Stay and play at Gleneagles and you'll understand why the Perthshire Estate, host venue for The 2014 Ryder Cup, is known as 'A Glorious Playground'
The Ultimate Stay And Play At Glorious Gleneagles
Since opening in the summer of 1924, Gleneagles has offered its guests a luxurious and authentically Scottish experience. On arrival, it’s clear this is no ordinary place to play golf. Today, under the new ownership of Ennismore, Gleneagles has benefitted from a multi-million pound investment project, which has reaffirmed its position as one of the world’s very best golf destinations.
The three championship golf courses may represent the initial draw for golfers – its hallowed fairways of which have been graced by many of the game’s legends – but golf is just part of the story – it’s what sets ‘The Glorious Playground’ apart. There aren’t many places you can bolster your itinerary with other sports and country pursuits, such as shooting and fishing, to compliment three rounds of unforgettable championship golf.
Golf sits at the heart of its rich history. Opening for play in 1919, a year later and the first major competition stories were etched into the history books with the Glasgow Herald Tournament played on The King’s Course into the 1930s. The Curtis Cup was also hosted here in 1936, and long before Europe locked horns with the United States at The 2014 Ryder Cup, there was a ‘little’ match between a group of British and US professionals on The King’s Course. That contest, in 1921, which the British team won by nine points to three, is widely accepted today as the precursor to The Ryder Cup.
For many, The King’s occupies top spot; it’s a James Braid masterpiece, beautifully carved into the pine trees and represents ‘inland links’ at its finest. There are few better feelings than a sweetly struck iron from the springy moorland turf, especially when you successfully negotiate a blind shot to find your ball in the centre of the fairway.
Arrive early on the first tee and soak it all in. From here, a wide and inviting fairway rises sharply to a hilltop green. It’s easy to rack up a big number with your focus momentarily diverted by the glorious views. Indeed, Lee Trevino once said: “If heaven is anything like this, I hope they save me a tee time.”
It’s a course that requires a solid strategy, which becomes apparent from the off. Up ahead, and the par-4 3rd typifies this with its raised green hidden by a ridge. Length is not so much the issue, rather finding the right spot from the tee, and a trusty long iron is often the answer. The 4th is an iconic hole that many regard as the toughest on the resort. On this occasion, a long drive, favouring the right side, is required. The slope to the left of the green should be avoided at all costs. Doglegs follow at the 6th and 7th, the latter of which is sharper with a number of punishing bunkers. Fear not, sustenance awaits after ten if you’ve put your order in. It’s recommended you do, if only to spark that conversion of ‘golf’s best halfway huts.’
Playing into the prevailing wind, the start to the back nine is a tough one, before another blind tee shot on 12. Trust your course planner and commit to your tee shot, which ideally needs to find the left side of the fairway. The risk reward par 4 14th is in reach for big hitters, and it’s hard to resist, even with its greenside bunkers. Onto the 16th and proof that short par 3s are not to be underestimated. Nine bunkers protect this hole, so the middle of the green is always the safe play. Your head may be spinning by the time you reach ‘King’s Hame’ but if you can two-putt the largest green on the course then you’ll finish on a high.
It’s hard not to feel a hint of sadness as your round draws to a close, but you need not worry at Gleneagles, for the fun never stops. One of the best ways to recharge is with a visit to Auchterader 70 at the famous Clubhouse, where you can enjoy a relaxing lunch. Craft beer lovers will find it particularly refreshing. It was a test on the course but now your self-control will be measured as you tuck in to a number of delightful small plates, including haggis pakora, duck spring rolls and vegetable tempura. It’s certainly not the only culinary experience to sample, but for a spot of post-round golf it’s hard to beat, unless you fancy yourself with a rod. Your rainbow trout can be cooked by the chef, or chilled and vacuum packed to take home. Whatever you decide, you can enjoy it to the full safe in the knowledge the calories can be burnt off with another 18, perhaps over the famous Ryder Cup layout.
The PGA Centenary Course hosted the Johnnie Walker Championship between 2005 and 2013, before the eyes of the golfing world narrowed in on the Jack Nicklaus design for the Ryder Cup a year later. It was a memorable one for captain Paul McGinley and his victorious European team. No doubt it was, too, for anyone lucky enough to be a part of that week. Even in defeat, you imagine the American party made the most of their visit to the Perthshire estate.
The PGA Centenary Course opened in 1993, and it’s saying something that Nicklaus, who’s worked with some spectacular settings around the world, described the par-72 layout as “the finest parcel of land in the world I’ve ever been given to work with.” The beautiful Perthshire countryside would have been the last thing on Webb Simpson’s mind as he skied his opening drive on ‘Bracken Brae’ barely 100 yards to get the biennial content underway.
However, Nicklaus has a point, and even the iron skies enhance its beauty. The course begins playing southeast towards the famed Glen of Eagles. A par is no bad start, before stepping onto a signature hole at the par-5 2nd. Find the right side of the fairway and the hole is made far easier, because up ahead the green is well protected by bunkers, water and swales. The major test on the front nine comes at the par-4 5th, known as ‘Crookit Cratur’, where tree trouble is easy to find left and right, making for an intimidating tee shot. The green is protected by marshland short and on the right, making par no easy task.
