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20 miles S of Perth
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In 1908, the idea for an hotel at Gleneagles came to Donald Matheson, general manager of the Caledonian Railway Company. He had a dream to build a “Palace in the Glens” which would attract noble and wealthy railway travellers. James Braid (the five times Open Champion) was commissioned to design the King’s course, assisted by Major C.K. Hutchison and Matheson himself.
In 1919 the championship King’s course opened for play and in 1921 the King’s course hosted the first informal Ryder Cup match between Great Britain and the USA. No half points were awarded for this fledgling event and a strong British team that included James Braid won the competition 9 points to 3.
Gleneagles is the perfect mountain setting for a game of golf; the King’s course is surely the best moorland track in the world. The sweeping views of the Ochil Hills and the peaks of Ben Vorlich and the Trossachs are simply ravishing.
Braid was given the most perfect terrain upon which to build a golf course and he built a very special golf course. The holes blend perfectly into the landscape. The springy fairways wind their way through punishing rough, strewn with heather and gorse. Many mature pines, silver birch and rowan provide natural amphitheatres on a number of the holes.
You cannot help but be enchanted by this golf course. Even the named holes are evocative: Silver Tassie, Blink Bonnie and Wee Bogle. But it’s the views that will probably interrupt your concentration on the game. In Golf Between Two Wars, Bernard Darwin wrote: “The beauty of the place is beyond all question; the exact merits of the course perhaps more difficult to decide”. Darwin went on to say that the ground was once slow; this made the course very long, even for the likes of J H Taylor and Sandy Herd. Then the ground hardened under the feet of thousands, and the ball ran further and further and consequently the scoring became lower.
The book, Classic Golf Holes, features the 18th hole: “From the tee boxes beside the little hut just beyond the 17th green, the drive should ideally clear the crest of the ridge over a line between the twin bunkers. It will then catch a downslope which will speed the ball on towards its ultimate destination. Thereafter, again ideally, the player will repair for the night to the splendour of the hotel.”
A number of important events have been played over the King’s course, including the Curtis Cup, Dunhill Trophy, Scottish Open and the WPGA Championship of Europe. Lee Trevino, standing on the 1st tee of the King’s course, remarked: “If heaven is as good as this, I sure hope they have some tee times left”.
In October 2016, Gleneagles staged the 100th
edition of the Scottish PGA Championship. The event was played on the King’s course, which has
been returned to how it was 100 years ago. The restoration work has reversed most of the
changes that were made in the late 1980s with the most significant alteration focusing
on fairway width – increased by 40% – resulting in bunkers moving
from the rough and back into the fairways.
Gleneagles is one of our Top 100 Golf Resorts of the World
I returned to the King’s, more than a decade after first playing here, and the course confirmed my previous impression that it’s a tough track (with the scorecard listing a SSS of three over par for each of the three gents tee positions). The opening hole really serves notice of the challenge ahead; it’s not a long hole by any means but what an imposing site for the first green, looming high above the fairway on top of a sand-protected ridge.
Thankfully, the ferns that were once close to the 3rd green have since been removed, but it’s still a very tough hole to play into the wind – as are each of the next five holes, played in the same general direction. It’s only after reaching the halfway house at the 10th and turning for home that you feel slightly more in control of your golfing destiny, with the severe undulations from tee to green on the great par fours at 12 and 13 beginning the run for home.
I’m not a fan of the short par four 14th, which appears a little too contrived to me – I’d love to know if this hole is a Braid original or was it perhaps modified in the recent past? Many of the greens had just been top dressed when we played today, reducing the art of putting to lottery level, but sometimes you have to take the rough with the smooth when you’re out and about early or late in the season.
Some claim the likes of Blairgowrie (Rosemount) or Downfield could be ranked as the second best inland course in the country - behind Loch Lomond, which is out in front by a mile - whilst others think that, given time, the gargantuan layouts at Spey Valley or The Duke’s might usurp the King’s. I think the course probably punches above its weight slightly as a standalone 18-hole layout but combine it with the shorter Queen’s course and Gleneagles offers one of the best 36-hole configurations in all of Scotland.
The first is a fine opening hole which tests the golfer right from the start of the round so best to ensure that you make use of the excellent practice facilities on offer at Gleneagles. The fairway is pretty generous and just as well given that the second shot must be played up to a green perched at the top of the hill with a gaping bunker ideally placed on the slope of the hill to catch anything that is under hit – definitely a tough opener. Hole 2 differs greatly from the first in that it is all downhill, shapes from right to left from the middle of the narrow fairway and has a tricky green which slopes from the back to the front left. It was on this hole that I learned how vital it is to keep the ball in the short grass from the tee as the severity of the rough means that a ball even a few yards off the fairway is likely to result in a lost ball. The third is a bit of a quirky hole on which the blind approach must be hit at least 50 feet up in the air and over a ridge before it filters down to the two tiered green – another hole where a high score can potentially be racked up. Hole 4 is a pretty straight uphill par 4 and length (466 yards), as well as a steep slope falling off to the left of the green, is its main defence.
