Few places in Britain can boast three courses, let alone three nationally ranked Top 100 courses, but then, there's only one Gleneagles. James Braid and C.K. Hutchison were the master architects behind the King's and Queen's but the PGA Centenary is the course that Jack Nicklaus built with Ron Kirby, so it goes without saying that this is an American-styled layout.
The PGA Centenary (formerly known as the Monarch) opened for play in 1993 and it's a big stadium course. In fact, it's the longest inland course in Scotland, measuring nearly 7,300 yards from the back tees. There are five tee boxes to choose from, so select carefully to ensure maximum enjoyment. We're not buggy lovers, but there are some long walks between the greens and tees. If the PGA Centenary is your second round of the day at Gleneagles, a cart comes highly recommended.
“The finest parcel of land in the world I have ever been given to work with,” was how Jack Nicklaus described the rolling moorland. This is Nicklaus's first and only design project in Scotland and he's done a fine understated job. Only a couple of holes feature water hazards, and these are for practical, irrigation reasons rather than for effect. The PGA Centenary definitely complements, but also contrasts markedly with the King's and Queen's. The usual Nicklaus features are in place – huge undulating greens, bold bunkering and, of course, a number of risk and reward holes.
The key to scoring well on the PGA Centenary is to avoid coming up short with your approach shots. Invariably, much of the trouble is at the front of the greens, so take enough club. Our favourite holes are those adjacent to the King's course and the 5th is a cracker. The long par four is called "Crookit Cratur" – it's a fun rollercoaster of a hole with a bottle-necked entrance to the green. The 9th is also worthy of mention – a par five which has trouble in the shape of water and bunkers (one of which is huge) lurking down the right.
In consultation with Jack Nicklaus, the PGA Centenary course closed for renovation in October 2011 and reopened at the end of April 2012. Click here for full details.
We wonder what Bernard Darwin might have thought of the PGA Centenary course. We do know that he loved the King's and the Queen's. We suspect he might have said something along these lines: “The PGA Centenary course was intended to test the rampaging animal to the full. Jack Nicklaus has unquestionably made of the PGA Centenary a 'big' course on which it was enthralling to see the big men, from both sides of the Atlantic, stretch themselves during the 2014 Ryder Cup.” The PGA Centenary returned to centre stage in 2019 for the Solheim Cup, which Europe won by a single point. Europe 14½ USA 13½.
Gleneagles is one of our Top 100 Golf Resorts of the World
I returned to the PGA six years after posting the first review for the course on this site as I was keen to see if any of the changes in recent years by David McLay Kidd might endear the place to me a little bit more this time around – after all, I absolutely love the oversized layouts of Spey Valley and the Duke’s in St Andrews so why should I not be able to take to the PGA the same way?
The opening half dozen holes are excellent, especially the par five 2nd and two par threes at 3 and 6. I wasn’t enamoured by the large mounding and bunkers to the left of the fairway on the 8th and the enormous lateral sand trap on the following hole still jars my golfing sensibilities.
Holes 10 and 11 are solid but then the stretch between 12 and 15 are easily the weakest on the card as they occupy the most elevated and least interesting portion of the property.
Granted, the round picks up again at the tough par five 16th but the long uphill march to the 18th green really is an unavoidable trek back to the home hole.
So, for me, a mixed bag of very good and not so good, even though the Gleneagles stamp of quality is evident on every tee, fairway and putting surface.
I’ve heard the 18 holes here described as “the 4th best course in Auchterarder,” which really is unkind. I’ve also read uncomplimentary quotes from a couple of prominent professionals who are not big fans of the PGA course. Never mind, the Gleneagles brand is big enough to deflect the criticism and, anyway, all those comments will be long forgotten in three years’ time when fans roll up in their tens of thousands to spectate at the 41st series of Ryder Cup matches.
As for the course itself, it wasn't as bad as I had expected! While nowhere near as aesthetically pleasing as the King's or Queen's it is quite a plesant track with a handful of memorable holes but also some pretty weak holes - surely they are going to have to do something to 18 before the Ryder Cup as it is hard to imagine the hole generating much in the way of drama. The back 9 is probably the more interesting stretch with some short par 4s which require more than brute force and the par 5 16th is a very pleasant hole with a real risk or reward across water. There have been changes on the course over recent years - notably the 12th becoming a long par 4 (3rd longest on the course from the yellows) rather than a shortish par 5. However, and excuse me but this really annoys me, they have not changed the stroke index of the hole. It plays as stroke index 14. That is just laziness for a course which has prentences to be world class.
I was invited back a month later and for sure the greens had come on a lot and they may be just about playable for when the tour comes in August. I walked the course on the second visit and while some of the 400 yard plus walks between green and tee were annoying it was just about doable so don't feel you absolutely need to take a cart if you have a basic level of fitness.
To have the Ryder Cup in Scotland in 2014 is a great event for all of us fans who live here. The course will no doubt accomodate spectators very well and hopefully it will be in acceptable condition by then. However, to look over so many great courses in the country and to follow the money to Gleneagles is a real shame. The course is just about acceptable as a Challenge Tour venue and we will be portraying it as the Pride of Scotland and that just isn't right.
While many of the golf holes are a good test of skill and offer great views to the greater landscape of Perthshire, it is on a finer level that it falls short. On many of the holes it appears that a bulldozer flattened the area for the fairway and green and pushed it to the sides, leaving some nice mounding to the sides of the hole but that stop before the fairway instead of flowing into the fairway to create an undulating surface rather than a flat fairway. The lack of movement in the fairways is not only evident from a visual standpoint but also from a functional one as many of the flat fairways are soggy because there is not enough slope. The feeling that many of the holes give you on the PGA Centenary course is that the golf holes were "bulldozed" into the landscape instead of being overlaid onto the natural topography like the King's and Queen's courses. This lack of integration provides a stark contrast to the Braid courses which seem much more compact because they are fitted into the landscape. James Braid uses the natural slope on the sides of fairways to create a target area that is wider than it looks because the slope will kick a ball into the fairway, while Nicklaus has cleared the topography away to create a wide, expansive and flat target area that is much less interesting.
While the PGA Centenary Course challenges golfers and is still a scenic and aesthetically pleasing course to play from a golfer's point of view, it could be a great golf course instead of just a good one had it been better integrated with the landscape. While all three courses offer a slightly different challenge among the rolling terrain of Perthshire, it is the landscape integration like that of James Braid on the King's and Queen's courses that all golf course architects should strive for in creating great golf courses. It is the attention to detail that creates the unique character of the King's and Queen's courses that makes them a must-play destination for golf-goers in Scotland, but in contrast it is attention to detail that leaves golfers begging for more on the PGA Centenary Course.