Golf Course Review of Gleneagles (King's & Queen's) Golf Club
Gleneagles (King's & Queen's) Golf Course
Reviewed by Ed Battye -
Quick Summary: Golfing royalty
Our 5 Star Rating: 4.5 (King's), 4.3 (Queen's)
I returned to the King’s course at Gleneagles in April 2018 just a little over a decade after I first fell in love with it.
The reason for this more recent visit was to play in their popular Spring Open. A card and pencil competition off the white tees in the early season was deemed a good idea… at least during the winter planning months!
The unique and brilliant routing of the King’s course over dramatic and undulating moorland meant that even though ten years had passed it was still possible to vividly recall every hole before stepping onto the tee.
The layout and land forms certainly have something about it. There are so many fantastic driving holes you will never get bored from the tee and the approaches into the wonderfully located green sites are equally pleasing.
Clean bunkering, plenty of width and an array of colours, which any artist could only dream of having on their palette, greet you at Gleneagles. And if the internal beauty of the course is to be admired then the external views are its equal. Golfing at Gleneagles is an uplifting experience.
The putting surfaces weren’t at their best, hardly surprising that just a couple of weeks prior they had been under snow, but this did not detract from the sheer quality of the course.
I’m not overly a fan of the opening hole with its steep incline to a sloping green but it gets us to the best of the golfing terrain and from then on Gleneagles is at its brilliant best.
The outstanding holes on the property in my view are the hidden-green third which is quickly followed by the brutish par-four fourth, thanks largely to the diagonal ridge that runs in front of the green and deflects anything left of centre down to well below the level of the green. The ninth is a real treat too with a seemingly dubiously positioned marker post to aim at (albeit it is in the correct place) before playing across (or from within) a deep valley to a ledge green.
On the back nine and the par-four 13th is probably the standout hole, “Braid’s Brawest”, with a demanding drive and another excellent approach shot. One is not quite certain of what lies down the undulating fairway except for a glaring bunker at the perfect driving distance; laying back to avoid this leaves a long approach. The green on the 15th is also worth a special mention with a severe slope from front to back and a basin to the back-right.
The set of one-shotters are truly wonderful and display Braid at his very best. The volcanic nature of the fifth, the green complex at the eighth, the grandiosity of the 11th and the quaintness of the delicate 16th all add up to a delicious feast of varied and taxing short holes.
There are only two par-fives on the property (holes 6 and 18) and with the exception of the drive at the last they are perhaps the weak link of the course… but both are far from poor and add to the eclectic mix that the King’s has to offer.
The King’s at Gleneagles is a match for all but a handful of inland courses in the British Isles. Indeed, if I’m not golfing at the seaside in Scotland I can’t think of anywhere else that I’d rather be.
Meanwhile, It’s possible, and most likely probable, that the Queen’s at Gleneagles is the best golf course under 6,000 yards. Not just in Scotland but anywhere.
Yet don’t be fooled into thinking this is a short layout which can be overpowered or that it’s a fiddly little thing lacking any real substance. The par of 68 (SSS 69) ensures that the 5,926-yard James Braid masterpiece, played up and over large natural ridges, through wooded valleys and occasionally across tranquil lochans, is more than a true test of golf.
Indeed the first six holes all head roughly in the same direction and play into the prevailing wind. There is nothing short or easy about any of them with three of the four two-shotters topping the 400-yard mark. The best hole of this opening sequence is undoubtedly the sixth, a gloriously beautiful hole of 437-yards, which plays through a valley before rising up to a green sitting proud on an angled ridge plateau.
If you’ve come through the opening third of the course unscathed (I didn’t) then you do have some opportunities to put a score together over the next few holes as well as on the much shorter inward half but there are certainly no gimmies and still a couple of card-wreckers to follow.
The weakest holes on the course in my opinion are the first, 11th, 13th and 18th but they are by no means poor holes. The other 14 are either very good, excellent or in the case of the sixth, 12th, 15th and 17th truly superb.
The 12th is a brilliant driving hole where the fairway narrows but steeply descends after approximately 250-yards. If you can hit the fast lane you will be rewarded with a much shorter approach. The 15th is a fabulous risk-reward short-par four, one of the best of its kind, and plays over a valley to a green sitting in a bowl at the end of a funnelling fairway that skulks between a couple of sand traps – get the tee-shot right and you’ll more than likely make birdie but get it wrong and you could be made to look a fool.
Meanwhile the 17th is the best one-shotter, not just on the course but perhaps across inland Scotland, and has one of the longest greens I’ve seen. It is also contoured sublimely – to find it though you must hit a longish iron, or perhaps even a wood, over a valley and avoid a cavernous bunker to the right which if found will leave you in a world of pain.
The true joy of the Queen’s course – opened in 1917 - is simply the land it is played over; forever twisting and turning, contoured and defined elegantly yet is at complete peace with its surroundings. It can’t be compared to Brora (another Braid design) regards the style of golf - this is more moorland as opposed to links - but the way that the holes have been draped over the landscape in such an uncomplicated and flowing manner is very similar. The plentiful bunkering, which has recently been revamped, is also clean, classic and fits into its surrounds effortlessly. The exterior views divine.
The only disappointing aspect of my round here was the condition of the greens and aprons due to recent hollow-tining and sanding. I’ve played over 1,000 open competitions and have never known a club treat greens just prior to a competition. I’m sure Gleneagles have different priorities to most other clubs but it did leave a slightly sour taste; mainly because the subtle borrows looked fantastic and these were diminished due to the maintenance.
The Queen’s may play second fiddle to the King’s (and rightly so, although my memory is a little hazy of its big brother) but this is a course that can claim a significant amount of credit and pulling power in its own right.