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Gleneagles

Yardage
6790-Kings
Par
71
SSS
74
Built
1920
Architect(s)
James Braid - Kings & Queens, Nicklaus - PgaC.
Nature:
Two fine James Braid designed moorland courses, a great hotel, plus the 2014 Ryder Cup track.
Location/Address:
Off the A9 near Auchterarder. Postcode: PH3 1NF
http://www.gleneagles.com/golf
Secretary
-
Telephone
0800 704 705, 18664638734(USA)
Professional
Andrew Jowett
Green Keeper
Scott Fenwick
gleneagles hotel,
gleneagles hotel,
gleneagles hotel, James Braid, 2014 Ryder cup venue,
gleneagles hotel, James Braid, 2014 Ryder cup venue,
gleneagles hotel ryder cup venue 2014, james braid
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Access Policy:
visitors welcome
Dog Policy:
No dogs
Open Meetings:
-
Fees in 1960s
80p
Fees today
£175

Review

Gleneagles is an all round ‘joy to be alive’ experience for the wealthy family, offering as well as three magnificent golf courses, country pursuits, tennis, luxury shops and spa facilities, all in the surroundings of spectacular moorland views. Some might have been concerned when the world famous hotel, renowned for its legendary breakfast, built in 1920 by a railway company within an 850 acre estate, came into the

gleneagles hotel,

Gleneagles Hotel

hands of Diageo plc through their acquisition of Bells Whisky. But a major investment has been made and it is not surprising that the Daily Telegraph awarded it the accolade of the ‘Best of golf resort in the world’ recently. Having bought the right to host the Ryder Cup in autumn 2014, Diageo has clearly a long term objective within the golf market.

Gleneagles gained its credibility as a fine golf venue by inviting James Braid, (five times open champion and a member of the Great Triumvirate with JH Taylor and Harry Vardon, who all dominated professional golf at the beginning of the last century), to use his brilliant golf course design skills and create two exceptional courses across the undulating moorland on the side of the beautiful Strathallan Valley.

I first played the Kings and the Queens courses in August 1966 when a dry summer had browned-off both courses but with the grasses being predominantly the drought-resistant fescue/bent species there was still grass cover and the fiery conditions ensured I received an education in the challenging nature of the running game. I remember my putt on the first hole of the Kings that ran from the back of the green almost disappearing into the front bunker!

Today such a thing is unlikely to happen after the three wettest ever recorded years in the last four and the grasses over the years having changed to brown-top (colonial) bent/Poa annua, with more bent fine grasses on the Queens than the Kings greens.

gleneagles hotel ryder cup venue, james braid,

The few remaining rhodedendrons!

Something else that has also changed is the loss of most of the rhodedendrons either side of the path back to the hotel.

My uncle, Ian Macpherson Smith, the famous ‘Flying Scotsman’ told me of an amusing story from his youth in the 1930s. He played an 18 hole match with friends and the prize was for the player who won or halved a hole to drink a glass of port. He told of crashing into the rhodedendrons on one side, staggering out and falling into them on the other side of the path and so on, back to the hotel!

The wonderful enjoyment of these two Braid courses is epitomised by the fact that one can instantly recall every hole, with each one possessing a different characteristic and challenge. The Kings at 6471 yards (par 70, SSS 73) and The Queens at 5926 (par 68, SSS 69) off the white tees are short by modern standards but nevertheless the excitement they provide is continuous, with hole after hole giving surprise and requiring a strategic choice within the ability of different levels of golfers.

The failure of The R&A and USGA to impose controls on the power of the modern ball has unfortunately made it necessary to create blue tees on the Kings Course that add extra yards to 6790.

gleneagles hotel, James Braid, 2014 Ryder cup venue,

The Queen’s 18th drive

Scott Fenwick, the golf courses and estate manager, who has been at Gleneagles since 1980, explained to me that it is just not feasible to raise the mowing cutting height above 3mm (fescues need to have a minimum of 4mm) if they are going to give a reasonable speed of putt (say, nine to ten feet) for the heavy volume of golfing traffic throughout the spring and summer months. (Fescue/bent greens cut at 5mm, depending on the weather, can in a dry period run at 13 feet, but Poa dominated greens need to be cut low for speed and trueness).

Scott says “The focus is on producing quality surfaces through carefully planned cultural practices whilst reducing our fertiliser in-puts and incorporating the use of biological products. This has allowed us to use minimal fungicides or pesticides in the past couple of years”.

