“The finest parcel of land in the world I have ever been given to work with” – Jack Nicklaus
Every new course could do with a grand statement to hang their hat on but this is some boast by the Golden Bear. For those who have been to Gleneagles however this wouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise. The King’s and Queen’s Courses have taken the breath away for almost a century and both were well in place before the hotel was built in 1924. Now, of course, there is a relatively new kid on the block.
If the Queen’s is the pretty little sister to the King’s then Nicklaus’ PGA Centenary Course, formerly known as the Monarch’s Course (it was renamed in 2001 to celebrate the centenary of the PGA), is certainly the big brother. And quite a bruising one at that.
Built over the previous Glendevon and Prince’s courses, the third and fourth of the original layout, the Centenary is the longest inland course in Scotland at 7,262 yards off the blue tees though the whites is plenty long enough. The yellows, at just over 6,300 yards, should be most players’ starting point.
It was opened in 1993 at a then cost of £5.9m and a year later the superb Academy opened a few hundred yards from the Centenary’s 1st tee. Colin Montgomerie, a near neighbour, is a regular visitor and it is easy to see why with a 320-yard double-ended driving range and incredible short-game facilities.
By 1999 the Centenary was hosting a European Tour event and by 2014 it was hosting the Ryder Cup. The work done to accomodate for the Ryder Cup’s needs has somehow made the course even better than before, with superb drainage and incredible year-round conditioning somewhat of a given at this magnificient resort.
With the help of this immaculate presentation, the 2019 Solheim Cup on the Centenary was able to offer up the type of drama and calibre of golf that has captured the hearts and minds of golf fans everywhere.
It has rock-solid championship credentials, is tough but perfectly fair and you can generally see where any trouble, which is generally short of the hole, lies.
The opening tee shot is not overly daunting and anything not leaked too far right will leave an uphill approach to an angled green. The first sign of any drama comes at the 2nd, Wester Greenwells which is named after the ruined croft just above the green, where water lurks beside a narrow green meaning anything struck from distance will do very well to hold the green.
Another dogleg, this time to the right, then follows courtesy of a gorgeous par 4, which needs more than you imagine, before a vast par 3 – ‘Gowden Beastie’ or, as the designer might say, ‘Golden Bear’ – where a large bunker sits front and left.
By now you are quickly appreciating that there is more than a hint of America in this corner of Perthshire countryside with big American-styled ‘traps’ and an emphasis on carrying the ball through the air.
On the card the 5th is rated the hardest hole and the professionals’ figures bear that out. The line is to take it up the left but, being blind with a line of trees in your eye-line, it pushes you right. Too safe means you could be pitching your second down the fairway with a large pond hugging the right-sided approach.
After another par 3 you are now into the swing of things as you emerge from the trees at the 7th where you feel you can open your shoulders for the first time before playing to a green which has been moved three times.
Like any ‘new’ course things aren’t perfect straightaway, bunkers have been removed and the greens have improved with every year even after two very long and cold winters. Some respite comes ahead of the turn with a shortish par 4 and three-shot par 5.
Whereas the front nine only has two successive holes of the same par the back nine is a different beast with five straight par 4s from the 11th onwards, two where the driver might come out on a nice day (and with a gust behind) and three where you might well need your two best efforts to get anywhere near. Take a moment on the 10th tee before all this begins as the views can be outstanding. In the distance the Grampians, in the foreground the ferns, firs, pines and silver birch.
Turn back to the golf however and the task when reaching 12 and 13 becomes immense. Both require something special to make par, both are well bunkered throughout and both, seemingly for the first time, run parallel. As do the 14th and 15th.
The 14th is the shortest of the 4s so is even more well protected while the 15th will be many visitors’ favourite.
‘Ochil Sicht’ offers a view of the Ochil Hills in the background while ahead is a drive that should stay right of centre to avoid a depression and an enormously long green where the majority will come up short.
With two par 5s in the last three there is chance to gather something back and the 17th, a par 3 of 194 yards, makes for an opportunity to shape the ball towards the pin though, as the name ‘Ca’ Canny’ (Be Careful) suggests, there are three greenside bunkers and a ridge that runs through the green to make things a little less straightforward.
The last disappoints in truth and feels, for the first time, like a bit of a slog up the hill though you would imagine changes will be made here to add some teeth and drama. It is difficult not to feel too spoilt at Gleneagles, in general and on the courses, and the easiest thing is to make comparisons.
Aesthetically it is not as pleasing as the others but few courses in the world are, on the other hand it has rock-solid championship credentials, is tough but perfectly fair and you can generally see where any trouble, which is generally short of the hole, lies. Gleneagles doesn’t really do ordinary and this is certainly the case here.