Gleneagles: Three of Scotland’s Best!
The following article was originally written for PGATour.com by David Brice, President of Golf International. The articles represent trips available to Golf International customers.
Among the world’s distinguished golf resorts, a few names standout as being in a class entirely of their own. These are the creme de la creme golf pleasure havens where plush accommodations, fine restaurants and a wide choice of off-course diversions, combine with true championship courses, to form a complete luxury experience — but golf remains King.
Scotland’s fabled Gleneagles, a palatial gem, dating from the 1920’s, may be the epitome of such sanctuaries and certainly sits up there among the very best of the world’s most prestigious retreats. A stay here comes with several guarantees — it will be unabashedly luxurious; it will permit you to play three of Scotland’s most magnificent moorland layouts, and despite all of the grandeur and impeccable service, the Gleneagles experience remains unpretentious, extremely friendly, warm and accommodating. It’s a slice of all that makes Scotland so alluring, genuine Scottish hospitality included.
Gleneagles also enables guests to live the life of the country laird for a few days, enjoying everything from horseback-riding, to shooting, falconry, fishing, archery, off-road driving and a myriad of other non-golfing activities. Instruction is available if needed for the novice, together with any necessary special clothing and equipment.
The five restaurants offer an impressive range of dining possibilities, from the informal to the very plush, Andrew Fairlie restaurant, Scotland’s only eatery boasting two Michelin stars. And for those who may yearn for a little pampering, The Spa at Gleneagles ranks alongside the very best.
Splendidly situated on its own private estate of 850 glorious acres of some of the most stunning scenery to be found in a country filled with spectacular landscapes, it’s difficult to imagine Edinburgh and Glasgow are both less than an hour’s drive away. Conveniently located and with so much to offer, it’s golf at Gleneagles that is the irresistible attraction for any with an affection for the Royal & Ancient Game.
The resort boasts three championship courses. That master of early 20th century golf architecture, James Braid, designed the Kings and Queens Courses. The newest addition and 2014 Ryder Cup venue, The PGA Centenary Course, is a Jack Nicklaus design, inaugurated in 1993.
For most golf traditionalists it’s the 85-year-old Kings Course that holds the greatest appeal. It may be part sentimentality, partly its beguiling good looks and special charm, but the over-riding reason is simply quality — the challenge presented by this grand old champion of a moorland layout is the very best.
The design of the Kings Course is pure excellence; in fact James Braid considered this to be the crowning achievement of his impressive career. For a man with more than 200 course designs and remodeling projects to his credit, including some of Scotland’s very best – Carnoustie, Royal Troon, Royal Aberdeen and Nairn – that’s quite a statement.
Expertly blending his design into the stunningly beautiful terrain he was given to work with, Braid produced a layout that flows unobtrusively, almost poetically, along valleys and glens, through woods and across streams, never detracting from Mother Nature’s own handiwork. This is one of the world’s most natural courses.
The artistry of the shape and placement of greens and bunkers just add to the visual delight and the challenge from beginning to end demands technical ability and careful course management. The sheer variety of challenges rewards the thinking golfer possessing an ability to foresee the new problems that may lie ahead.
Always impeccably groomed, the Kings Course is 18-holes of near perfection, with more than its fair share of memorable tests.
The opening hole starts out in total innocence with a tee shot to a generously wide fairway. Don’t become overly confident, as there are surprises and some bewilderment ahead. The approach shot must climb a precipitously steep hill to a large plateaued green, with only the tip of the flag visible. A pair of scary bunkers waits patiently at the bottom of the rise for any shot falling short
With a touch of eccentricity, the 2nd and 3rd continue to bewilder, one snaking its way downhill and the other, totally blind, taking you back uphill again and across a valley fairway to a green severely sloping from front to back.
The 5th is Gleneagles answer to the Postage Stamp hole at Royal Troon, a par three played across the valley to a table green surrounded by steep banks and a generous selection of hungry bunkers immediately below. This is a true death or glory hole.
And so the ever-changing examination continues on an inspiring journey to the toughest of them all, the 13th, appropriately called, Braid’s Brawest, a lengthy 464 yard par 4 with devious bunkering, cruel rough and not an ounce of forgiveness for anyone.
Then there is the spectacular finish — a par 5 that literally gallops downhill all the way, allowing even those of more modest accomplishment to finish a memorable round with flair and perhaps the chance for a birdie.
There is no question that the Kings is one of the world’s great courses and a handsome thriller to be savored and enjoyed to the fullest. But this is only the beginning of the Gleneagles golf story. There are two more championship layouts calling out to be played and the temptation shouldn’t be resisted.
Sharing the same magical surroundings as its big brother, The Queens Course was laid out by Braid with the lady golfer in mind, but that shouldn’t deter anyone from playing it. This is a shorter and kinder course, though it contains some very demanding holes where only the most talented are likely to succeed. Water in the form of brooks, a meandering burn and some small lakes appear as additional hazards on The Queens, adding to the interest. Truth is, if this course was located anyplace else, away from the shadow of The Kings; it would receive far more acclaim than is the case. The Queens is well worth playing.
The Jack Nicklaus designed, PGA Centenary Course, adopts a distinctly American style, in total contrast to The Kings and Queens Courses. Built with the goal of attracting big-time, championship golf, that mission has been accomplished in grand style, after all, hosting the 2014 Ryder Cup is about as big-time as golf ever gets.
Measuring almost 7,300 yards from the back tees, this is Scotland’s longest inland course and undoubtedly, one of its toughest. Although there are five sets of tees, it’s the accomplished golfer who will obtain the most satisfaction out of playing the Centenary, those of lesser abilities who can tolerate some frustration will be confronted by a fair but very serious examination of golf skills. There are some semi-blind holes and a very strong defense arsenal of pot-bunkers, fairway traps, streams, ponds and hungry rough that demands a strategic approach from start to finish.
Love it or hate it (and there are few who fall in between) there is an aesthetic grandeur to the Centenary Course that is quite fascinating, only adding to the challenge that will be waiting for Team USA at the 2014 Ryder Cup, as they try to break 20 years without a win in Europe.
©2014 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.