Murcar is a golf course in Aberdeenshire, and frequently appears in the top 100 golf courses in the UK, not just Scotland. When visiting golfers head for Scotland’s north-east coast there are four must play courses – including Murcar Links, Royal Aberdeen, Cruden Bay and Trump International. Murcar Links borders Royal Aberdeen and is located just a couple of miles north of the city centre. Murcar is a friendly welcoming club as is evident from the moment you drive into the car park.
Cruden Bay and Murcar Links contrast each other with thrilling views, blind drives and idiosyncrasies. As is so often found with true links courses, it improves with each round played. Murcar was originally designed by Archie Simpson, when he was the professional at Royal Aberdeen in 1909, with later refinements made in 1930’s by the celebrated golf course designer James Braid. Murcar Links and Royal Aberdeen retain close links to this day with Murcar’s 4th tee situated on land belonging to their neighbour on a long-term loan agreement.
Murcar is by no means a long course at a shade over 6,500 yards but a look down the scorecard will confirm that its par is far from generous. There are only three short holes and two par fives, neither of which stretch to 490, let alone 500, yards. A standard scratch of 72, one over par, tells its own story.
Murcar offers realism and a sense of proportion. As is so often the case with true links courses, it improves with each round played.
In truth, the start is a quiet one and not until the 3rd, with its green set in a dell at the base of dunes does Murcar really get into its stride. From here the next six holes, with one exception, run due north parallel to the sea, in what is the finest stretch of the course. It begins with a fine short par five to a plateau green. Downwind, it is notoriously difficult to judge your approach and birdies are less common than you might imagine.
Then comes a classic short hole played across a valley and it is followed by two incredibly challenging par fours. The pick of them is undoubtedly the 7th, Serpentine, which is Murcar’s finest moment.
From the elevated tee, all the trouble is apparent – but that certainly does not make it any easier to avoid. A stream winds across the fairway some 190 yards from the tee and when played into the breeze, this is very much in play to all but the strongest hitters. Five is never a bad score here.
A charming short par four ends the outward half and tempts the longer hitters into playing aggressively but with such a small target power must be allied to precision or else fives and sixes are the most likely result.
Now at the furthest point away from the clubhouse, the back nine starts with another testing par four, this one blind and bending to the left. It seems to play much longer than its yardage would suggest.
After moving inland for a couple of holes, the fun continues at the 13th, where the tee shot is blind but the golfer is well aware of the out of bounds fence running down the right. It is followed by the second par five, again with out of bounds to the right and a green that is bordered by a stream attracting anyone attacking in two but insufficiently accurate.
The last of the short holes is the 16th and it is well worth waiting for. Then comes a par four that appears narrower than it actually is. In truth, the closing hole, like the opening one, is no better than modest, offering an overly generous landing area and green for a course of such quality.
It does not, though, detract from the overall experience of a links that has changed little since James Braid and George Smith advised on some modifications to the original design in the 1930s.