Braemar Golf Club: Good Things Do Come In Small Packages
Lying in a natural amphitheatre created by the imposing Grampian Mountains; Braemar is one of the most picturesque villages in Scotland. The village caters for the whole range of visitors, with two four-star hotels, a youth hostel and bunkhouse, a plethora of bed and breakfast accommodation and several providers of self-catering lodgings along with a caravan and camping site.
Braemar is probably most well known for its annual Highland Gathering, held on the first Saturday in September. This occasion is attended by many of the Royal family, who are at this time resident at Balmoral Castle, which is nine miles east of the village.
As a base for hill-walking, fishing and touring; Braemar is one of the best in Scotland, many short and long distance treks converge on the village and it is relatively simple to access the high plateau's and ridges of the Cairngorms. There is fine fishing to be had, the world renowned River Dee flows through the village and angling permits are readily available. There are also tributaries which can offer good quality sport.
Being very centrally placed, Braemar makes an ideal centre for touring holidays. The Highlands are as easily accessible as the Central Belt of Scotland; there are also many castles and distilleries, which can be visited on a short day tour. Aberdeen is sixty miles to the East; the main road follows the course of the Dee, making the trip one of the most pleasant and beautiful in the country.
Braemar Golf Club is reputed to be the highest 18-hole course in the United Kingdom and due to the climactic conditions, the course officially closes at the end of October, reopening in the March of the following year.
A new clubhouse has been built and opened in time for this season. There is a fully licensed bar and extensive catering is available from 8am 'til 7pm every day.
The course itself is not long, at only 4,935 yards, but do not let this lull you into thinking that it is no more than a glorified pitch and putt set up. It most certainly is not, as the par of 65 testifies. The Clunie river bisects the course and comes into play significantly on at least five of the holes and less so on five more, making the placement of the tee shots absolutely crucial.
The opening drive is one which invites you to open your shoulders and test out that new driver, played from an elevated tee; the hole widens until it meets the river at around the 300-yard mark.
The second hole at Braemar is widely regarded as one of the most difficult par 4's in Scottish golf. With the Clunie running along the right of the hole for its full length and uncharacteristically thick rough on the left, one has to be especially careful when there is a wind blowing. Having successfully negotiated the tee shot, you could be forgiven for thinking the worst is over, but no, now you are faced with a mid to long iron shot into a green which is elevated forty feet above where your ball sits. Get through the second with a par 4 and it will definitely feel like a birdie, and on a windy day possibly even an eagle.
Being such a short course there are no par 5's. This, however, is easily balanced out by the complexity of the seven par 3's ranging from the 231 yard fifth to the 103 yard sixth.
Hole number five can, on days when the conditions are less favourable, be almost impossible to make par on. Having a length of 231 yards means that it mostly requires a long iron or more realistically, a wooden club to reach the putting surface in one blow. Many scorecards have taken a beating here.
The sixth hole, named Queen's Drive, not because Her Majesty has played here, but because of the name of the footpath which starts fifty yards from the sixth tee, requires only a very short iron shot. The green, which the player has to aim for, has the appearance of an upturned saucer. Since there is only rough ground twixt tee and green, a very accurate tee shot is called for.
The tenth, at 409 yards, is the longest hole on the course, and probably one, if not the most challenging, on the golf course. The hole is played out to the furthest part of the layout. With the river to the left and a rough marshy region on the right narrowing the landing area as the hole lengthens, you have to decide whether to hit a long shot to an ever-decreasing target or sacrifice length for position. Whichever route is chosen it still leaves a tricky shot into a small but receptive green. Overshoot and there is an out of bounds, along with the ever present river which runs the length of the hole.
The next six holes present the golfer with a series of differing tests. Lime Kiln, the 12th, is a relatively innocuous hole of medium length; the tee shot is played against the backdrop of striking grey hills. With little but short rough to impede the progress of any but the most wayward of tee shots, the hole should play quite easily. The hole does have a way of protecting itself though, backwards from the green to about 100 yards out is an area of dead ground which apparently foreshortens the hole by as much as two clubs. Many a golfer has been caught out by this natural deception.
Arriving on the 15th tee, with your card is in good order, you may see this hole as straightforward. Don't be fooled, there is a reason for rating this the most difficult hole on the course. Hit your tee shot too far to the left or the right and you will not make par 4 here. The rough here can be as thick as any seen on a golf course. The height of the underlying water table can probably explain why the rough grows so densely in this area.
The final two holes are both par 3's. Two more contrasting holes would be difficult to find on any golf course. The 17th hole is 245 yards long, with the river running across the front of the green. Achieving par here is a feat for even the most competent of golfers, and sometimes discretion is the better part of valour when it comes to this hole A lay up can often yield a better score than going directly for the green.
The final hole at 122 yards seems very uncomplicated, but remember that elevated tee at the first. Well, the opposite is true for the 18th with the green a good forty feet above the height of the teeing area. Leave your tee shot short here and it will get buried in dense rough, leaving a very tricky uphill pitch to the green, which slopes, from front to back.
This golf course is surprisingly tough for its length, making registering a good score tough but nonetheless attainable. The standard of the course is very satisfactory for a layout this high above sea level, but the condition of the greens is of an unexpectedly high standard. This is partly due to the relatively low level of traffic and up to four months of continuous snow cover. The course superintendent also deserves praise for the way the course, especially the greens, is presented.
Visitors who are lucky enough to be in the area of Braemar for the Highland Gathering should not overlook this wee gem of a course.
All in all, there are many reasons to visit this area of Scotland, with the wide range of accommodation, fantastic walking and trekking, first class fishing and an excellent touring base, heading for the hills takes on a different meaning where Braemar is concerned.
Braemar Golf Club
Cluniebank Road, Braemar
Braemar, Aberdeenshire AB35 5XX
Tel: +44(0)13397 41618
Visitors tees: Par 65, 4,935 Yards