When it comes to identifying
Britain’s finest golfing resorts,
Gleneagles is never far from
the top of the list. A sporting
oasis, situated on the
doorstep to the Highlands,
will revel in presenting the
game’s showcase event.
Clive Agran checked in
The green fee at glorious Gleneagles varies from £70
to £175 according to the time of the year and
whether or not you’re staying in the magnificent
hotel but it matters not which course you play –
Kings, Queens or PGA Centenary. Very unusually
for a resort with three courses, possibly uniquely,
there’s no stand-out, this-is-the-one-you-brag-to your-
mates-you’ve-played course. A good case can
be made for each that, if you only have time for
one round, this is the one to tee it up on.
From the very outset one hundred years ago,
when five-time Open champion James Braid first
set foot on the perfect moorland turf and admired
the most glorious of settings, the intention was to
create three courses. The Kings came first and although construction
was interrupted by the First
World War, it opened to great
acclaim on May 1, 1919 and has
more than held its own ever since.
Despite being over 500 feet above
sea level, it possesses quite a few of
the characteristics more commonly
associated with the sort of genuine
links courses with which Braid
would have been very familiar.
Foremost amongst these is the
resilient turf on a gravelly sub-soil.
The striking undulations, sandy
ridges, rough hollows and incessant
breezes will have reinforced the
familiar linksy feel but the ravines
and towering pines will have presented
refreshingly novel challenges.
But Braid embraced them
Although at a tad under 6,800
yards it’s not especially long by modern
standards, the dramatic elevation
changes render calculating distance
decidedly tricky and make it feel longer than it is. The now iconic first that stares you straight in
the face and is home to the steepest bunker in Gleneagles, if not
the whole of Perthshire, provides an accurate foretaste of what
lies ahead as the Kings is the hilliest of the three, has more sand
that the other two and boasts the largest greens. As he looked up
at the opening hole, Lee Trevino remarked, “If heaven is anything
like this, I hope they save me a tee-time.”
Whereas the Kings is an outward looking course with spectacular
views over the nearby Ochil Hills and the Grampians
and Trossachs beyond, the Queens is more inward looking with
imposing pines atop ridges providing shelter and creating a
genuine sense of intimacy.
Also designed by Braid but initially only nine holes, the full
18 on the Queens opened for business in September 1925. Not
quite 6,000 yards off the back tees and consequently significantly
shorter than the Kings, it is often thought of as the younger
sister and mistakenly regarded by some as the easiest at
Gleneagles. “In my opinion, it’s the most underrated of the
three,” remarked Andrew Jowette, the Head Professional.
What it may lack in yards, it would appear to make up in popularity as a straw poll among members
revealed it to be comfortably ahead of the
other two. Even the taxi driver who drove me
up there said it was the best and you couldn’t
find a more authoritative and reliable source
than that, surely!
“Those who don’t know it very well think it
must be short and easy, which it most certainly
isn’t,” observed Jowette. “The first six
holes are often into the wind, incredibly
tough and are exceptionally strong. You have
to get through them and then make your
score.” As with the Kings, significant elevation
changes put a premium on distance control and correct club
Survive the first half-a-dozen and then admire the next six holes,
which are quite breathtakingly beautiful. With the yellow from the
gorse and broome gradually giving way to purple as the heather
flowers in late summer, the scenery is simply dazzling.
Originally christened the Monarch’s course when it opened in
1993, what is now known as the PGA Centerary was designed by
Jack Nicklaus and is very different from its two near neighbours. At
7,300 yards, it is the longest inland course in Scotland and has
clearly been conceived on the grand scale.
It’s unmistakeably a stadium course with generous fairways,
splendid vantage points and deliberate matchplay holes that
should make for a memorable Ryder Cup this September. Quite a
bit of tweaking was carried out last winter in an effort to improve it
further and no fewer than 12 holes were altered. The most significant
changes were made to the ninth and 18th, both of which are
par fives and should offer up some birdies, eagles and witness significant
swings in fortune.
“It’s not the most difficult golf course in the world but it wasn’t
meant to be,” observed Nicklaus. “I didn’t want to ruin it for the
guests and members. “
It’s the only course at Gleneagles where you don’t need to produce
a medical certificate in order to take a buggy, which goes
some way to meeting the criticism that it’s more than a few yards
from quite a few of the greens to the next tee.
There are some who feel it’s too ‘American’ and will therefore play
into the hands of the enemy. They would rather the Kings had been
chosen as the Ryder Cup course. In answer to that the experts explain
the PGA Centenary is the only one that could accommodate the 45,000
or so spectators who will descend on Gleneagles next September.
Perched up on the hills of Perthshire and originally owned by the
Caledonian Railway Company, Gleneagles is a great deal more than three
superb golf courses. Since its doors first swung open in the middle of the
roaring twenties, the imposing and impressive five-star hotel has entertained
royalty, film stars, numerous sportsmen and women, loads of
celebrities and plenty of the rather well-heeled.
Standing serenely at the top end of that famous drive amidst perfectly
manicured lawns, neatly trimmed hedges and colourful flower beds, it
exudes quality and evokes an era when the rich and famous visited with
the sole purpose of enjoying themselves. And even though times have
changed and fashions moved on, the same single-minded determination
to have fun is still at the heart of the Gleneagles’ experience.
Incidentally, although the occasional young eagle that’s been evicted
from the nest does, from time to time, put in a fleeting appearance overhead,
the name Gleneagles derives not from soaring great birds but from
the Gaelic ‘eaglis’ meaning church.
Possibly to make up for any avian disappointment, there is an extremely
impressive falconry at Gleneagles that houses dozens of magnificent
raptors. There are regular sessions where you can learn how to handle the
birds and, for those who fancy it, there’s the chance to accompany Harris
Hawks as they go in pursuit of game birds and rabbits.
As well as hunting, not unsurprisingly, there’s shooting and fishing as
well on the 850-acre estate, not forgetting horse riding, carriage driving,
show jumping, archery, gundog handling, off-road driving, croquet,
cycling, walking, swimming, tennis and wildlife photography.
For the less energetic, there’s an award-winning spa, hair salon, nail bar
and a range of shops including one that only sells whisky.
There are several dining options including a rare restaurant that boasts
two Michelin stars and the popular Dormy Clubhouse. Inspired by the jazz
age glamour of the 1920s, The Bar is the social heart of the hotel. By day,
it's great for coffee and shortbread or an informal lunch. In the evening,
the lights go down, the music plays softly and extensive but informal
research is carried out into the 120 single malt whiskies on offer. Here’s
hoping this is where the American team will congregate on the evening of
Sunday September 28, 2014 to drown their sorrows.
Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine