Time has proven James Braid was not only a first class golfer but also an architectural visionary. It would seem the Kings Course site was chosen on the advice of HS Colt, but Braid made the most of what surely must be terrain that providence meant for golf. It is surprising then that Gleneagles Kings has not been universally proclaimed as a masterpiece. With other-worldy gems such as Pennard, Perranporth, Brora, Welshpool and Carnoustie Burnside not given their proper due, perhaps the slight to Braidís architectural acumen shouldnít be unforeseen.
Very much a moorland setting, The Kings offers all that any golfer could wish: ď...infinite variety of the ground for golf, the undulating character of the surface, the bold natural plateaus, the sandy ridges and hillocks, the rough hollows and ravines, the heather, the whin and the broom, the bracing character of the air and the magnificence of the surroundings, Gleneagles could be made to be absolutely unrivalled among countryside courses." is how the property was described in a quote attributed to Alistair McKenzie and HS Colt in a June 1925 Golf Illustrated article.
When the Caledonian Railway Company decided to build a resort in the Strathearn setting, one of the first decisions where golf was concerned was to engage James Braid. Col. CK Hutchison, who would later become an architect of some renown, was appointed Managing Director of Golf and his first task was to obtain the services of Braid. By early 1914, Braid was on board as the architect, Carters were later hired to construct the course with Hutchison managing the project. At 6537 yards The Kings must have been a stern test when officially opened in May 1919. With the advent of steel shafts in the 1920/30s the course would gradually become as much of an adventure as an examination. Of course, for the best players, The Kings was a delight and Harry Vardon was known as a great admirer.
Some 250 yards have been added to the card since Braid's day and while The Kings can be rigorous it is never taxing. The simple reason for this is Braid provided plenty of space. The management team have recently recognized Braidís vision and are now engaged in a renovation. Several acres of fairway have been reclaimed which feature short grass feeding into bunkers. Newly renovated bunkers which are more visible and better draining will now have a greater influence on play. There is also some discussion about restoring several bunkers (some of which are very short from the tee) which are now hollows. Several greens have expanded aprons which can create depth perception difficulties. The concept is to create a course more aligned with Braidís creation. I canít say if the new work has accomplished this, but I can say The Kings is stunning. It is a rare occasion when a well known course catches me completely off-guard.
Gleneagles does a fine job of blending resort play with that of top flight golf. Since its inception The Kings has hosted important events, but from the 1980s onward the resort has been a high profile site for professional golf. However, it is two womenís events which I find most endearing. The 1937 Curtis Cup played in dreadful weather and which ended in a draw after Jessie Valentine dropped a dramatic putt on the 18th. The 1957 British Ladies Open saw the very same Jessie losing to Philomena Garvey 4&3. However, Valentine did find herself on the winning end on three occasions; 1937, 1955 and 1958. In 1959, Valentine was the first woman golfer to be appointed as an MBE for services to golf. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TfU_G1ydpT4
The tee shot for the first is about inviting as is possible and immediately sets a tone which is decidely on the charming and fun end of the golf spectrum.
Because the Centenary Course is now the presumptive championship venue of Gleneagles, do not be tempted to believe The Kings does not provide a sufficient challenge. There are several testing shots such as the approach to the first.
Whereas the first climbs, the second descends.
Now then, #3. The hole doesn't need anything to increase the drama, but the hollow embedded into the hill would heighten the senses if filled with sand. Even at a well-heeled establishment such as Gleneagles, there is a balance between maintenance and budget.
The approach is to a large two-tier green.
Looking back to the tee from the crest of the hill.
More to follow.