Another positive aspect is the on-going major drainage works on fairways and greens that will hopefully start to dry out and firm-up all of the courses so that the natural running nature of the James Braid routing and green complex designs are not spoilt by the ability of golfers being able to rely on distance control ‘thru the air’ and stopping the ball dead, which can make holes so ‘samey’.

So we come to the third course here, which is attracting great publicity because it is to be used for the Ryder Cup in 2014 and is laid out on ground less attractive for golf though arguably with even better views of the surrounding moorland hills.

gleneagles hotel, James Braid, 2014 Ryder cup venue,

Queen’s short par four 15th

The previous six Ryder Cup venues in GB & I since 1983 have been the Belfry, the K Club and Celtic Manor, each being a ‘target’ style of course with lots of water features and penal hazards, built near large conurbations.

Before 1983, the following GB&I venues were used since the second world war: Ganton (49), Wentworth(53), Lindrick(57), Muirfield(73), Royal Lytham(61 & 77), Royal Birkdale(65 & 69) and Walton Heath(81).

The PGA changed the venues, with ‘target’ golf becoming fashionable by the early 1980s, away from the classic ‘running’ courses, to sites built to maximise commercial gain and they have been successful in growing the event.

At the height of the ‘target’ golf course building boom in the early 1990s, Jack Nicklaus’ course architect practice created the ‘Monarch’ course at Gleneagles on ground previously used by the subsidiary Glendevon and Princes courses.

In 2001 this course was renamed ‘PGA Centenary’ to celebrate the centenary year of The Professional Golfer’s Association and it has subsequently had a few design tweaks in preparation for the 2014 Ryder Cup but essentially remains a Jack Nicklaus ‘international target-style’ design enjoyed more by the long-hitting younger golfer than the normal recreational golfer.

gleneagles hotel, James Braid, 2014 Ryder cup venue,

Scots pine on PgaC 18th

I played the ‘PGA Centenary’ with a couple of delightful Spaniards, each of us with an electric trolley, though this course, in ‘conurbation mode’, is built with concrete buggy tracks along the border of all of the holes. Between greens and the next tee, which in a number of instances are quite a hike, a buggy is certainly helpful. Nevertheless I am not a lover of buggies, as riding in one hinders the golfer from preparing for his or her next shot and in Scotland there is little excuse that the golfer needs protection from a scorching sun!

There are four sets of men’s tees on each hole, the blues being 7300 yards (par 72 SSS 77) and the greens 5904 yards (par 71 SSS 70) while the same green yardage used for ladies gives a par of 72 and SSS of 75.

The Augusta (home of the US Masters) greens technology has been incorporated into the drainage system of these annual meadow grass (Poa Annua) dominated greens that, depending on how much rain has fallen, water can be sucked out or aeration pumped in, to retain a constant moisture content. When the pumps are switched on I am told they do make a bit of a noise in the background.

We can anticipate fast, receptive greens during the Ryder Cup with the top golfers firing their balls at the pin ‘thru the air’ and stopping them quickly. The greens are ‘computer’ designed with constant borrows that should produce a lot of birdies.

gleneagles hotel, James Braid, 2014 Ryder cup venue,

The secluded PgaC’s 5th green

It will all be about playing to the measured yardage and can we expect even the two-ball matches to take over five hours?! Or will the USGA’s ‘pace of play’ initiative goad the professional golfers into setting a better example?

The par five second hole of 516 yards is used on most of the marketing literature as a ‘signature’ hole and it is certainly ‘pretty’, with a wide manicured criss-cross mown fairway and a green perched at an angle above a lake with the beautiful moorland hills beyond. Clearly a birdie or even eagle chance, it is one of the few holes where a long iron can be run in to the green because of it’s flattish apron.

All the fairways are bulldozed and predictable, which the journey-man professionals these days prefer, perhaps from fear of losing thousands of pounds of prize money through any quirky, ‘unfair’ bounces of their ball, most often found on ‘running’ courses; when I played these fairways in a dry August there certainly wasn’t much roll.

Hole five, stroke index one, has a blind drive between trees and the inevitable ‘thru the air’ pitch over a marshy area to a raised flat green, is in an attractive secluded setting.

gleneagles hotel, James Braid, 2014 Ryder cup venue,

PgaC’s excellent seventh hole

The seventh is a good, par-four, right-hand dogleg played to a high green. The hill on the right of the green might be a good place from which to watch play on this interesting hole.

