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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
Maybe I should have been introduced to golf at Gleneagles by playing the Queen's course first (which I think is by far the best of the three courses here) but I played the imposing King's first in October 2002 and was scarred from very early in my round. I played my second shot over a blind approach to the par four 3rd (Silver Tassie) five yards to the right of the marker on the ridge. When I arrived greenside, I could not believe how near to the putting surface the large ferns had been allowed to grow – needless to say, my ball was lost and I was none too pleased at the unfairness of it all.
Several holes later, having visited a couple of hard pan, compacted bunkers, I'm thinking 'is this the course famed for its presentation?' Granted, the halfway house (at the 11th hole, actually) is worth a stop off to gird your loins for what is a cracking finishing series of holes (remember the old Pro Celebrity golf series on the BBC in the 70's when these holes were featured?) followed by some respite in the first class Dormy clubhouse.
Maybe it's just me, but first impressions do last and I cannot help but thinking the King's course overall did not live up to what I expected it to be. Try it for yourself on a day visit (maybe in October when they always have a discounted fees special offer on) along with the Queen's and you can compare for yourself. And bring a few bob extra for the bar, you'll need it!