Fergus Bisset was fortunate to play in the inaugural Aberdeen Golf Links Pro-Am this May. With tremendous courses and great off-course camaraderie, it was quite a few days.
Over 15 years writing on this sport I’ve done my best to, whenever possible, extol the virtues of golfing in the North East of Scotland, where I live and grew up.
Sometimes the focus is on my wonderful home club of Banchory (you’ll see what I’ve done there), but often the pieces I’ve written on Aberdeenshire have centred on the brilliant courses to be found on the coastline.
With classic championship links, unique seaside gems and modern masterpieces, the Aberdeenshire coast boasts a feast of testing and fascinating links golf.
As of this year, there’s a new way to enjoy three of the region’s very best courses, Royal Aberdeen, Cruden Bay and Trump International Golf Links, and I had the opportunity to experience it by playing in the inaugural Aberdeen Golf Links Pro-Am from 1-3 May.
A 54-hole competition, prizes were awarded to the top-three teams (with best two Stableford scores counting at each hole,) and cash prizes to the leading professionals.
I was lucky enough to be on a team captained by Ladies European Tour professional Michele Thomson – An Aberdeen native, representing Meldrum House Golf Club, she’s finished in the top-10 three times on the LET and, last year, together with Meghan Maclaren, took a bronze medal for GB in the European Championship at Gleneagles.
She’s an excellent player, but also a very nice person who was brilliant company through the event.
Also on our team was Colin, father of the event’s organiser David Harris.
David runs a company called Bonnie Wee Golf that organises golf tours around Scotland and Ireland (and now this pro-am) and his dad (a retired GP) drives the bus.
Not only was he to be my team-mate for the week but also my chauffeur, thank you again for that Colin!
The fourth member of our squad was Tom – an American staying in Aberdeen for a year or so who is here with a view towards playing quite a bit of golf… sounds like a good plan.
We got together on night one, pre-tournament, for a wonderful dinner at Meldrum House Hotel, just outside of Old Meldrum.
It’s one of Aberdeenshire’s most prestigious and luxurious hotels and we enjoyed brilliant food and hospitality in their characterful private dining room, and then a fine night’s sleep in the impressively converted stable block.
We needed that good night’s sleep as it was an early start for round one at spectacular Cruden Bay.
It was a tough opening as Aberdeenshire’s famous haar had settled across the links, but visibility was sufficient for play to get underway.
There are some highly memorable holes on the front nine at Cruden Bay – the par-3 4th with the village to the left and then the brilliant 5th, demanding two strong and precise shots.
The layout then climbs to deliver spectacular views around the turn before dropping on the far side of the headland for some secluded and attractive holes from the 10th to the 14th.
We battled well in testing conditions and Michele could be pleased with her three-over round.
The team were a little lower on the leaderboard and that was to be a theme over the three days.
You need to dovetail well in an event like this and we tended to have all our good holes together and the same with the bad ones… Not the recipe for high team Stableford scoring!
But it really doesn’t matter and, although there is obviously a competitive element, the main focus of this event is the fun and camaraderie, not only between your team but also with the other teams competing around you.
One of the fun things is that a number of the pros know each other well from playing together on the domestic circuit, and further afield.
There’s some great banter between them as they focus on the more important task of carding the lowest gross scores they can.
A few notable professional entrants for the week included, recent European Tour winner and two-time Scottish Amateur champion David Law, former Volvo PGA Championship winner Andrew Oldcorn and Spanish professionals Miguel Angel Martin and Carl Suneson.
Amateur entrants to the competition can either ask to be paired up with a PGA professional or travel to the competition with their own professional.
I think this would make a superb few days away for guys and girls across the country. Get three pals together, ask your club pro if they fancy a few days off at the start of the season and go for it!
The social side of this event was demonstrated on the first night, as David Harris had organised a get-together in McGinty’s pub on the corner of Union Street and Holburn Street in Aberdeen.
Pretty much the entire field, pros and amateurs, were there for a few beers, to watch the first leg of the Liverpool/Barcelona Champions League semi, and then to listen to some live music…
It was a great atmosphere and set the tone for how this event will become known: Yes, it provides a great chance to play great golf courses in a competitive format but more than that, it will mean meeting new friends and enjoying the company of like-minded golfers, both on the course and away from it.
Day two, the wind picked up a little and we arrived at Trump International for what would be a fairly testing day of golf.
With the breeze helping on the first few holes, we were lulled into a false sense of security. When we turned, the challenge became a little more severe.
Thankfully, with it being a team event, there’s not so much pressure for the amateurs, and Michele kept the ship steady as she posted another good score of three-over – a very decent effort in the conditions.
There are no weak holes at Trump International, it’s a triumph of design from Martin Hawtree. Admittedly, he had some superb terrain to work with, but what he has created is hugely impressive.
There’s a wonderful blend of long and short holes and, with both nines starting and ending at the clubhouse, the wind helps and hurts equally on both sides.
For a relatively new track, opened in 2012, it already has a feeling of maturity. The fairways are developing that links firmness and the greens are extremely true and fast-running.
The holes flow through the dunes and pristine grass walkways lead from greens to tees. Amidst the towering sand-hills, this place has to be seen to be believed.
Day three, we headed to Royal Aberdeen – the crowning glory for me – It’s a truly brilliant, classic links course and it was in exceptional condition when we played.
What wasn’t in exceptional condition unfortunately, was my game. Having been battered by the winds at Trump, my swing had gone on holiday and I realised as much when I hit a stone-cold top from the 3rd tee.
A couple of shanks and a few total duffs over the next 10 holes confirmed that I would be of little or no help to the team score on day three.
But, I really didn’t mind too much… We had all very much accepted that simply taking part in this event was what it was all about and we enjoyed watching Michele as she continued to play very solidly from tee to green. If she’d had even a little luck on the putting surfaces, she would have finished pretty high up the board.
As it was, Paul O’Hara finished as leading pro with a three-round total of level par. He was a shot clear of Graham Fox, Christopher McDonnell and David Law.
Paul was presented with his winner’s cheque at a gala dinner on the final night, held at the famous Marcliffe Hotel in Cults. At that event the players (plus guests) were treated to a fine meal, some hilarious videos re-capping the week’s action put together by Tee Video, and then a highly entertaining question and answer session compered by Dougie Donnelly and featuring Scottish golfing legend Sam Torrance. It was quite a night.
Bookings are being accepted for next year’s Aberdeen Golf Links Pro-Am and I can’t recommend it enough. If you would like to play or to put in a full team, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
To sum up – The Aberdeen Golf Links allows you to play three magnificent courses on the Aberdeenshire coast, a thrill in itself, but to do so as part of a professional tournament, recognised by the PGA, adds hugely to the experience.
Having the chance to take part in an organised competition, to witness a professional negotiating these iconic tracks with skill and strategy and to build friendships within your team and with the others competing, it’s hard to beat.
I hope and expect that this will be the first of many Aberdeen Golf Links tournaments.