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Gleneagles Golf Courses

"I have always thought that Gleneagles is one of the best places in the world to play golf." - Jack Nicklaus.

This description of the Gleneagles Golf Courses by John Huggan. We hope you enjoy this page courtesy of the Links Club and can join us on our tours to Gleneagles.

Gleneagles. One word, so many different meanings.

For most, like the Golden Bear, Gleneagles is simply a great golfing location, one that embodies all that is good about the game the Scots gave the world. For others, however, this most picturesque part of the Caledonian landscape is a place to escape to, a place where any manner of sporting and cultural pursuits can be partaken in five-star luxury. A visitor to today's Gleneagles Hotel can indulge in pastimes as diverse as fencing, shooting, fishing, driving, equestrianism and falconry.

Indeed, Gleneagles has come a long way since the day in 1913 when shareholders in the Caledonian Railway Company agreed to invest the then enormous sum of L20,000 in the development of an hotel adjoining the Gleneagles station, what was, in reality, nothing more than a pit-stop in rural Perthshire.

Not that anything happened too quickly from that point on. Work on the hotel began in 1913, but the small matter of the Great War (which ran from 1914-18) interrupted and slowed the building. In fact, it wasn't until a year after the guns in the "war to end all wars" finally fell silent that Gleneagles had its golf courses and June 1924 before the hotel opened to paying customers.

James Braid, one third of golf's "great triumvirate," was the architect of the King's and Queen's courses. Both were immediately hailed as masterpieces of golf course architecture. Braid, a modest man, was quick, however, to acknowledge the debt he owed to nature in laying out his two designs.

How could he not? The King's and Queen's each occupy a stretch of wild, heather-strewn moorland that seems to have been created with golf courses in mind. Not only does the land provide the gradual and spectacular changes in elevation so beloved of the course architect, it has in-built hazards in the form of the aforementioned heather and bracken. And, for the easily distracted, there are, of course, the peerless views across the Ochil and Grampian mountain ranges.

Over the years many have come and all have left impressed. "Why do I have such great affection for Scotland," asked Bob Hope. "Because the people are so warm…and they've got Gleneagles. If only they had the Californian weather, I'd move there."

Others - just as famous - have experienced life-changing events at Gleneagles. Sir Sean Connery, back when he was plain old Mister 007, took his first golf lessons in preparation for his memorable encounter with Goldfinger, and was promptly hooked on the game. And the late King Hussein of Jordan was a regular visitor, going so far as to spend part of his honeymoon on the grounds.

So it was that the hotel and the golf courses were an immediate success, "the Riviera in the Highlands" it was called. Indeed, it wasn't long before Gleneagles was hosting professional events. In 1921 a forerunner of what would later become the Ryder Cup was held over the King's, a ten-man British side seeing off their American counterparts to the tune of 10 1/2 - 4 1/2. Three years later former British Open champion George Duncan beat his countryman Abe Mitchell in a pro tournament and later that summer lost a challenge match over 72 holes to Macdonald Smith.

By the 1930s Gleneagles was the place to see and be seen. It became a favorite haunt of the rich and famous seeking to while away their millions. Long, extravagantly elegant balls were held where men and women of substance could dance the night away beneath glittering chandeliers. After the second world war it did not take Gleneagles long to regain its pre-eminence as far as the upper classes were concerned. In the 1950s, a few weeks at the hotel became an established part of British high society's calendar.

After London's "season" it was yachting at Cowes, polo at Deauville and golf and grouse shooting at Gleneagles. Very pukkah. At that time the hotel was open only during the summer months, a trend that continued until the early 1980s. Between 1982 and 1986, more than L11m was spent renovating and restoring the hotel's former elegance. Since then, the resort has stayed open year round.

The one constant, however, has been the golf courses - two of them anyway. While the King's and Queen's continued to attract visitors from all over the world, the gradual increase in traffic eventually became too much for Braid's creations. Not for nothing did Lee Trevino - a regular visitor to the BBC's "Pro-Celebrity Golf" series in the 1970s - quip: "If Heaven is as good as this, I sure hope they have some tee times left."

But even the hereafter has its limitations. In 1993 - the same year that NATO held its conference in the hotel - a third course, The Monarch's (or The PGA Centenary as it is now known), added an American cousin to the Gleneagles family tree.

Designed by Jack Nicklaus - his first signature course in the land where he won all three of his British Open titles - The PGA has fast become a "must-play" for any visitor to Scotland. The first half of the course is particularly memorable. With their big, rolling fairways, deep bunkers and large greens, the front nine holes are reminiscent of their older brothers and sisters.

The back nine is, in contrast, less contoured, but no less interesting for all that. On what was once the oh-so flat Glendevon course, Nicklaus has, appropriately for a man whose three Open Championship wins were all recorded in Scotland, left his own individual mark on the landscape. The epic par-5 sixteenth is especially memorable.

Enjoyable as The PGA is, however, it is inevitably The King's and Queen's courses which, through their longevity, personify the Old World charm of Gleneagles. The King's especially. The longer of the two by some 500 yards, The King's has seen many a battle by the world's best players over the years. Most memorably, the Scottish Open, now a sadly defunct part of the European Tour, was played there between 1986 and 1996.

It was no coincidence, too, that the event was one of the most popular on tour. Record crowds turned out year after year to watch Europe's best in action. And the best responded. The list of champions at Gleneagles contains the likes of former Masters winner Ian Woosnam (twice) and Swedish Ryder Cup player Jesper Parnevik, whose 1993 victory was his first as a professional.

Another well-known name who made his initial impact at Gleneagles was Nick Faldo. The three-time British Open and Masters champion's maiden professional victory came in the 1977 Skol Lager event.

For all that, part of the greatness of Gleneagles is that the three courses can be enjoyed equally by any class of player. Just as at Augusta National, bogeys are relatively easy to come by if the golfer is willing to play conservatively. But woe betide the player who is too aggressive. For him, big numbers await.

Nowhere is that more true than at the 13th hole on the King's. Not for nothing is this 448-yard par-4 named "Braid's Brawest" (Braid's best). Indeed, if any hole can be said to typify all that is memorable about golf at Gleneagles, it is this one.

From an elevated tee, the golfer must negotiate his ball between the humps and hollows along the right side and the deep, cavernous bunker on the left. Once in play, the approach is played uphill to a putting surface that slopes gradually but greatly from front to back. Par is a major victory. "Braid's Brawest" may be the best hole, but it has some rivals for the title, "best name." On the King's "East Neuk" (east corner) vies with "Canty Lye," (pleasant meadow) "Wee Bogle" (little ghost) and "Deil's Creel" (devil's fishing basket). While over on the Queen's one of "Witches Bowster," (witch's pillow) "Drum Sichty" (sight of the hills) and "Tinkler's Gill" (tinker's drink) qualify as most people's favorite. Perhaps the most memorable moniker on Jack's track is the 4th, "Gowden Beastie," (Golden Bear).

So it is that Gleneagles has made the transition from grand old dame to thoroughly modern madam. The golf courses are still up there with the very best, even if, regrettably, the King's and Queen's may be a little on the short side for the very best players armed with the space-age equipment of the 21st century.

The scenery continues to live long in the memory of all lucky enough to drink in its beauty. And the hotel, one of only a handful of five-star establishments in Scotland, has moved gracefully with the times. Today it offers every available amenity to its well-heeled clientele.

All in all, one gets the feeling James Braid would be more than a little pleased with the way things have turned out.