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Gleneagles is a name that stirs the imagination -- It has that distinctive, masculine ring of something quite regal, perhaps a very rare single malt whisky or some other luxury product. It's a solid name that says quality, style, and class. Gleneagles is of course, all of the above, but more than anything it is a name synonymous with golf and known the world over. The Gleneagles Hotel is perhaps one of the most elegant and luxurious in all Scotland, majestically situated amid its own 850 acre private estate of glorious rolling hills and glens in the Perthshire countryside - gateway to the Scottish Highlands. Yes, it has touches of yester-year, a kind of, good old days, sentimental appeal that most of us on this side of the Atlantic find irresistible. This is one of the few remaining grand dames of the hospitality business and a national treasure in its own right. They simply don't make them like this anymore.
This is a resort in the most literal sense of the word with a range of activities available to guests that is mind-boggling - falconry, archery, horse-back riding, shooting, fishing, off-road driving, tennis, swimming pools, a state-of-the-art health spa and at the very top of the list, golf. It is golf and the courses located at Gleneagles that have brought the property so much fame over the years. There are three courses in all, The Kings, The Queens and The PGA Centenary, the selected venue for The Ryder Cup matches in 2014. Gleneagles is above all a golf resort and quite an exceptional one at that.
It all started before the First World War when the accomplished Scottish architect and 5 time British Open Champion, James Braid was brought in to survey the land for possible development as one or two golf courses. It wasn't until 1919 that The Kings and Queens Courses opened for play and instant acclaim -- Braid had designed a pair of outstanding layouts. Gleneagles would satisfy itself with these two champions for more than half a century, until the burgeoning interest in golf and a subsequent over demand from golfers to play the courses, made expansion a necessity.
The first addition was The Princes Course, opened in 1974, then The Glendevon Course in 1980. Their lives came to an early end when both fell victim to progress - they were eliminated to make way for the Jack Nicklaus designed Monarchs Course, which opened in 1993. The Monarchs name was later changed to PGA Centenary. Play any one or all three Gleneagles courses and you are in for a golfing experience to be remembered. But to make the experience complete a stay in the hotel is a must. This will not be an inexpensive venture, so spoil yourself, bite the bullet and live in the lap of luxury for a couple of days.
Of the three courses, The Kings remains the winner it has been since 1919 -- my personal opinion, but most seem to agree. Braid, always the technician, truly came up with a masterpiece that has withstood the test of 89 years of time. Brimming with character, this moorland course is about as Scottish as any course can be. Magnificently crafted from the landscape, the track winds its way through trees, shrubs and an astounding landscape of brilliant colors, rolling hills and stunning vistas. No two holes are alike and with Braid's penchant for shrewd bunkering, club selection and accuracy are always important. Measuring 6,790 yards from the tips, the Kings Course is a worthy champion and ready for the best.
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 and away from the shadow of The Kings; it would receive far more acclaim than is the case. The Queens is well worth playing and shouldn't be missed.
Created specifically as a venue for championship golf, The PGA Centenary Course seems to have also been built with the American golfer in mind. Whether that is good or bad is very much a matter of personal preference, so play 'em all and make your own choices. Whether this is your cup of tea or not doesn't detract from the spectacular setting enjoyed by The Centenary and the sense of grandeur it evokes. The Centenary is likely to be around for a long time to come, so the argument over which is Gleneagles' best course can continue for a few more generations at least.
Although 2014 seems to be a long way off and it is true it will be the very first time Gleneagles, or any other Scottish course has hosted The Ryder Cup, it's ironic that Gleneagles has been connected with this event, longer than any other course. The first official Ryder Cup matches were held in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1927, but that was not the real beginnings of the friendly, biennial golf tournament, then played between a British/Irish team and the USA.
The very first attempt at running such an international tournament had occurred 6 years earlier in 1921. A strong British team including six-time British Open Champion, Harry Vardon, joined by James Braid, J.H. Taylor and seven others, trounced a much weaker US team, despite it including Walter Hagen. Spectator attendance was poor, media coverage was worse and the US lost 9 to 3 with three matches halved. Prospects of this becoming a regularly scheduled event were slim to non-existent. The recently opened Gleneagles Kings Course was the venue for that 1921 disaster and the real beginnings of The Ryder Cup. It's perhaps more than a little unfair that Gleneagles will have waited some 93 years before being officially invited to The Ryder Cup party.
For a few ideas on how to include any or all of Gleneagles three championship courses in your Scottish trip, click here.
© 2008 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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