The PGA Centenary Course,
designed by Jack Nicklaus, is a modern classic
Even for a champion and acclaimed golf architect like Nicklaus, The PGA Centenary Course was a challenge. It had to be a great course and, set as it is in the heart of Scotland, the country which gave the world golf, Nicklaus describes the course as 'The finest parcel of land in the world I have ever been given to work with'.
It had to be unique in its challenge, a course in the modern design ethos that at its fullest stretch tests the greatest players, while, in the immortal phrase of Bobby Jones, 'offering problems a man may attempt according to his ability... never hopeless for the lesser player nor failing to concern and interest the expert.'
From the back tees, the PGA Centenary Course measures 7,088 yards, the longest inland course in Scotland. However, the tees are graded at each hole in five stages, including a challenging 6,657 yards from the white markers down to 5,150 from the red. Fittingly, the PGA Centenary Course begins by playing southeast towards the famed glen of the eagles sweeping up the Ochil Hills to the summit of the pass below Ben Shee which joins it to Glendevon.
A feature of the PGA Centenary Course is the feast of views of the spectacular countryside in which Gleneagles is set. Putting on the two-tier second green, you are distracted by the lush panorama of the rich Perthshire straths. As you move westwards over the next few holes, the rugged Grampians come into view on the right, then distantly purple ahead, Ben Vorlich and the mountains above the Trossachs.
A hole new ball game
A distinct air of change is evident in the rolling Perthshire hills. The Ryder Cup, a sporting showpiece that continues to dazzle the world over, may seem a distant nine years away, but Gleneagles refuses to sit back, relax and rest on its laurels in anticipation of welcoming the cream of European and American talent in 2014. A stroll around this year’s PGA Centenary Course is testament to that fact.
Alterations to four holes, at 4, 6, 7 and 8, have been undertaken in the last 12 months to strengthen an already demanding test. Designed back in the late 1980s and officially opened in May 1993, the course will continue to evolve in future years after a five-year remodelling plan was agreed by Gleneagles’ management last summer.
“What we wanted to do was to find a situation where we could ensure that we had a number of truly memorable holes for the Ryder Cup matches in 2014,” said Patrick Elsmie, Operations Director at Gleneagles. “That was the main driver behind looking at the existing layout and making changes to improve it.” David McLay Kidd, one of the world’s leading golf architects, was the man commissioned to carry out the ‘tweaks’ to Jack Nicklaus’ original design and fulfil Elsmie’s hopes.
“The course was designed when just over 7,000 yards was felt to be a course that would stand the tests of another 100 years’ worth of professional golf,” explains Kidd. “With modern equipment, players are hitting it so far that is no longer the case. Also, as a course matures, the design and nature can react well together in one aspect and not so well in another. Sometimes you have to adapt to get the two to marry better together.”
Kidd, responsible for the highly-praised Bandon Dunes in Oregon, Queenwood in Surrey and presently designing the seventh public course in St Andrews, clearly relishes a challenge. He only wishes adding extra yards, at Gleneagles or wherever, was not part of his remit. “Like all keen golfers, I want to take my Titleist driver and my Pro-V1 ball and hit it as hard as I can,” added the handy eight-handicapper. “But five years from now it will be 8,000 yards needed for a championship course. It is a battle you will never win. The ball, as Nicklaus said 20 years ago, has to be uniformed in tournament play. They adapt the tennis ball frequently, it has been slowed a couple of times, but nobody has said Wimbledon has suffered.”