The green fee at the glorious Gleneagles golf courses in Scotland varies from £70 to £175 according to the time of the year and whether or not you’re staying in the magnificent hotel but it matters not which course you play – King’s, Queen’s or PGA Centenary. Very unusually for a resort with three courses, possibly uniquely, there’s no stand-out, this-is-the-one-you-brag-to-your-mates-you’ve-played course. A good case can be made for each that, if you only have time for one round, this is the one to tee it up on.
From the very outset one hundred years ago when five-time Open champion James Braid first set foot on the perfect moorland turf and admired the most glorious of settings, the intention was to create three courses. The King’s Course came first and although construction was interrupted by the First World War, it opened to great acclaim on May 1, 1919 and has more than held its own ever since.
Despite being over 500 feet above sea level, it possesses quite a few of the characteristics more commonly associated with the sort of genuine links courses with which Braid would have been very familiar. Foremost amongst these is the resilient turf on a gravelly sub-soil. The striking undulations, sandy ridges, rough hollows and incessant breezes will have reinforced the familiar ‘linksy’ feel but the ravines and towering pines will have presented refreshingly novel challenges. But Braid embraced them enthusiastically.
The Steepest Bunker in Perthshire?
Although at a tad under 6800 yards it’s not especially long by modern standards, the dramatic elevation changes render calculating distance decidedly tricky and make it feel longer than it is. The now iconic first that stares you straight in the face and is home to the steepest bunker in Gleneagles, if not the whole of Perthshire, provides an accurate foretaste of what lies ahead as the King’s Course is the hilliest of the three, has more sand that the other two and boasts the largest greens. As he looked up at the opening hole, Lee Trevino remarked, “If heaven is anything like this, I hope they save me a tee-time.”
Whereas the King’s Course is an outward looking course with spectacular views over the nearby Ochil Hills and the Grampians and Trossachs beyond, the Queen’s Course is more inward looking with imposing pines atop ridges providing shelter and creating a genuine sense of intimacy.
Also designed by Braid but initially only nine holes, the full 18 on the Queen’s Course opened for business in September 1925. Not quite 6000 yards off the back tees and consequently significantly shorter than the King’s Course, it is often thought of as the younger sister and mistakenly regarded by some as the easiest at Gleneagles. “In my opinion, it’s the most underrated of the three,” remarked Andrew Jowette, the Head Professional.
The Queen’s Course Tops the Popularity Poll
What it may lack in yards, it would appear to make up in popularity as a straw poll among members revealed it to be comfortably ahead of the other two. Even the taxi driver who drove me up there said it was the best and you couldn’t find a more authoritative and reliable source than that, surely!
“Those who don’t know it very well think it must be short and easy, which it most certainly isn’t,” observed Jowette. “The first six holes are often into the wind, incredibly tough and are exceptionally strong. You have to get through them and then make your score.” As with the King’s Course, significant elevation changes put a premium on distance control and correct club selection.
Survive the first half-a-dozen and then admire the next six holes, which are quite breathtakingly beautiful. With the yellow from the gorse and broome gradually giving way to purple as the heather flowers in late summer, the scenery is simply dazzling.
Too American? They Lost, Didn’t They?
Originally christened the Monarch’s course when it opened in 1993, what is now known as the PGA Centenary was designed by Jack Nicklaus and is very different from its two near neighbours. At 7,300 yards, it is the longest inland course in Scotland and has clearly been conceived on the grand scale.
It’s unmistakeably a stadium course with generous fairways, splendid vantage points and deliberate matchplay holes that helped make the most recent Ryder Cup so memorable. Quite a bit of tweaking was carried out last winter in an effort to improve it further and no fewer than 12 holes were altered. The most significant changes were made to the ninth and 18th, both of which are par fives and witnessed some significant swings in fortune.
“It’s not the most difficult golf course in the world but it wasn’t meant to be,” observed Nicklaus. “I didn’t want to ruin it for the guests and members. “
It’s the only course at Gleneagles where you don’t need to produce a medical certificate in order to take a buggy, which goes some way to meeting the criticism that it’s more than a few yards from quite a few of the greens to the next tee.
There are some who feel it’s too ‘American’ and would have preferred the Ryder Cup to have been played on the King’s Course. In response to that the experts explain the PGA Centenary is the only one that could have accommodated the 45,000 or so spectators who descended on Gleneagles last September.
Golf writer Clive Agran, 65 and a journalist for more than 40 years, Clive Agran still wonders what he’ll do when he grows up. Nicknamed ‘Silky Swing’, he travels the globe looking for the world’s best golf courses.