The Kings Course’s first par 3 is next up and again an accurate and well struck shot is vital here. The upturned saucer style green is nestled slightly above the teeing area with four bunkers ready to catch any ball that doesn’t quite reach the small green. The sixth is a sub 500 yard par five which doglegs to the left, the main danger from the tee being the well placed bunkers either side of the fairway and of course the fierce rough. The tee shot on the seventh should disappear over a ridge to reach the fairway and leave an approach to the green but the golfer must beware of the four cross bunkers about 50 yards in front of the flattish green. The 158 par 3 eighth hole is another where the elevated green sits on a slope although the path to the green is surrounded by gorse and heather which makes the tee shot all the more daunting. The golfer must fly the ball all the way to the green or a bogey will be on the cards. The ninth may just have been my favourite hole on the front nine and yet another uphill approach to an elevated green will be required if the tee shot is struck well enough to gather at the bottom of the valley in the fairway. Unfortunately the stance is likely to be anything but even from the bottom of the valley which may bring the bunkers on the slope up to the green into play.
The back nine opens with a telephone to call in any orders that you may have for consumption at the nice little halfway house which lies adjacent to the eleventh tee. Before that however the 10th must be negotiated and if the wind is in the golfer’s face, as it was the day I played, this is a genuine three shot par five. The hole is pretty flat and if the ball is kept straight the 10th shouldn’t pose too many problems. The aforementioned 11th is a 230 yard par three with a back to front sloping green. Five bunkers lie to the side of this green so being short or going through the back of the green would appear to be the safest ways to play this difficult hole. The tee shot on the 12th hole must be launched over another ridge before the approach must be played to the well guarded green. James Braid thought the 13th, Braid’s Brawest, was the best hole on the Kings Course and who am I to argue with the great man’s opinion as it really is a good hole. A strong drive is needed to reach the brow of the fairway and give a view of the green. The fairway then meanders down into a smallish valley before rising back up to the green but the approach needs to be flown to the right side of the putting surface to ensure that the two sand traps on the left are avoided. Hole 15 is a short par 4 of just 260 yards from the regular tees and if the drive finds its way over the mound on the right hand side of the hole and the cross bunkers then there is a decent chance that you’ll be putting for eagle on the long but narrow green.
Despite what I said above I am going to be so bold and disagree with Mr Braid as I think the 15th on the Kings is the finest that the course has to offer. After climbing up to the tee box from the 14th green the drive is played to the ledge of the fairway before it starts to drift down the hill and towards the green. If the approach can be clipped over the spectacle fairway bunkers it may run all the way to the putting surface which itself is severely sloping and a delicate touch is required from any point above the hole to avoid racing past the cup and into three-putt territory. The last one-shotter on the Kings is a mere 135 yards but as it’s all uphill and there is no room for error with the approach, due to the NINE bunkers in a horseshoe shape around the front edge of the green, it plays longer than it appears on the scorecard. The penultimate hole is a slight right to left dogleg but the camber of the fairway slopes to the right meaning that keeping the tee shot on the short grass is a difficult task. The home hole is a 525 yard par five and the mound dissecting the fairway can just about be cleared if the wind isn’t blowing into your face. If the ridge can be driven over then the massive green should be within range with the second shot to give the golfer a chance of finishing their round off in style.
Whilst the surroundings at Gleneagles are idyllic and a remarkable setting in which to play golf I must admit that I wasn’t blown away by the course in the immediate aftermath of the round whilst my group relaxed in the excellent Dormy clubhouse. Instead I think the course has grown on me and it’s only since that day when I have recalled my round that the qualities of the course have become more apparent. As mentioned before, the rough is particularly penal, verging on the unfair at certain points, but the number of elevation changes throughout the course as well as the superb green complexes are positive points for the Kings Course. I don’t know if my expectations were too high before playing this course and it may be for that reason that I wasn’t overwhelmed by the Kings following my first outing there. I’d like to play the course again at some point in the future to see if this review stands true however for now I would say that there is no doubting that the Kings at Gleneagles is a very good course, but I’m not sure I would go as far to say that is an outstanding one and therefore I have to award the course four rather than five balls. DM
