gleneagles (king's) - 17 POINTS
There are not many names that scream Scottish golf at you more than 'Gleneagles' - it conjures up images of pheasants and moors, mountains and whisky. If you plan a trip there the right way, and play the right courses then you may leave with a little of the romance intact.
The King's Course at Gleneagles is the 'grand dame' of the trio - the Queens and the PGA Centenary being the other two. It is a course with wonderful views, some great holes and a challenge that never overwhelms. The Queens is the younger sibling which is great fun, perfect for a companion course and has many of the same characteristics of the Kings. The PGA Centenary is an abomination which is an embarrassment to Scottish golf. OK, maybe I have gone a little far there but under no circumstances add a round to any tour on the Centenary above the King's or the Queen's, you are wasting your time and money, worse than that you are just encouraging them. Anyway, you can read all about that over here, for now let's talk the Kings.
The King's was designed by the great, late, James Braid in 1919 and from what I have seen it is second only to Loch Lomond when it comes to the award for 'best course that isn't a links' in Scotland.
Often you'll find it hard to remember the first hole on a course. A few are memorable (St Andrews, Royal Lytham, Friar's Head, Palmetto and Wentworth come to mind for me) but many wash over you. The King's is right up up there with the former. It's not a long hole, 360 yard and you will feel fine over the drive but it's all about the approach, up a really steep hill and you need to make sure you have a good strike or you'll see the ball coming back or into oblivion. If you were to try to sum the King's up that would be the mantra, 'it's all about the approach'. Personally I love that. The challenges you get from the King's means that players who may not be unerringly accurate from every tee can still be 'in the hole' until you hit that second shot.
Without a doubt the land that the King's is built on is simply spectacular and the course largely makes the most of it. The holes use the natural hollows, water features and woods really well and it feels like this country was made for golf. The course itself isn't a long one bit it is a very unusual card. Playing off the yellows it may only be a par 68 but at 6,125 yards that is no pushover at all. If you play off the whites it plays as a 6,471 par 70 so it's a good test whichever way you cut it.
The halfway house services both the King's and Queen's and serves excellent Scottish fare (I would heartily recommend the lorne sausage roll). You call in your order from the 10th tee and it's waiting for you after you finish the stroke index 1.
The finish is a great one with a wonderful mix of everything, long and short par 3s, a great mixture of 4s before the inviting short par 5 18th. Peter O'Malley made light of the closing holes in 1992 when he finished with -7 for the last 5 holes to win the Scottish Open - quite a finish.
I would heartily recommend the Kings course to anyone looking for something different in their trip to Scotland. The views will live with you for a long time and the course is a great reminder of what courses were like before they were build to corporate templates like the PGA course. There are some changes to come in advance of the centenary in 2019 which look to only enhance this lovely course.
BOOKING THE COURSE
Gleneagles has some ridiculous ideas as to the price of a round of golf on their courses. If you book direct with the club as a non-resident then then the green fees range from £75 in the winter months to £185 in the summer. I don't believe that this gives any kind of value so you need to be more creative to find value! The course offers afternoon rates which are best value for a fourball, if you tee off after 1.30pm that gets the cost down to £95 a person in the summer. Tee off after 4pm and that drops further to £70 a person if you are in a fourball - and bear in mind you can happily be playing at 10.30pm at the height of summer so the late time isn't really an issue. You can book those times on the website here.
Another option is to look at combining accommodation with golf. The hotel itslef can be eyewatering expensive if you book directly but if you go through a golf tour operator like golfbreaks.com then the price can actually drop nicely as well as get an OK price on a tee time. Look out for some of the offers they have there and it's always worth giving them a call to see what they can do.
There is something pretty special about Gleneagles - it is in many ways like a step back into a bygone era. The hotel sits above the golf courses and is a fairly grand affair. If your budget can stretch to it then it would be hard not enjoy a night's stay here. There is a range of restaurants from the informal Deseo to the Michelin Starred Andrew Fairlie, a good swimming pool/spa as well as plenty of Scottish country pursuits. Golf-wise it would be hard not to enjoy the Queen's course as well. Sure, it is short - a 5,600 yard Par 68 - but it's great fun and again has some wonderful views. Forget the PGA course, it would be a real waste of your time and will add nothing to any Scottish golf tour.
If you are not staying at the hotel then the nearby town of Anstruther has a couple of nice restaurants and pubs as well as some B&Bs to stay in but you may want to go to nearby Perth which is a pleasant city of 50,000 people on the banks of the Tay. I haven't played any of the other local courses but Blairgowrie, the other side of Perth and about 45 minutes drive away, has a good reputation. St Andrews and Carnoustie are both only an hour away and you are less than an hour from Edinburgh airport so it's pretty easy to add Gleneagles to most itineraries on the east of Scotland.
A word though on when to visit. While most links courses can be enjoyed all year around you can only really plan to go to Gleneagles in from April to October. Outside of that it may be playable but do not bank on it. The courses can get very wet and are often under snow as well. Even if they are open they can be very boggy so best to plan on a summer visit unless you get lucky out of season.
The Gleneagles Hotel
Scotland PH3 1NF
Phone: +44 (0)1764 662231