Murcar Links Golf Club: A rising star north of Aberdeen
ABERDEEN, Scotland - A lot of so-called aficionados of golf in Scotland will tell you Murcar Links Golf Club just north of Aberdeen is one of the country's "hidden gems." It's an unassuming little links gem the outside world has not yet discovered.
They're right about the gem part. Hardcore golfers will not want to miss this place. As to the hidden, however, well, if you want to beat the crowds, you might want to book your tee times now. More and more, Murcar is being named in lists of the best links golf courses in Scotland, and for good reason.
It's also a golf course hungry to make a name for itself by undergoing some costly and ambitious renovations of late, as well hosting pro events.
Beginning July 6 Murcar hosts the Scottish Challenge on the European Challenge Tour. It marks the first time in 12 years that tour has made a stop in Scotland, according to Derek Mortimer, the club's captain.
Locals who know Murcar are charged up for the event. Aberdeen native Paul Lawrie, winner of the 1999 British Open, has raved about the Murcar course in print and told EuropeanTour.com, "to have secured Murcar Golf Links, a course I know well, is a great coup for the Scottish Challenge."
The club recently completed a £3-£4 million clubhouse renovation and will soon unveil a new practice range and dedicated short game area, Mortimer said.
There have been recent improvements to the links as well, including constructing six new tees and 11 new bunkers and renovating five existing bunkers. They've also removed a bit of the brutal gorse, not so much to alter play but to open up the views to the fairways.
"I have been impressed by the changes to the course and, hopefully, it will take it back into the top 50 courses in the UK, a position I believe it deserves," Lawrie added.
Murcar Links Golf Club: The real deal
Originally designed by Archie Simpson and first opened in 1909, Murcar underwent upgrades and refinements in the 1930s under the direction of James Braid. Thanks to Braid's influence it remains a pristine example of tradition Scottish links golf. In fact, it was only recently that it reverted back to its original name, Murcar Links Golf Club, as a way to emphasize both its heritage and its traditional links layout.
"This is a classic Scottish links. Absolutely classic links," Andrew Cooper, a golf professional from a nearby course, said after finishing his round at Murcar. "It's a great piece of land."
Despite its history and pedigree (do any of the courses in Scotland not have history and pedigree!?) there's nothing stodgy about Murcar Links Golf Club. There is a sense of energy to the club. It's hard to put a finger on, really. But golfers here get the sense it is not a club content to rest on its laurels or reputation. They want the course to be even better and they want you to golf there. That's refreshing.
"Club captain Derek Mortimer and his committee have shown tremendous vision and determination to take Murcar forward," Lawrie told reporters.
Murcar Links Golf Club: The Verdict
Murcar Links Golf Club may be just 6,287 yards, but don't let the length fool you. It's a course that will "shred you in a heartbeat," according to Kiawah Island Golf Resort Head Professional Jim Kelechi.
Kelechi is right. You're not going to find in-your-face routing and blind shots here. And no vista from the Murcar course is going to take your breath away like standing on the 10th tee at Cruden Bay (which is not to say there aren't great views here, there are; in particular the seventh and 15th tees offer astounding scenery).
But forget postcards - serious golfers can appreciate the sublime and Murcar has sublime challenge in spades. And when you factor in the wind, it can be downright nasty.
"With the wind and conditions here, some days you can drive a hole with your driver and others it'll take a driver and long iron," said Cooper. "It just completely changes. Day to day it's a completely different golf course."
During certain stretches where you can't see the water, the rolling fairways at Murcar Links Golf Club give you a feeling almost like being on another planet. It's just you and your ball with that brutal gorse on both sides of the fairway and a velvety, near-perfect green ahead.
This may not be links golf at it's finest, but it's damn close. In fact, many Murcar fans boast that it's as pure a links golf experience as you'll find in the Aberdeen and Grampian area.
Stay and play
Murcar Links Golf Club is nine miles from Aberdeen Airport. It is a two-and-a-half-hour trip by car from the Edinburgh airport and three and a half from the Glasgow airport.
The Marcliffe Hotel and Spa (Tel: +44 (0) 1224 861 000, www.marcliffe.com) is set in 11 acres of wooded grounds in the western suburbs of Aberdeen three miles from the city center. Billed as an elegant refuge for both the business and leisure traveler.
The Queen's Hotel (Tel: +44 (0) 1224 209999, www.the-queens-hotel.com) lies in the heart of the west end of Aberdeen.
Skene House HotelSuites (Tel: +44 (0) 1224 645 971, www.skene-house.co.uk), was based on the American concept of an all-suite hotel. Each of the 145 suites has up to three bedrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom and a lounge.
The Holiday Inn (Tel: +44 (0) 870 400 9046, www.holiday-inn.co.uk) at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre is less then two miles away from Murcar. It has 123 bedrooms (of which 12 are executive rooms and two are suites).
The Swallow Udny Arms Hotel (Tel: +44 (0) 1358 789 444, www.swallowhotels.co.uk) is 10 miles from Murcar. With 26 rooms, the Swallow Udny Arms prides itself on taking good care of golfers by providing extras such as a golf storage room, shoe dryers and a drying room.
If Cruden Bay Golf Club is also on your itinerary, consider staying at the Red House Hotel just across from the golf club (Aulton Road, tel. +44(0) 1779 812215 ) and driving back south for your round at Murcar. Cozy and affordable, the staff at the Red House go out of their way to accommodate golfers.
Aberdeen eats well. Try some of these favorites (or just park and walk along Union Street until something catches your eye): The Ardoe House Hotel (South Deeside Road, Blairs, Tel. +44 (0)1224 860600) applies a hint of French cooking using fresh local produce. Café 52 (52 the green, Tel. +44 (0)1224 590094) boasts original but uncomplicated food in a pleasant environment. Gerard's (50 Chapel Street, Tel. +44 (0)1224 639 500) is an Aberdeen institution with top notch game, seafood and Aberdeen Angus beef. If you're on the hunt for great fish and chips, don't miss The Ashvale (42-48 Great Western Road, Tel. +44 (0)1224 596981).
June 30, 2006