Scotland Beyond St. Andrews: Glorious Gleneagles highlights the pearls of Perthshire
Golfers the world over know St. Andrews is where the game began. Consequently, a pilgrimage to golf's homeland is high on the wish list of all those who care about golf's history and traditions.
There's much more to Scotland than simply St Andrews, however, and hundreds of fabulous golfing delights are located outside the Kingdom of Fife. Some are renowned throughout the world, while others are comparatively unknown. But because of the democratic nature of golf in Scotland, nearly all welcome visitors.
With that in mind, let's take a look at golf in Perthshire.
Although it briefly touches both the east and west coasts, Perthshire is predominantly a mountainous county lying right in the heart of the country to the northwest of Edinburgh. Consequently, the numerous golf courses scattered about its length and breadth are inland. Some are hilly, while others are mountainous.
Undoubtedly the best-known golfing pearl in Perthshire is magnificent Gleneagles. And with the Ryder Cup visiting in 2014 it's set to become even more famous. There are three great courses to satisfy the most demanding of golfers. The newest and the one upon which the Ryder Cup will be fought is Gleneagles' PGA Centenary Course. Designed by Jack Nicklaus, it was launched in 1993. Despite the cool temperatures and strange accents, the U.S. team should feel at home as it undoubtedly has an American feel about it. For example, there are plenty of water hazards, elevated tees and raised contoured greens. A few critics think it looks as if it has been imposed upon the landscape and a touch out of place but, although it may lack the charm of its two regal neighbors, it will undoubtedly test the best.
The original idea behind Gleneagles was to create a "Palace in the Glens" that would attract noble and wealthy railway travelers. Designed by the legendary James Braid, Gleneagles' Queen's Course was the first to open and is the shorter and somewhat easier of the original pair. With wide fairways lined by Scots Pines, generous greens and bunkers designed to trap only the most wayward shots, the course is fairly forgiving. Attractive banks and pretty escarpments together with the spectacular views make it a visual treat and a hugely enjoyable course to play even if you're not on top of your game.
Designed by Braid but opened just after the Queen's in 1919, the King's Course at Gleneagles has heaps of heather, raised greens and plateau tees. Set within the valley of Strathearn with the Grampian Mountains rising spectacularly to the north and glorious views everywhere you look, it would be hard to imagine more perfect terrain for an inland course.
Blairgowrie Golf Club
In the Rosemount and Lansdowne, Blairgowrie Golf Club has two heavenly heathland courses. Both are lined by forests of pine and silver birch with heather, broom and gorse adding gorgeous touches of color to an already splendid setting.
Braid laid out the older and more celebrated Rosemount Course at Blairgowrie, while Peter Alliss and Dave Thomas designed the slightly longer Landsowne Course. Although indisputably great and glorious, Blairgowrie is neither pretentious nor intimidating, and the delightful clubhouse is especially warm and welcoming.
Murrayshall Golf Club
Also right up there with the very best is Murrayshall Golf Club. As well as two courses, there's a luxurious country house hotel that's as comfortable as it is attractive. Murrayshall is the older of the two tracks. With white sand bunkers, natural stone bridges and numerous water features, it's perfect parkland golf with a lovely spacious feel. The same designer -- Hamilton Stutt -- returned 20 years later to create the Lynedoch Course, which is tighter and a bit shorter but no less difficult.
Crieff Golf Club
Several world-renowned architects have had a hand in the creation of the Ferntower Course at Crieff Golf Club. Old Tom Morris's original nine-hole course created in 1891 was extended to 18 by Robert Simpson just before the First World War. Then along came Braid in the 1920s to make some further improvements. Rather sadly, perhaps, the creation of another nine-hole course in 1980 and extensive alterations to the Ferntower meant that not that much of his work survived. That said, this delightful hillside course enjoys wonderful views over the Vale of Strathearn and has enormous appeal.
Pitlochry Golf Course
Allegedly one of Queen Victoria's favorite towns, Pitlochry Golf Course is surrounded by pretty hills, upon one of which you will find a truly lovely golf course. Willie Fernie of Troon laid it out in 1908 and presented players with a stiffish climb over the opening few holes. Be sure to enjoy the purity of the mountain air as you breathe in deeply. Don't worry too much as the terrain soon flattens out and the views from the top certainly make all the effort well worthwhile. As you look out from beneath Ben Y Vrackie, savor the sweeping views down the Tummel Valley. From here on the slopes are not too severe and, should you go into any, you might care to note that the bunkers contain quartz sand.
St. Fillans Golf Club
Although most are, not all the courses in Perthshire are hilly. One delightful nine-holer that is mostly on the level is St. Fillans Golf Club. Originally designed by Willie Auchterlonie in 1903 and subsequently lengthened to over 3000 yards, only the uphill walk to the third tee and the elevated fifth green require any significant effort. Look out for the roe deer and wild goats.