The King’s, the premier course at Gleneagles, itself the premier resort in not just Britain but across all of Europe, opens with an all-world classic. Under 400 yards and with an invitingly wide fairway to hit with your first swing of the day, it takes something fairly ugly not to feel ‘in’ the hole after your drive. But while the tee shot is forgiving, the second is a devious challenge, the acutely elevated approach played to a target atop a hill so steep that it would never be the site for a green today. It would be at least partly flattened.
It is predictably easy to come up short and run up a quick six on this par 4, but the view from the elevated 2nd tee can help soothe any angst. It offers an especially good panorama across the glens and now is a much more inviting shot by virtue of the increased playability the resort has been promoting, with rough on the left here being cut back to provide a much wider target.
“The Kings course is what made Gleneagles famous and I think we are on the right journey to make it even greater.” – Gary Silcock
Indeed under the new ownership of the Ennismore, Gleneagles has been on a curve of improvement. For those who visited previously, that will seem basically impossible to actually do, but it genuinely is notably even better these days. It has extended across the resort, from refurbished restaurants and bars to starting the hotel’s own food range. The courses, naturally, have been part of this investment.
“The King’s would not be designed that way now with modern equipment, so golfers get to play the ‘old way’ and I think we are managing the course and experience just as it was always supposed to be,” director of golf Gary Silcock, formerly of The Belfry and La Manga, tells NCG.
“The King’s is longer than the Queen’s, shorter than the PGA Centenary. It has the challenge of the PGA Centenary but the rewards of the Queen’s. The Kings course is what made Gleneagles famous and I think we are on the right journey to make it even greater.
“The courses have been on a journey for all of them to play different. Previously, they were all maintained in the same manner and just different in length and topography. In the last few years they have evolved.
“The first major change was bunkering on the Queen’s and King’s; new bunker liner allowed bunkers to revert to how James Braid designed them. The reduced man hours in maintenance allowed the team to move fairways back to the original design and there is 40 per cent more to hit now.
The stellar first par 3 to a table top green at 5, the part-blind drive at 7, the cool short 8th and the down and up 9th then complete a hard-to-beat front nine.
“The fairways on the King’s and Queen’s have now had more focus in cut height (8mm) to provide tight lies as you would play on a links, while this also provides longer drives, something our members have enjoyed. With the ball now running, the bunkers that once were in the rough our now in the fairway are getting more use.
“We now feel that all three courses offer something different for everyone, all three have always been world class but now they look and feel different.”
After the stellar opening pair, highlights come quickly on the King’s, Scotland’s finest inland venue. The rollercoaster 3rd is the next, with a fairway dominated by large mounds and deep hollows then a marker post to fire your approach towards given the green that is totally obscured by a high ridge.
The classy first par 3 to a table top green at 5, the part-blind drive at 7, the cool short 8th and the down-and-up 9th then complete a hard-to-beat front nine. It is matched by a high-calibre closing stretch. The 13th is called ‘Braid’s Brawest’, the name he used to give his favourite hole; here it is a strong par 4 with a fascinating S-shaped fairway across the glacial terrain.
Next comes the all-world classic of 14 – one of the most brilliant sporty two-shotters in Scotland – which is a downhill bunker-dominated hole and then a cute par 3 to an angled narrow green guarded by nine bunkers takes you to the strategic sloping 17th.
The grandeur of the hotel is now in full view as you steer your last drive down the deeply corrugated fairway before returning to the flat landscape alongside the 1st for the final putt of the day. As Trevino said, “If heaven is as good as this, I sure hope they have some tee times left”.