One of Scotland’s most iconic golf courses, The King’s Course at Gleneagles, was officially launched on Friday (24th June), following an extensive development programme to restore the course to its original glory.
Scotland football manager, Gordon Strachan, and golfing legend Stephen Gallacher – who played his first tournament on The King’s Course at the Bell’s Scottish Open in 1993 – teed off on the first hole of the course to lead the celebrations.
The James Braid-designed course is due to celebrate its 100th birthday in 2019 and is widely regarded as a masterpiece in course design.
Famed for hosting the very first match between British and American professionals in 1921 – in an event that was the precursor to what became The Ryder Cup – the historic course has also attracted a host of celebrities over the years, including Bing Crosbie, Sir Sean Connery and Sir Jackie Stewart.
Scott Fenwick, Gleneagles’ Golf Courses and Estate Manager, who managed The King’s Course project, joined the green keeping team at Gleneagles 35 years ago.
He said: “We’ve taken the course back to how it would have been in Braid’s day. I started here in 1980 but by the end of that decade we had begun to change the whole character of The King’s Course to meet golfers’ expectations at that time.
“We started contouring and reshaping until the fairways became really narrow. The original bunkers within the fairways ended up sitting in the rough which meant the approaches became so tight that golfers had to fly the ball onto the greens. There was a surge in demand for this type of play at the time.”
The recent King’s Course restoration project, which has seen the fairways increase from 10 hectares to 14 hectares, has reversed most of these changes from the late 1980s.
One of the main project objectives was to follow Braid’s philosophy of using the natural lie of the landscape to inspire and inform the course design. Works to reinstate elements of the original design have included re-aligning fairways and widening greens, bringing several bunkers back into play and reinstating heather stands.
The implementation of a new style of grass cutting on the course will also affect play. The roughs have been thinned out while the fairways – which were previously striped with a manicured cross cut – are now being cut in the traditional block style to emulate the cut that would have been achieved with horse-drawn gang mowers.
Gary Silcock, Gleneagles Director of Golf said: “Taken together, our three championship courses offer a fascinating insight into the development of golf course design. By restoring The King’s back to Braid’s original design, we’re providing golfers with a lot more choice.
“The PGA Centenary is a modern course with pristine, defined and immaculate contouring where you can really fly the ball and take an aerial approach onto the green. The King’s and The Queen’s, on the other hand, are traditional heathland courses which play like ‘inland links’, where you can pitch, bump, run and manufacture shots, using the contours of the land to get the ball in the hole.”
He added: “This more traditional course tests different skills, including golfers’ green-reading abilities, so it offers a completely different playing experience.”
Gordon Strachan, Scotland’s football manager who plays off a single figure handicap and is a regular golfer at Gleneagles said “It’s an honour to come here with Stephen to celebrate the re-launch of this historic course.
“The return to the old layout means some shots are easier, but many shots are a lot harder. It’s a more traditional way of playing – if you catch the wrong side of a slope it takes the ball away, so it adds new challenges and excitement to the game.”
Stephen Gallacher – who was the only Scot to represent Europe in The 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles – was equally impressed with the revamped course. He said: “It’s wonderful to see The King’s restored to its former glory.
“As one of Scotland’s most historically important courses, it’s fantastic to get a much more authentic experience of how golf would have been played in Braid’s day.
“The 9th fairway has changed dramatically and is a personal highlight for me. Before the changes, most would hit straight down the middle of the fairway and all the balls would gather in the one place below the level of the green.
“Now they’ve realigned the fairway 40 yards further left, you have the option to play a short iron from the tee and have a clear view of the green with your second shot.
“I’m just a great fan of courses that go back to their routes and embrace their heritage. Courses nowadays are designed for technology but the great traditional golf courses like this were designed for how golf was meant to be played.”
The King’s Course has also been subject to a range of drainage improvements – including the installation of the latest bunker drainage and lining technology and an extensive aeration and sanding programme – to improve its resistance to year-round weather conditions.