Designer: James Braid
When the 2014 Ryder Cup placed Gleneagles front and center on the world stage, it was a rare opportunity to showcase that there’s more to golf in Britain than just the seaside links variety. The irony being that the matches themselves weren’t even played on the best course at Gleneagles. Not by a long shot. That distinction belongs to the royal patriarch of this historic resort… The Kings.
Some five years before the “Palace in the Glens” opened for guests, James Braid was commissioned to layout the resort’s first two courses in the hills of Perthshire. The five-time Open champion was gifted with a magnificent piece of property for the project, with the rolling terrain and broken ground providing a natural canvas for great inland golf. The first task at hand, however, was clearing the dense wilderness; a job of some magnitude given it was executed with nothing more than a horse and plow.
The brilliance of The Kings is evident from the opening stretch of holes, as they snake their way up and down a ridge that runs across the property. The 1st climbs to the top with an elevated green, while the 2nd and its gorse lined fairway runs back down to the base. Meanwhile, the 3rd provides a thrilling approach up and over the ridge to a completely hidden green. It’s the par-3 5th, however, that often comes to define the day at Gleneagles. It’s name “Het Girdle” alludes to the fact that your ball may slide off the tabletop green like butter on a hot pan, where the bunkers well below stand at the ready.
After such a fabulous start, it’s easy to wonder if the rest of the round on The Kings may be something of a letdown. Rest assured, this concern stands no chance of coming to fruition largely thanks to the 13th, known as “Braid’s Best.” As the name suggests, the man himself regarded this brutal par-4 as the standout hole on the course. We’d suggest avoiding the deep fairway bunker off the tee, as well as taking plenty of club on the approach to account for the deceiving false front.
Of course, no story of golf at Gleneagles would be complete without a mention of the resort itself. From the inspiring mountain landscape to falconry to dining worthy of not one but two Michelin stars, the Grand Dame of Scottish hotels offers an experience that is without equal. All of which stems, like Turnberry and Cruden Bay, from a rich history as a destination resort for the Caledonian Railway.
There are many who regard The Kings as Braid’s finest work in what can only be described as a sterling career in course design. To that end, the course recently underwent a restoration project which returned much of the original character that had been lost over time. When paired with the luxurious confines of the Gleneagles resort, we find an unparalleled combination of Golf and the Good Life. But above all else, The Kings proves in rather grand fashion that inland golf in Scotland can be just as compelling as that found on the seaside links.