ABERDEEN CITY, Scotland -- Whether a result of the golf course, the coaching or the quality of the clubhouse food, Murcar Links Golf Club indisputably produces talented golfers.
No fewer than 100 members own a handicap of 5 or better, and the highest figure among the club's 12-man team is 1. Perhaps the golf course should take credit, since it undoubtedly rewards good golf and punishes errors.
A glorious seaside links perched on the rugged coast of northeast Scotland, it boasts all the ingredients for which one hopes -- magnificent dunes, super turf, fast greens and fabulous holes.
And yet, Murcar Links Golf Club has not received the recognition it thoroughly deserves. Maybe it's eclipsed a bit by its immediate and illustrious neighbour, Royal Aberdeen Golf Club and its a Balgownie Links and Silverburn Course.
Murcar's fourth tee backs to Royal Aberdeen's ninth green. One golf course is clearly visible from the other. History links them, too, as Archie Simpson, twice runner-up in the Open Championship and the former professional and keeper of the green at Royal Aberdeen, designed Murcar Links -- a job for which he was paid about $25.
The year after Murcar Links Golf Club opened in 1909, Simpson left Aberdeen to work near Chicago and Detroit, where he lived to a ripe, old age.
In the 1930s, the celebrated James Braid made some refinements to the golf course. Recent alterations improved it further. Not content to rest on their laurels, the current committee has invited suggestions to improve 11th and 13th holes as the accumulation of sand from the North Sea somewhat altered their configuration and character.
The golf course has hosted its share of top tournaments, including eight Northern Opens, the European Challenge Tour's inaugural Scottish Challenge in 2006, the European Girls Team Championship and the Scottish Amateur Strokeplay Championship. The latter two took place in 2009, the club's centennial year.
Paul Lawrie, the 1999 Open champion, visits Murcar Links Golf Club frequently. In fact, he performed the ceremony when the new clubhouse opened in 2006.
Gary Forbes, the head professional, said he believes that flight management of the ball rates as the key to scoring well at Murcar Links.
"Of course, it's essential to hit the fairways," Forbes said. "But controlling the ball in the wind is just as vital. Choose an area where you want the ball to land and go for it. Another aspect of the game that visitors should consider is not being too ambitious -- as they often are -- when hitting out of the rough.
"Even if you only advance the ball 10 or 20 yards, it's imperative to get back on the fairway."
Make certain to heed his advice when playing the treacherous but glorious seventh hole. Named after the winding burn that flows along the right side, the Serpentine rates as the undisputed signature hole. Push or pull your tee shot, and you'll face deep trouble. But as long as the wind isn't howling into your face, if you hit it long and straight, you'll have half a chance to reach the green in regulation on this tough, 423-yard par 4.
The yardage books help, but caddies offer more assistance, especially in dealing with several blind shots and staying away from difficult spots. Murcar Links allows no golf carts, and caddies must be booked in advance.
If you don't fancy challenging the mighty main golf course, an extremely attractive alternative exists in Murcar's Strabathie course, a nine-hole test. When played as 18 – each hole includes two sets of tees – it appears relatively short by modern standards at 5,369 yards. But it's a significant challenge, with the Strabathie Burn entering play on six of the nine holes.
Although not as famous as other destinations, Murcar Links won't disappoint anyone lucky enough to play it.
"Some holes are testing," Forbes said. "Some are pleasing, and some are comparatively easy, but no two are the same."
Take plenty of balls. Swing smoothly. Stay out of the rough, and enjoy.
June 29, 2010