yards, is a dogleg left, created by the cut of the fairway and the unusual angle of slope on the approach to the green. A drive to the right here is a necessity as the elevated green makes a small target for a mid to long iron second shot.
The 177-yard long 5th is also played into an elevated green that slopes from the left to the right; there is a phalanx of gorse to the left and behind the green waiting to trap any wayward tee shot. Once the putting surface has been reached, the undulating sward will test the nerves of many a golfer. Anyone scoring successive pars on these should be rightfully satisfied.
As we carry on round, there is a change from heathland to parkland from the 7th onwards. This opens out the course and the next few holes are reasonably straightforward, but not to be taken lightly.
The 9th hole is a par 3, which is 208 yards long and has a blind tee shot which foreshortens the hole. If you feel you need one more club, then you probably do. The green is large and gathers the ball into the centre, so one can be brave here.
Holes 10, 11 and 12 are all par 4s which run parallel to each other and apart from the ever-present trees lining the rough. They should not present too much problem if you keep the ball in play.
Now we come to the 13th, a hole that will wreck many a card; at first sight it looks innocuous and at 157 yards with a large green it should be straightforward. Be wary though, the river runs alongside the hole to your left and as you get towards the green, it is within 5 yards of the edge of the putting surface, and with bunkers left, right and to the rear, accuracy is at a premium.
As we move on past the dogleg right, par 4 14th to the 15th, we find another hole to give the over enthusiastic drawers of the ball nightmares. Just 337 yards long and dead straight, the only(!) problem is, from the elevated teeing position, anything hit with a hint of hookspin will travel into the gardens of the two country house hotels which line this hole to the left. Fairway bunkers create a pinch point at the landing area so beware this hole.
The 16th is another par 4 where precision rather than power is called for, and as we come to the 17th, 153 yards and ringed by bunkers and gorse, it is easy to see why you still can't relax. The final hole, at 303 yards, is another blind tee shot over the ditch. Stay to the left of the prominent bunker and on the fairway. Go too far and the car park is within range if the hole is downwind. Be sure to go far enough to open up the target; the green is directly in front of the clubhouse so holing a 20 foot putt here would not go amiss.
In playing Ballater Golf Course you will not have to battle with waist high rough nor howling easterlies; the holes are not too exacting nor is the length prohibitive. The whole essence of this course appears to be geared towards helping the golfer to enjoy the challenge of playing golf, from shotmaking to course management. The course condition, especially the greens, is superb and with the fantastic scenery and surrounding environment, it is easy to see why this course is a popular destination for people on golfing holidays and the seasoned golfer alike.