The first, "Dun Whinny", is the iconic first hole that every course should have! An easy start with a wide fairway and short Par 4, however the imposing raised green and bunkers surrounding it really make it special. A great start! The second, "East Neuk", from the back tees is nothing short of a brute! Par 4 436 yards with bunkers in play off the tee and on the approach. I ended up in one green side bunker and was happy to take a 6! The 3rd, "Silver Tassie", is a mad hole… Huge humps and hills rise up infront of you and somewhere a fairway is too be had. Then the second is completely blind over a cratered hill to a bowl green. Complete and utter madness but great fun. Then the 4th, "Broomy Law", for me has to be the hardest hole on the course. Par 4 466 yards long uphill the whole way! An incredibly wide fairway that stops the ball immediately on impact, leaves a 200 yard plus approach for most into a narrow raised green, not visible from some parts of the fairway. The 5th, "Het Girdie", Par 3 of 178 yards from the back is one of my favourite Par 3's in golf. The iconic green sits above cavernous bunkers deep below and thick rough over the back. Both of us missed the green and neither scrambled for a Par, but such was the immense beauty of the hole, I don't think we minded! The 6th, "Blink Bonnie", is a real birdie chance which is rare on the Kings course. It plays differently from whatever tee you play. From the blue back tee the angle is very different from the regulation tee. The line straight over the large fairway bunker, is intimidating but if struck can leave the green hittable in two, as the approach is played downhill with only 240 yards roughly remaining. The views from this green of the surrounding mountains are also simply stunning! My excuse for a 3 putt Par… The 7th, "Kittle Kink", some may say is the kind of risk/reward hole suitable for the Ryder Cup. However, I shan't degrade it with such terms. The tee shot is all about how much you dare to carry it, as the fairway lies almost at a complete 90 degree angle to the tee, so an approach of 210-160 yards can be had here however also if too much aggression is taken off the tee a shot of 200+ yards awaits over bunkers from thick rough… The green is surrounded by bunkers at the front, which in all make it a very tough hole indeed! The 8th, "Whaup's Nest", is a cracking Par 3 again of 178 yards. The green lies again a a 90 degree angle to you about 10 yards below you, so yardage is vital. Then the green itself has a huge slope from front to back so depending on the pin position distance is even more important! I reckon not many birdies arise here! The 9th, "Heich o' Fash", is all about the drive, an absolute imperative to find the fairway, other wise thick rough awaits. If the fairway is hit then an easy approach to raised green awaits, but if not… high numbers lie in the depths of bunkers and rough!
The 10th, "Canty Lye", has a nice touch on the tee where you order through what you want to the Halfway House. However, once that is done, a long tee shot awaits for the second Par 5 of 499 yards. Apparently as it is S.I. 1, it is a hard whole but both of us hit a bad shot on the hole and both walked off with a 5. But it is still a great hole as the scenery once again is spectacular, and the green is surrounded by deep bunkers. The 11th, "Deils Creel", is a huge uphill Par 3 measuring 230 yards from the back tees. Played to a sloping green surrounded by bunkers once again, a 3 is an achievement indeed! The 12th, "Tappit Hen", is the start of 4 holes with simply incredible tee shots. Here a carry of 235 yards off the back tees is required just to carry the hillock with bunkers inset on its face. Then once you find your ball over this ridge, a approach of 180 still awaits! A great hole, but nothing compared to what was about to come… I read somewhere that James Braid always assigned his name or something to do with him, to the hole that he thought was the best on the course. And he certainly he got it right! Off the back tee the fairway seems miles away, and is hidden by even more capacious bunkers. This 464 yard Par 4 is amazing! A thin sliver of fairway rolls over humps and dips, through bunkers, the whole way to a raised green. The fairway bunkers were so big that one actually blocked me from seeing a bunker infront of the green. Just brilliant! Or as Braid himself named it, "Braid's Brawest". The 14th, "Denty Den", is a lovely hole with decisions to be made off the tee. At only 309 yards off the back this hole is drivable. However danger lurks everywhere if you stray. However, a real refreshing hole which often yields birdies. The 15th, "Howe o' Hope", is the last of the run of imposing Par 4 Tee shots. As you hit over the brow of a hill, fate decides where your ball ends up. However, then a great approach lies ahead. Downhill to a split green running away from you fast downhill, from 180 yards, so most end up at the back of the green where the pin happened to be when we played, however at the front and suddenly 3 putts loom. The 16th, "Wee Bogle", a Par 3 of 158 yards off the extremely raised tee, plays much shorter to a tiny green surrounded by small deep bunkers. Gleneagles' answer to the Postage stamp at Troon. I loved it! The 17th, "Warslin' Lea" is a dog leg left Par 4 of 377 yards that requires a tee shot to be as close to the right as possible in order to see the green therefore bringing in thick rough and the one fairway bunker into play. Then the 2nd is a short shot played up to a raised green and a regulation 4 awaits most if the green is hit. Then you prepare yourself for one last hole, the 525 yard Par 5 18th, "King's Hame". Off the normal tees this is a Par 4 of 453 yards, however the ridge in the middle of the fairway is carryable. But off the back a drive of 275 yard carry is required, otherwise a long iron/5 wood is the shot, making the Par 5 a true 3 shotter. Then over the ridge blind to leave yourself a wedge into the biggest green on the course. Depending on your shot into the green birdie or bogey awaits.
In all despite horrible weather, and the group infront playing in a different time zone, perhaps in Japan…. I thoroughly enjoyed the Kings course and playing with a 2-Fore-1 voucher it was good value for money, which not many have said about Gleneagles before…! The course was unlike any other I have played. Completely wacky in parts… But more eccentric that psycho. One of the best courses I have played of that parkland/heathland hybrid cross. Great! And the off course facilities weren't bad either…! SLH