Duff House Royal golf course: A royal playground by the North Sea
BANFF, Scotland -- There probably aren't many Americans who make it to Banff and the Moray Coast for their Scottish golf holiday. It can get cold and windy up here, hard by the icy North Sea.
You should go if you get the chance, though, for several reasons. One is Banff itself, a marvelous cliff-perched amalgam of faded Georgian elegance and sweeping sea views.
Two, this is one of the driest parts of Scotland, a welcome respite after you've been battered by coastal rains playing the famous links courses.
Three, it's close to the whisky trail.
And four - trumpet flourish - it's the home of Duff House Royal Golf Course, on the grounds of the magnificent Duff House. The mansion, which dominates the layout of this beautiful course, was built for a wealthy Scottish businessman, William Duff, who went on to become the Earl of Fife. A legal squabble between the owner and the architect kept the thing from every being completed, but it is still one of the finest Georgian baroque houses in Britain. It houses some fine art, including a painting by El Greco.
The course doesn't have the dramatic elevation changes many Scottish golf courses sport, but it makes up for that with a stylish design by famed architect Alister MacKenzie, featuring multi-level greens in great shape, stately fir and mammoth pine trees, and a parade of challenging holes. The River Deveron comes roaring by several holes, and at times you can see seals swimming up the river snatching great bites of salmon for their lunch.
The golf course is somewhat protected by hills from the winds that can come blaring off the North Sea. It's a gorgeous layout, the aesthetics of which are matched by the sheer fun of playing good golf in such surroundings.
"I moved here in 1967," regular Bill Devlin said. "And to be honest, this is one of the reasons I've never moved. I've had better offers of jobs, with better salaries, but I didn't want to give up all this. I'm not trying to sell the place, but if you could see this course in the summer, when the trees fill out, it's magnificent."
It ain't bad in spring, even if the weather is a bit chilly.
"The first few holes are exposed [to the sea], but once you turn the corner it's fairly protected and you start to see wildlife," said Eric Wilson, another regular. "Plus, it's unique in that it's in the center of town. I can walk here in five minutes from my house."
There are a number of excellent holes, like No. 7, a 460-yard par 4 that plays along the river. It can be a bear into the wind and requires two solid shots to reach the green, which slopes right to left. No. 12, a shortish par 5, is still difficult to reach unless you hit a long draw off the tee. The 11th, which also plays along the river with a great view of the sea under a bridge, is a tough par 4 with grass bunkers that catch many a drive to the left.
Duff House Royal: The verdict
This is a great course to play, especially for MacKenzie fans, with its shared greens.
The course was once more open that it is now, but officials went through a rigorous tree-planting project. Like many Scottish courses, it isn't long at 6,161 yards, but also like many Scottish courses, strategy plays a more important part than brute strength.
With green fees of ₤25 pounds the course is a good deal. Weekend rates are about 40 percent higher.
Stay and play
Banff is just one town on the Moray Coast; the area is dotted with fishing hamlets set against rocky cliffs, and there are a number of good golf courses nearby.
The County Hotel in downtown Banff, built in 1778, is a fine example of the architecture of that time. It's owned and operated by a local couple and the food is excellent. The hotel will also set up golf packages for you.
June 1, 2006