Critics may howl about the shortcomings of this year’s Ryder Cup course, the PGA Centenary at Gleneagles, but there’s no debating the merits of the venue itself, the Gleneagles Hotel. Without question, the Gleneagles Hotel is one of the ten best golf resorts in the world.
One hour’s drive northwest of Edinburgh, the 90-year-old Gleneagles Hotel rocks it in every department possible. The French Chateau exterior of the hotel itself immediately informs you that you’ve arrived at someplace special. Tranquil surrounds enhance the “luxury getaway” aura. To the east and south lie the Ochil Hills. To the north hover the Grampian Mountains, gateway to the Scottish Highlands. Draped on a rolling canvas in the Perthshire countryside, Gleneagles oozes “special occasion” destination from every pore.
Obviously, the critical component in any great golf resort is the golf experience itself. It is here that Gleneagles soars. Sure, with its continuous cart paths and American stylings, the Jack Nicklaus-designed PGA Centenary course has been picked apart by course connoisseurs, and although it’s not an Open venue or a World Top 100, it’s not a bad track. For starters, it will forever hold the distinction of hosting a Ryder Cup, reason enough to check it off your bucket list. Second, it’s a rugged, handsome spread that makes no apologies for what it is. PGA Centenary is short on memorable holes, but strong on challenge, conditioning and scenic backdrops.
Resonating most vividly is the 461-yard, par-4 fifth, called “Crooked Cratur,” Gaelic for “twisted and undulating.” Trees crowd the landing area to the left and extend all the way to the green. The drive must find this sinuous fairway, ideally along the riskier left side, which provides a better angle into the green, which is closely guarded front-right by marshy wetlands. Risk/reward options highlight the driveable 320-yard, par-14th, and the two reachable closing par-5s, the 543-yard 16th and the 513-yard 18th, so even if they aren’t wow! holes, they at least deliver drama by their design.
Make no mistake, PGA Centenary is the clear Ryder Cup choice among Gleneagles courses because it’s got the requisite length and space. Its King’s and Queen’s sibling courses, however, sport more character and are more fun. The King’s is a 1924 James Braid creation. At 6,790 yards, this eight-time Scottish Open venue on the PGA European Tour plays very linkslike, with winds sweeping across the hills, crispy turf underfoot and yellow-flecked gorse bushes a frequent hazard in springtime. The 178-yard, par-3 fifth (called “Het Girdle”) is a front-nine standout, starting with its elevated tee in the trees and concluding with its griddle-shaped, propped-up pulpit green ringed with sand pits. Back-to-back favorites on the incoming nine are the brawny 464-yard, par-4 13th, called “Braid’s Brawest,” and the driveable 309-yard, par-4 14th, “Denty Den.” Both are superbly bunkered and backed with mountain panoramas.
At 5,965 yards, par 68, the Queen’s is a shorter, worthy companion. It sports more doglegs and more water than the King’s and may well be the prettiest of the three. Former Masters and British Open champion Sandy Lyle states that the Queen’s may not be of championship length, but it will test all of the shots in your repertoire. Tom Doak observes, “Overall, a morning battle with the King’s followed by an afternoon romp with the Queen’s is a hard day’s golf to match.” We can’t disagree with that assessment.
A family-friendly nine that was once the “Wee Course,” is available at the on-site PGA National Academy, but with all of Gleneagles’ other attractions, it’s tough squeezing in all of the golf holes on the property. Among those diversions are clay pigeon target shooting, trout fishing, falconry, off-road driving and equestrian activities. A world-class spa awaits those in need of pampering and rejuvenation and the dining options are dazzling.
OK, so Gleneagles doesn’t offer links golf. Its centerpiece golf course, the PGA Centenary, can’t compare with Scotland’s best. You’ll need plenty of room on the credit card to afford a stay. No matter. When you’re greeted at reception, or head for cocktails at the stunning, inviting lobby bar, or tee off on any of the three championship courses amid one of golf’s most historic, idyllic settings, you’ll find out very quickly why Gleneagles is worth the splurge.