This review of The PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles has an unlikely beginning, so unlikely you’d be forgiven for thinking it was made up, except for the fact there were witnesses, three of them.
One year out from The 40th Ryder Cup, a round of golf at Gleneagles Hotel, Scotland, started with the rarest of sightings – a bald eagle, grounded and glorious, head smooth and white with the tiniest of circular marks.
I’m not talking about a bird, but a golf ball, hit by yours truly into the hole for a two at my par four opening hole. What a way to start a round at the host course for The 2014 Ryder Cup.
Named for the expansive and beautiful glens at the foot of the Scottish Highlands and the soaring eagles which rise above them, Gleneagles Hotel is possibly the most talked about golf resort on the planet right now.
The Ryder Cup matches start in exactly one week and the eyes of the golf world are on this famous and iconic venue, which has two James Braid designed courses ‘The King’s’ and ‘The Queen’s’ and its PGA Centenary Course, designed by the world’s greatest ever golfer Jack Nicklaus.
Hole-by-Hole Guide to Gleneagles PGA Centenary Course
A guest of Ryder Cup Europe and ProQuip Golf, the preferred supplier of weatherwear to The 2014 European Ryder Cup Team, I found myself teeing up to celebrate the one-year-to-go milestone celebrations in September 2013.
Gifted with a personalised buggy, an impressive collection of Ryder Cup and Gleneagles merchandise and souvenirs, I rode out for a shotgun start to the 7th tee at the Ryder Cup host course.
Larch Gait (meaning walk) is a dogleg left to right with the second half of the hole uphill to the plateau green. For Rory McIlroy and co. it will play 468 yards, for us it was something like 400 yards.
A solid hybrid tee-shot to the left of the fairway left me with about 160 yards to the plateau green, which slopes visibly right to left and front to back.
A crunch of pristine turf, a well flighted seven iron shot to the right portion of the green and a par looked on the cards.
Arriving at the green, confusion set in, no ball to be seen and my playing partners dotted around the edges and in the sand.
At these times we all do it – more out of hope and blind faith than concrete belief in our skills – I stared into the cup to see my Titleist resting there kissing the flagstick.
The day could have ended there for me.
Two-under through one hole at Gleneagles’ Ryder Cup course. I’m suddenly in a dream, a brilliant blue marker on the leaderboard to strike fear into the heart of Team USA and a sure footed march to retaining ole Sam Ryder’s glittering gold trophy.
There was the small matter of 17 more holes to play, a gathering mist and a biting cold wind, but for a few moments I felt like the eagles themselves, looking down on the sweeping fairways, majestic in flight.
It wouldn’t make sense to continue this hole by hole guide to The PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles in the order I played at the course, starting at the 7th and finishing at the 6th, so here’s how the course will play next week for the greatest show in golf.
Hole 1 Bracken Brae, 442 yards, Par 4
A gentle doglegging opener. Best to drive left and avoid the bunker on the right and the heavy rough beyond it.
The green juts out to the right with the land falling away to sand and a steep bank. The best approaches will come in from the left with a deep grass bunker long the only hazard to catch a pulled or over-hit approach.
Hole 2, Wester Greenwells, 516 yards Par 5
A signature hole named for the ruined croft which sits on the hill beyond the green.
A cast iron birdie chance for Ryder Cup players who can drive it long over the left fairway bunker and leave a long to mid iron into the green.
There is water short left and three bunkers on the bank side to catch an approach shot that skips off the narrow back portion of the green.
Hole 3, Schiehallion (‘Hill of the Scots’) 431 yards, Par Four
A fine hole with some outstanding views of the hills surrounding Gleneagles. The land rises and falls gently from each side of the fairway and the perfect drive must arrow into the centre or the left side to leave the best approach into the pin.
The green is a two-tier kidney bean shape protected by two front bunkers front right and left. It’s better to stay short of the flag leaving an uphill putt than to fly past and risk a downhill putt.
Hole 4, Gowden Beastie (Golden Bear) 239 Yards, Par 3
A long uphill par three named for its designer Jack Nicklaus, this hole could play up to a 3 wood or driver from the back tips with wind in the face.
The green has a raised front and falls sharply away if the tee shot doesn’t carry onto the green. The green has a flat middle plateau and falls away at the front and back tiers making the challenge even harder once you find the green.
Hole 5, Crookit Cratur, 461 yards Par 4
At Global Golfer we rate this the toughest hole and most intimidating tee shot on the golf course. It’s a real “eye of the needle” tee-shot with left hand trees creeping in to snag anything pulled or set off slightly left. You simply have to nail the tee shot to go for the green in two, otherwise it’s a lay-up and a pitch on at best.
There is a marsh short and right of the green, so lay well back and give yourself a fullish wedge shot to try and salvage a par.
Hole 6, Mickle Skelp, 201 yards Par 3
In auld Scots ‘mickle skelp’ means small hit. Shorter than the 4th hole certainly, but, it’s no ‘Postage Stamp’ or flick with a wedge.
A well-set mist obscured our view of this pretty par-three late in the day but we could see enough to tell you hitting long outweighs coming up short in the water or left into the bunker and heavy rough.
The green is well framed by mature pines and disguises the size of the green which is only 23 yards wide.
Hole 7, Larch Gait, 468 yards Par 4
An uphill dogleg left to right to a plateau green. The second shot looks challenging but the built up slope to the right of the green feeds the ball down towards the flag.
Take enough club to miss the false front and run-off at the front of the green and favour the right side – you never know – you may even make an eagle two!
