Gleneagles Golf Club (Queen’s)
Location: Perthshire, Scotland
Designer: James Braid
GOLF WORLD SAMPLES THE RETRO STYLING OF THIS RENOVATED JAMES BRAID CLASSIC IN PERTHSHIRE.
“Gleneagles was created solely to please,” noted the maverick writer, poet and Cambridge golfing blue Patric Dickinson in his estimable 1950 book A Round Of Golf Courses. Sixty-seven years later, that observation by Dickinson in a book that inspired the adolescent Tom Doak may well have never been more relevant. Under the new ownership of Ennismore, the Perthshire resort – which in the hands of drinks giants Diageo had hardly slipped to anything other than outstanding – is re-introducing a little more of the ‘naughtiness’ for which it was immediately renowned after opening in 1924.
Gleneagles Golf Club has been an aphorism for decadence and opulence ever since, and its new slogan under Ennismore – ‘A Glorious Playground’ – is neither misleading nor exaggeration. Off the courses, it is easy to indulge to excess as British high society did in the ‘20s and ‘30s when it was their favoured bolt hole. There are an amazing 50 activities to engage in – ranging from an equestrian centre to a spa, and off-road driving to extensive retail therapy – while the two-Michelin starred Andrew Fairlie restaurant and The American Bar head the myriad evening highlights.
And on it, Gleneagles Golf Club – host in this century of the Ryder Cup and G8 summit – has acted to ensure its pedigree courses offer maximum pleasure by reviving the philosophies originally intended by James Braid. The prolific, much-admired Scot created both the Queen’s and King’s 98 years ago and Gleneagles has renovated both courses since 2016 with the aim of restating Braid’s visual style and playing characteristics.
Using archived photographs and Braid’s drawings as a guide, fairways have been widened by as much as 40 percent, a move that has seen bunkers become surrounded by short grass rather than rough. Heather has been encouraged along some holes while 89 bunkers have been lined by Capillary Concrete to aid year-round drainage. Bunker visibility has also been enhanced. So that it remains constantly firm, the bowl green of the drivable par-4 16th has had hi-tech drainage technology installed that takes inspiration from the heart’s response to atmospheric pressure.
This all means that the Queen’s, which entered our Great Britain & Ireland Top 100 in 2016, is in better fettle than for many years. Opened as nine holes along with sibling the King’s (five years before the hotel), it was extended to 18 in 1925. It boasts moorland turf that is close to being as satisfying as that of a links, and its scenery is dreamy. While the King’s famously offers views over the Ochil Hills, Grampians and Trossachs, the Queen’s looks largely inward, a canvas of natural ridges, mighty pines and Loch an Eerie.
It all sounds very friendly, and when you note the 5,926 yardage, it suggests the Queen’s will flatter your game. Indeed, you won’t have to look long to find it described as the “King’s little sister”. Just don’t expect to pitch up and easily play under your handicap. It is a par 68 and has only one par 5, albeit a very friendly one. There are three par 4s over 400 yards in the first six holes, which are played into the prevailing fresh south-westerly breeze. Coming back, it’s true that after the 10th, only 12 and 18 top 400 yards, but only solid ball-striking will be good enough on long 3s at 14 and 17, the latter one of the hardest holes on the course.
This is certainly not the souped-up Academy course it is sometimes made out to be. Equally, it does not beat you up. It extracts extra shots from you with subtle, gracious difficulty; many is the time you find yourself contemplating the cunning that’s just added an extra half shot to your card as you gaze back down the hole with smiling mystification from the back of its green.
Golf World Top 100 panellist Clyde Johnson, an associate of Doak, summed up its allure after a first visit in 2016. “Sub-6000 yards? Incomprehensible such is the scale, which is in keeping with the grand surrounding. Architecturally, I really enjoyed the moments of visual deception and grand, yet repelling greens in the early section. The green complexes too, are well varied in their positioning, but also in their broad but elegantly subtle movement. On the approach to 7 the grandeur of the expansive corridors and broad bunkers first reveals itself, harmonious against the ominous Ochil Hills.”
Sitting on the north and west sides of the vast estate, it heads due west for the stiff opening six holes before the routing forms a double S at its furthest point from the clubhouse. It then tracks back scenically and less stringently from the 13th.