The ninth, a par five of 618 yards, is, I would suggest, the ‘iconic’ characteristic hole of this course. The Pro’s tip on the course-planner somewhat obviously suggests “driving between the right and left fairway bunkers”! They suggest the big hitters can reach in two across a lake to a forty-yard-long green protected by a front bunker, a deep run-off on half of the left side and positioned so that the green is at an angle to that approach line.

The vast majority of us should not consider this tantalising, penal shot but rather lay up short of central fairway bunkers, leaving a pitch of some 100 yards. Its all sounds exciting and I am sure will make for a great television spectacle but for the recreational golfer requires much hard work hanging on to their concentration as they flog down the fairway or deposit their ball into one of the three lakes.

Hole eleven is quite fun, where for the first time one might not want to use one’s driver, thereby giving a full shot into another long green over a deep burn.

The fourteenth is the other short par four and though the amount of fairway is disguised from the tee another full drive would be the normal option.

gleneagles hotel, James Braid, 2014 Ryder cup venue,

The PgaC’s stadium 18th green

The round finishes with two par fives at holes sixteen and eighteen. Both give the long hitter a high-risk chance of being on the green in two which doubtless, like Augusta, will give good television, particularly the last hole which is sited in a natural bowl around which there are already hospitality tents being built.

I played the course on my way up to Royal Dornoch for the 100th Carnegie week where each year I am reminded that I need to focus and commit to every shot played from crisp, firm turf, taking account of pin positions on every hole before teeing-off, to calculate my strategy. I did not get this feeling on the PGA Centenary.

gleneagles hotel, James Braid, 2014 Ryder cup venue,

PgaC’s pretty, short sixth

One learns to cope with the Dornoch short holes and breathes a sigh of relief as each one (177, 161, 146, 171 yards from the medal tees) is carefully completed without a disaster. In comparison, the short holes on the PGA Centenary (211/239, 176/201, 190/208, 179/194 yards from the white/blue tees), do not inspire and much like so many of the long par fours here, they feel simple and samey.

This course over the next year will doubtless gain the accolade of many pundits and the Ryder Cup television crew will wax exemplar. Because of this it has to be compared to the finest and unfortunately in conclusion I have to agree with a number of people who have described the course as a bit of a slog, lacking in subtlety.

Because this is a venue for the Ryder Cup,many visitors will want to try it out.  

An exhilarating event because it is team and match-play, and also gives the pros the opportunity to be patriotically emotional.

gleneagles hotel, James Braid, 2014 Ryder cup venue,

The drive at PgaC’s nineth

However, if they return to this luxurious, comfortable, high-quality service (though I must have caught the Queens starter on a bad day, as he ticked me off for arriving on the tee two minutes late!) resort, my bet is that they may well prefer to play the James Braid, Kings and the Queens courses.

Jack Nicklaus, who should be a hero to most golfers, created the PGA Centenary in the ‘target’ golf era and it has been further extended to take account of the fact that the ball and equipment manufacturers are running rings around The R&A and USGA.

This is not a happy coincidence for those who seek the subtlety and creative shot-making of the running game but may appeal to those whose primary emphasis is on how much further they can hit the ball than their competitor.

 

Reader Comments

On September 25th, 2013 Peter Newman Said:

Your comments chime very much with our own experience from last August (2013), when we were lucky to find a few dry days for our stay. But unlucky in that the whole complex had been battered by a long cold wet spring and none of the courses was in good condition at all. I felt sorry for the greens staff, though I was especially disappointed that our round on the Kings Course was rather ruined by putting through heavy sand…the aftermath of several days heavy maintenance. I went back the following morning to express my disappointment to the Course Manager who apologised and invited us to return and play our fourball again, gratis, on another occasion. I do look forward to returning on my next visit to Perthshire…but it will certainly be to the Kings Course, rather than the PGA Centenary, for which I feel I am now too weak and aged!

On September 26th, 2013 Paul Stevens Said:

Sorry, but I remember when the Ryder Cup used to be played on golf courses, unlike now, when they are purely money making vehicles. The Ryder Cup was never about money, which is exactly what I talk about on my after dinner speeches. Also the ruination of our game and the classic courses, by the failure of USGA and The R and A to place a velocity restriction on the golf ball, which has now become pretty much illegal. So sad.

On November 25th, 2013 James O'Sullivan Said:

Playing on a course designed by an American will make their team feel right at home – how nice of us!

On May 22nd, 2014 Paul Gray Said:

Well said, Paul Stevens. May I tentatively suggest that, whilst listening to the ill informed wax lyrical about the PGA Centenary during the Ryder Cup, those of us in a position to do so dare to voice our knowledge.