As you may expect from a course that has hosted a Ryder Cup, it features a number of dramatic risk-reward tests. The par-5 9th is one example, where a long drive between the left and right fairway bunkers will bring the green into range in two. However, water on the right may sway the majority to play the hole as a strategic three shot par 5. On the back nine, there’s also an opportunity for glory at the short par-4 14th, although the shallow green is well guarded.
However you’re feeling at this point in the round, imagine what was going through Jamie Donaldson’s mind as he settled over his approach to the 15th? “Be good,” he growled, as his wedge shot honed in on the flag. Moments later his ball nestled near the pin and Europe had won The Ryder Cup. The galleries may not be there to witness your recreation from 146 yards, but, nonetheless, the hairs may well be standing on the back of your neck. With two par 5s in the closing three holes, you have the opportunity to sign off in style. The final risk reward on 18 is stunning. Give yourself a pat on the back if you can reach in two, for it’s a narrow entrance into the green requiring absolute precision.
The Dormy Clubhouse will undergo a major makeover…
Europe strolled to victory in the 2014 Ryder…
Whatever course you sign off on, you’ll head home desperate to return. A good handful of members will tell you you’ve saved the best for last if that happens to be The Queen’s. Like The King’s, The Queen’s underwent a renovation programme that finished in 2017, which included taking the fairway cut lines back to Braid’s original design. It’s more inward looking than The King’s, and shorter than its illustrious neighbour, but this woodland setting, with its tight rolling fairways and small sheltered greens, is simply delightful.
After a tough opening hole, a short par 3 follows, before the par-4 3rd, one of The Queen’s toughest tests. Like The King’s, finding the right section of the fairway is crucial on the par 68 layout; only then is it really possible to take advantage, although don’t expect the greens to be simple to negotiate, they’re anything but. Blind tee shots also require your full attention, the first of those coming on the par-4 8th, before a testing 90-degree dogleg right to close the front nine.
Coming home, it’s shorter, although the examination starts with a tricky dogleg left. Back-to-back par 3s await on the 13th and 14th, the latter of which features a large two-tier green. Take note of the pin location and be sure to find the same level. A short par 4 follows, an eagle a possibility if you can successfully block out the trouble on the left and right. A driver might not be everyone’s choice but get the big stick out for the 16th, an excellent driving hole that should see wayward drives back into the fairway. The finale, ‘Queen’s Hame’, offers a memorable view from its elevated tee box, and favours a drive down the right side to give you the best chance of a neat finish.
Few places in the world offer the same breadth of activities as Gleneagles. The country pursuits present a chance to try new activities and stumble upon hidden skills – and that opportunity should not be missed. Its Shooting and Fishing School includes archery, air rifle, clay target shooting and fly-fishing. The wood-clad Shooting Lodge can cater up to 30 people. With its roaring log fire, it’s a winter favourite, but the barbeque during summer months is also very special.
Meanwhile, the Equestrian School is one of the finest in Scotland and offers an unrivalled range of equestrian experiences. Gleneagles is also home to the British School of Falconry, offering introductory lessons, hawking days and falconry for groups. Then there’s the Gleneagles Gundog School, which opened in 2007 and was the first of its kind in the world. Over ten years later and thousands of guests have marvelled at the magnificent Labradors and taken part in training sessions with their professional instructors. However you choose to supplement your golf trip, Gleneagles’ enthusiastic experts are only too pleased to pass on their knowledge.
The great outdoors will certainly work up at appetite, which is just as well. There’s something for everyone when it comes to dining at Gleneagles. The Strathearn’s breakfast is legendary, featuring an array of the best of Scotland’s seasonal larder and heritage. Enjoy classical fine dining at dinner, too, and silver service. For those who enjoy an aperitif, the refurbished Century Bar, regarded as the beating heart of the hotel, is a good place to start your evening. It’s here where you can sample some of Scotland’s finest collections of old and rare whiskies.
Elsewhere, The Birnam Brasserie, inspired by the grand Parisian cafes of the early twentieth century, offers all-day dining from a menu comprising classic and modern dishes. The Dormy is a superb new addition and a real favourite with golfers. Relax by the fireplace, enjoy views of The King’s and Queen’s and sample treats from the pizza and tandoor ovens. Also new, the glamorous American Bar is a wonderful place to sign off. Sit back and soak up the atmosphere with a cocktail inspired by the roaring twenties.
The multi-million pound refurbishment programme has seen some bold plans come to fruition. Today, the hotel comprises 232 luxury bedrooms and suites, offering guests a true taste of Gleneagles with a glamorous yet homely feel. If there weren’t so much to enjoy on the 850-acre estate, it would be a hard job leaving your room.
Gleneagles is now looking ahead to The 2019 Solheim Cup. It’s understandable why the venue has staged some of the game’s most prestigious events, and that looks set to continue. Maybe it’s time you treated yourself to a stay and play like no other.
* Lowest hotel guest rate from Nov 1 2018, up to peak rate Jul-Sept ’18 for visitors.
Day ticket prices (36 holes) £120-£300, also season dependent.