Anyone expecting a scenic pitch and putt, perhaps after an evening sampling a few of the 120 whiskies in the hotel’s Century Bar, will likely swiftly reconsider when they glance at the Strokesaver on the 1st tee. At 409 yards off the whites and played slightly uphill, ‘Trystin’ Tree’ (lover’s meeting place) is a presage of the early action. A slight push gives you more club for the approach to a small green than you are comfortable with, and in fact a five there is a good start for most.
That allows you to climb up to the 2nd tee in good spirit and enjoy the majesty of an exquisite short hole that furnishes what is expected of the Queen’s. Bunkers are set into the front bank of a large, table-top green but it really ought to be found with a short iron. You are then introduced to another theme that makes the Queen’s more exacting than one might be anticipating, for a ridge across the green’s centre and other subtle slopes mean there are few straightforward putts – especially on surfaces as quick as they are pure. The front left pin position is taxing for anything other than a putt from under the hole (and if you are there, you have either hit your iron heavy or under-clubbed).
Indeed, there are frequent examples of being almost snookered around the greens, where chipping or putting from the wrong angle leaves you tiny margin for error. Chipping and even putting from the right of the 4th is one example, where only the most dextrous will get within four feet. The semi-blind chip from the deep hollow front left of that green is almost as difficult, giving this mid-length two-shotter sharp teeth.
Before it, the drive off the 3rd tee, with OB right, is one of the course’s most difficult while the short 5th is made partially blind by bunkers set into mounds before a narrow, sloping green with a hint of a Biarritz channel.
The stringent opening third ends with a 437-yard par 4 that is well guarded on the drive by OB, bunkers and trees – yet you cannot afford to be conservative or you face the prospect of a long iron or hybrid into a green on an obliquely angled ridge.
The unwary visitor might well be punch drunk by this point, but the 7th provides welcome respite. The only par 5, it is strewn with bunkers but a sensible path can be plotted by all abilities; the strong player will drive down the right to open up the green – angled at 45˚ from front right to back left – in two while the less accomplished can hit driver, 4-iron, wedge and sniff birdie. The scenery changes here too, an outward-looking vista from the green including an expansive look at the uber-exclusive gWest course and its distinctive domed clubhouse.
The 8th maintains the feel-good factor. This sporty par 4 of 337 yards begins with a blind drive where the right is the short route but the left the better line in to one of Gleneagles Golf Club’s funkiest greens. The uphill, 90˚ dog-leg 9th – around a steep, grassy hill – keeps you honest and there’s another 400-plus yard par 4 to follow. This time it plays slightly downhill, and placing your drive down the right makes easier a memorable approach that must be threaded between copses of pines to a fabulous bowl green.
On a high, refreshment is taken at the neat halfway house before tackling the altered 11th, with a bunker on the left removed and replaced with heather and one resurrected on the right. It gives this 318-yard par 4 extra strategy and bite.
A favourite follows next, the stroke-index three 12th letting longer hitters hit down the right in search of a slope that will leave them with a wedge in. The rest of us ought to favour the left and a flat lie on a fairway that sits way above the green – à la Dornoch’s 8th. Back-to-back short holes around Loch an Eerie – the picturesque 13th being followed by the tough 14th, played uphill to an acutely tiered green – are followed by a classic sporty two shotter at 15. Gorse lurks on the right but even the conservative golfer will surely reach for their longest club and aim for the green, whose pasta bowl shape gathers helpfully.
The pick of the short holes – and one of the best on the whole 54-hole property – is the stiff penultimate challenge. Played from an elevated tee, if you can’t locate the kidney-shaped, coffin-like green you are better off on the steep bank and bunker on the left rather than the steep bank and ferns to the right. Slopes in the green add a final layer of rigour here.
The Queen’s Course finishes as she started, with a robust par 4 of over 400 yards. This one has lots of movement in its green to add a little naughtiness to the last shot of a round that may well represent Britain’s finest course under 6,000 yards and conspicuously embodies Dickinson’s 1950 description of this glorious playground.
Gleneagles Golf Club Queen’s Course is one of the best golf courses in Scotland. It is ranked No.93 in our Top-100 Golf Courses: GB&I. It is part of the Gleneagles resort, which is ranked No.1 in our Top-100 Golf Resorts: GB&I.
To view the Top 100 Golf Courses in Scotland please click here.