Perfection? Gleneagles the glorious playground in the Glens
I first sampled the Gleneagles experience around thirteen years ago, I loved it then and the love affair deepened after my short visit last month when we stayed and played at “The Glorious Playground” in the height of mid summer.
The decision was to pack as much luxury and action as possible into just a few days, so on arrival at Edinburgh Airport we were met by a private resort chauffeur who whisked us off to the glamorous resort in the heart of the Perthshire Glens.
First up was a round on the King’s course, which I first experienced watching the BBC’s Pro Celebrity Golf programme on TV back in the 1970s – this show still holds wonderful memories for me. Of course things have changed on the King’s since then. A comprehensive bunker refurbishment was completed in 2016 and fairway cut lines have moved back to the original James Braid design – this is noticeable right from the off. The King’s is currently ranked #38 in Britain and Ireland and it’s such a joy to play.
The 160-yard par three 5th is one of my favourites, played to a tabletop green with severe run-offs on all sides – it’s much tougher than the length suggests. I’m a big fan of the drivable par four 14th also. From the tee you’re presented with what looks like a wall of bunkers, these are from around 150 yards to 220 yards from the tee, so they’re very much in play for all but the longest hitters. Driving over the second left bunker, and with a little bit of lady luck, you can get close to this 300-yarder. The home hole at 525 yards has bunkers everywhere and also the largest green on the course – so perhaps settle for par rather than trying to attack and hope for the birdie finish.
Our first evening concluded with drinks in Ochil House, dinner in The Birnam Brasserie and a brief nightcap in the brand new American Bar, which is elegantly glamorous and reminiscent of iconic bars of the 1920s and 30s. Each of these areas in the Gleneagles Hotel are simply delightful.
Day two was full on to say the least. We played the Jack Nicklaus-designed PGA Centenary course, which I first experienced thirteen years ago. There’s no doubt the layout has matured in a very positive way. Obviously the PGA Centenary was on full show for the 2014 Ryder Cup and will be back in the spotlight for the 2019 Solheim Cup. We all attempted the ‘Jamie Donaldson’ shot from 153 yards on the 15th, when his approach wedge became a gimmie and the Ryder Cup was in Europe’s hands again. Let’s just say I didn’t hit a wedge and my shot was not conceded!
Although the course doesn’t have the charm of the King’s or Queen’s, a ranking position just outside the Scottish Top 50 shows steady progress over the years. The holes back-to-back at the 5th and 6th are very strong, the former is called ‘Crookit Cratur’ and it’s a big par four with a long approach over marshland short and on the right. The wetland is back in play on the par three 6th – carry this and bring your ball in from the right side is the smart play. The par five 16th is another hole that I vividly remember from the 2014 Ryder Cup – this is the hole with water around 100 yards short of the heavily contoured green. The lay-up is the key shot on this hole without doubt.
Post golf we retired to the stunning new clubhouse bar, sampling Gleneagles' very own craft beer – Auchterarder 70 – which has been named after the hotel’s original phone number, a nod to the establishment’s long history. We then moved away from golf and headed to the archery range, which is another super facility for golfers and non-golfers alike. It’s fair to say my own skills are not quite at Olympic standard!
The evening continued with aperitifs on the Glendevon Terrace while watching the resort's’ gun dogs put on a great show – then we were off to The Dormy for dinner. The adventure continued while watching the sunset over Laich Loch where very patient ‘ghillies’ painstakingly showed the group how to fly-fish.
Our final day at Gleneagles included a round on my favourite layout at the resort, the Queen’s course. It’s the shortest by some way at less than 6,000 yards (par 68) but it’s one of those special golf courses with a certain something that’s hard to explain. Patric Dickinson eloquently summed it up: “One of the wonders of the golfing world, a kind of Hanging Garden of Babylon on a Scottish hillside.”
I think the Queen’s is my favourite because it’s relatively short and sheer fun. It’s where you get the chance to play to (or beat) your handicap. It’s certainly a little easier than the other two layouts, but in saying that, the first six holes give nothing away – even with two par threes in the mix. The 7th hole is the only par five on the card and it’s a lovely hole at just less than 500 yards. If the bunkers can be avoided off the tee and on the lay-up, then a birdie is a distinct possibility.
The 10th hole is called ‘Pint Stoup’ and as the halfway house is at the tee we had to stop for a pint. This is a big par four that doglegs left to a tree-protected green – it’s a strong start to the back nine. Three par threes at the 13th, 14th and 17th are no pushover, especially the 17th with a 60-yard green. Take in the view on the Queen’s 18th tee as it’s one of the most memorable on the entire Gleneagles Estate before playing the 400-yard par four – a drive down the right side for the best look at the green is a suggestion. The Queen’s has an impressive #74 ranking in our current Britain & Ireland Top 100 and it’s well deserved in my opinion.
Our time at the ‘glorious playground’ was coming to an end all too soon, but there was still enough time to visit the Shooting & Fishing School Lodge for a slap-up BBQ lunch and some clay-pigeon shooting instruction. Not my normal Wednesday afternoon, but when you’re in the Gleneagles magic bubble you go with the flow and enjoy every minute.
Final mention goes to the Gleneagles staff. Every single one, at all levels of employment, are wonderful – nothing is too much trouble for them.
Is Gleneagles the best golf resort in Britain & Ireland? All I can say is Gleneagles is in my Top 1.
Top 100 Golf Courses