Hole 8, Sidlin Brows, 419 yards Par Four
A pretty hole framed by a series of well-placed cross bunkers. Big hitters can carry them but the safest line is to the right of the farthest fairway bunker from where the fairway will kick the ball naturally to the left.
The right hand side of the green is heavily contoured and there are four bunkers surrounding it. This hole should yield several birdies in The Ryder Cup.
Hole 9, Crook O’Moss, 618 yards Par 5
For us number 9 is a stand-out hole on the PGA Centenary Course, a muscular risk and reward par-five with an elevated tee and a captivating drive between two high hillocks and a trio of clever bunkers.
It’s out of reach for all but the longest but the lay-up itself poses a challenge, with two options – short of the water leaving a longer third or into the generous neck of fairway left without risking going into three more intelligently sited bunkers.
The approach shot should hug the left side as there is nothing but trouble right, including a steep bank and a gaping bunker.
Hole 10, Sleekit Howe, 208 yards Par 3
After playing the ninth hole the 10th can feel a little underwhelming. It’s ok, the tee is elevated and the hole plays downhill to a generous green but the challenge comes more from what the wind is doing than anything woven into the design of the hole. Compared to the 4th and 6th this short hole is a touch forgettable.
Hole 11, Laich Burn, 350 yards, Par 4
I’m a passionate believer that a hole doesn’t have to be long to be tough or exciting. Some of the best par fours in the world are short, like the 10th hole at The Belfry.
The Laich burn dissects the fairway short of the green and ensures that the best strategy is a 3 wood or long iron leaving a full shot into the long green which thins and narrows from front to back.
Hole 12, Carn Mairg, 445 yards Par 4
The first of a pair of bruising par fours that form the backbone of the inward nine. The ideal drive is to the left side of the fairway but the right hand side seems to have a magnetic pull towards the hillocks, bunkers, trees and heavy rough.
The green has a pronounced ridge running through it and leaving the ball on the same level as the pin is essential to scoring well.
Hole 13, Wimplin’ Wyne, 481 yards Par Four
This is a tough par four, from tee to green. It’s simple, two of your best blows are needed to reach and the fairway narrows in the further you drive the ball. The green is raised and undulating and surrounded by a lone bunker and grassy swales. Par here is an achievement.
Hole 14, Nebit Knowe, 320 yards Par Four
Working on the theory that short par fours can be great matchplay holes expect to see fireworks here during The Ryder Cup as the players attempt to drive the green in fourballs and singles matches. It’s a short tight hole laden with danger.
The green is reachable but small and hard to hold and its left portion is the best line as missing short right is a tough up and down.
Hole 15, Ochil Sicht, 463 yards, Par Four
The toughest two shotter on the back nine. A draw is needed from the tee and the fairway tightens at driving distance. A raised green is slim, firm and hard to hold.
Hole 16, Lochan Loup, 543 yards, Par Four
The closing stretch at Gleneagles’ PGA Centenary is perfect for an event like The Ryder Cup, two reachable par-fives sandwiching a great short hole. The tee shot is funnelled down a chute and can bound forward to leave a chance to go for the green. There is water short but it shouldn’t come into play. A heavily contoured green makes two putting difficult.
Hole 17, Ca Canny, 194 yards, Par 3
A great short hole begging to be attacked with a mid to long iron. The pair of bunkers to the left encourage a shot to the right half of the green which brings a ridge into play and severe slopes on any approach putt or chip.
Hole 18, Dun Roamin, 513 yards, Par 5
The home hole is a love-hate affair. You’ll love it because you can reach it easily in two and the lure of a closing birdie is strong. On reaching the green, love can quickly turn to hate when your approach shot, pitch or chip is foiled by the severity of the slopes, swales and run-offs that have been created to deliver drama and tension at a perfect golf amphitheatre.
The entrance to the green is tiny, 14 yards wide, and surrounded by slopes, swales and cavernous bunkers. It’s arguably unfair but at The Ryder Cup it will guarantee a potent cocktail of heroics and despair and perfect made for TV entertainment.
Reflections on the PGA Centenary Course
One year out from The Ryder Cup, it was clear that Gleneagles has one of the most technologically advanced green keeping teams in the world and that the golf course was beautifully maintained.
Scott Fenwick, Estates and Courses Manager at Gleneagles, is the man responsible for the set-up and he outlined to us some of the improvements that have been made especially for The Ryder Cup, including:
1) The UK’s first SubAir system, an undersoil aeration system that ensures the greens are constantly aerated and guards against compaction
2) Europe’s first “Better Billy Bunker System,” a drainage unit designed by the former Head Superintendent at Augusta National, Billy Fuller
3) Over 50,000 tonnes of earth have been moved
4) 30,000 tonnes of turf has been laid and 1,000 tonnes of new sand used in bunkers
One thing I would strongly advise is walking the course rather than taking a buggy.
I had no choice but found that whenever I strayed from a pre-plotted GPS course that the buggy would lock-it itself and the only way to get back onto the cart path was to reverse at an agonisingly slow crawl, wasting valuable time and ramping up my blood pressure.
I love to walk and the cart, with all its screens, gadgets and GPS yardages was more nuisance than anything else.
How to play The PGA Centenary Course
The King’s and Queen’s Courses at Gleneagles reopen on 30 September, the PGA Centenary Course opens for play again on 1 October. To book a tee time or stay and play package, call 0800 704 705 or visit www.gleneagles.com
Gleneagles’ main Stay & Play package is Golf & More (from £330 per room, per night including overnight stay, breakfast and a round of golf).