On a sunny September afternoon, I am standing at the top of ‘hole one’ on the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles Resort. With rugged Scottish mountains on the horizon and a curse of beautifully manicured greens that stretch out before me, I should feel goosebumps for the hallowed ground upon which my very smart black and white golf shoes now tread. Almost a year ago to date, and with swarms of international supporters littering every inch of nearby turf, two teams of professional hopefuls took to the same spot to tee-off. 18 holes later and Paul McGinley’s European team would regain Ryder Cup glory, gaining prestigious victory over the USA once again.
With the world’s media switched on, in 2014, Gleneagles also celebrated its 90th anniversary – still very much the Scottish institution of hospitality it was originally created to be. Black and white photos of 1920s Wallis Simpson and Duke of Windsor-esque couples on their honeymoons, teams of generations of kitchen staff, Royals and other well-known celebrities decorate a specially curated mini-exhibition within the magnificent walls of this enormous building that with subsequent extensions, can now house countless guests in its 232 tartan-clad bedrooms. The staff number over 1,000 people which means that personal attention is of number one priority for those who come to stay here.
During the war the hotel was used as a hospital, with patients being able to arrive directly on the train from London. The RnR element still prevails, with a top of the range ESPA spa, four main restaurants (Andrew Fairlie still boasting Scotland’s only 2 Michelin stars, The Strathearn with an excellent wine list, El Deseo for top notch tapas), and whiskies galore in the bar. There are countless outdoorsy activities on offer: trout fly-fishing, clay pigeon shooting, horse-riding, polo, archery or tennis, to name just a few. Don a Barbour, make friends with the formidable birds of prey, or learn how teach your woof how to become a gun dog. The off-roading vehicles look extraordinary fun too. Gleneagles could be every aspiring country-estate owner’s dream-come-true. (I’m pretty sure that when I was there, there was a Middle Eastern princess in residence learning exactly how to be that).
Grand buildings, luxurious interiors and inspiring scenery aside however, it was, in fact the golf that came here first. The idea for Gleneagles was born, funded and founded by wealthy railway line owners from England. The ‘Riviera of the Highlands’ was opened in 1924, but it was 5 years earlier in 1919 that the golfing here began. Gleneagles was famous for golf from the beginning with two championship courses – the Kings and Queens, designed by James Braid. A touching black and white image displayed inside today’s Dormy Clubhouse depicts four Auchterader worthies, suited, clutching golf clubs on the first green of Kings, taken a few months after the courses were opened. “John Mallis, shoemaker, James McBeth, lawyer, Will McDonald, poor law officer, and George Eadie, baker.” In the background is the shell of the unfinished hotel behind them.
In 2015 the club’s players come from all over. A large proportion are still locals, only 10% are hotel residents and the rest are many international visitors, including those from just over the border. Here it will cost you up to £180 for a round – fairly pricey but then the course is knowingly ‘world-class’. “Terrain is key” says Director of Golf Gary Silcock, whose golf management career to date has taken him around the world – most notably to La Manga Resort, The Belfry in the West Midlands, Portugal’s Algarve and to other interesting places and projects such as Mumbai. “The first golf club outside of the UK was established in 1828 in Calcutta” he tells us. The Gleneagles Golf Club counts 52 green keepers and there is clear attention to detail in how things here are run.
On the Golf Academy’s turf and under light drizzle that slowly progresses to heavier rain, we learn how to perfect our swings with expert tuition from PGA Golf Professional Andrew Macrae, bolstered by state of the art studio which analyses our postures next to some of the golfing world’s great and the good. Later, the sun is out over the ‘wee course’ where our novice selves are put through our paces to take what we’ve learnt and then apply it on a real course. With some shots so high we have to squint into the distance to find them come down, and competitive putting on the greens to finish on-par, some of us do better than others. Nonetheless, there is a tangible sense of excitement; adrenalin not lacking. When I was at school I always wanted to try golf and join the team, Indeed, a childhood friend of mine went on to become a fully-fledged (female) pro. I however was always left on the driving range whilst the others went off to play. The better players I’ve since met tell me practice makes perfect. You’re up next.
B&B nights at Gleneagles start at £355 per room per night. Three night stays plus golf, spa and other activities start at £1040pp, or book for seven nights on a room-only basis of £2,025pp. For more information, including details on accommodation, shopping, offers, and booking tee times, visit www.gleneagles.com.
This Thanksgiving (Thursday 26th of November) The Gleneagles Hotel will be hosting a delicious 3-course Thanksgiving dinner in the vibrant DESEO restaurant as a special treat to welcome its North American guests. At £55 per person, the menu features a variety of all-American classics, including clam chowder with cornbread; jumbo shrimp cocktail, prime rib and, of course, traditional turkey with all of the trimmings. For more information, visit the website.