I was recently invited to attend a short Golf 101 break at The Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire. My first thoughts were of trepidation due to the fact I haven’t picked up a golf club in a decade, shortly followed by anticipation for the opportunity to visit such a revered and famous resort that has recently celebrated a 90 year anniversary.
I am what you might call quietly competitive by nature, in fact I have up until this point deliberately avoided opportunities to play golf with friends as I don’t like the fact I am unable to compete and ultimately lose. The opportunity to learn correct golfing techniques from some of the UK’s best instructors was the perfect tonic to my avoidance.
Not sure what to expect from a hotel that is setup for golfers I chose to discover upon arrival rather than my usual approach of researching to near fatigue. I suppose this can either make the discovery more exciting as you refrain from anticipation or highly disappointing if your destination doesn’t live up to your hopes. Fortunately I can state wholeheartedly that I am glad I chose to discover instead. As soon as you arrive at The Gleneagles gates you can instantly tell that you are in a special setting as you take in wonderful views of the Ochil Hills behind you and the stunning landscaped grounds around you that feature a lake, club house and immaculate golfing greens.
The greeting at check-in was friendly and the atmosphere in the hotel can best be described as warm, mildly informal yet classy which pleased me instantly I can recall golfing friends complaining at length about how stuffy the atmosphere can be in golf clubs. I was surprised to learn that the hotel was purpose built for golfing retreats in 1924 rather than a re-imagining of a country estate as with most grand buildings of this size.
My double room was suitably luxurious with a small lounge area including it’s very own fireplace and view out onto the golfing greens. For a Bed & Breakfast rate of £335 per room the bathroom in particular was better than many I have stayed in at this level with a double sink area, bath and shower. Being brought a tin of good quality Scottish shortbread on arrival was a nice touch and made a great gift upon my return (albeit with one missing). The fabrics in the room included tartan and tweed and featured their Scottish roots very tastefully, many places I have visited can go a bit over the top on tartan which can make you feel like you are trapped in a giant game of chequers.
Having browsed the welcome pack I think it is fair to say that you could have a very enjoyable time at Gleneagles without ever picking up a golf club, in fact the hotel is perfect for a leisurely short break for either groups or couples with mixed tastes.
Aside from the golf there are also the following activities:
- Fishing: Gleneagles has six trout lochs and offers lessons from skilled ghillies and the chance to have your catch cooked, also Salmon fishing trips can be arranged with a weeks advance notice.
- The Spa by ESPA: Massage, facials, treatments, detox, tropical shower, crystal steam rooms and swimming pool. There is also a nail bar for the ladies.
- Horse Riding: From beginner to advanced including an introduction to Polo.
- Gundog and Falconry: Introductions and lessons are available and dogs are made very welcome at the hotel.
- Indoor Tennis: Four acrylic courts with a good choice of professional lessons.
- Off-Road Driving: Gleneagles has two purpose built off-road courses and offer lessons for anyone, a good chance to actually use your 4×4!
- Shooting: Clay pigeon, archery and air rifle.
- Programme of kids activities: From horse riding, mini athletics and air gun shooting to movie nights and arts & crafts.
- Shopping: wandering the corridors of the hotel there are numerous shops selling whisky, cashmere, leather goods, jewellery, sports and lifestyle clothing and tweeds of which the focus is on quality Scottish items and produce.
As you can see these are mostly aligned to Scottish field pursuits but there really is something for most tastes on that list and talking of taste the hotel really delivers on the food and drink front with five superb dining opportunities.
Visitors can choose between the following restaurants:
- The Bar: The bar is avery comfortable space which also offers light lunches. I haven’t eaten here but I can tell you as you would hope in Scotland their whisky selection is second to none and we enjoyed two evenings sampling whiskies recommended to us and my personal favourite Lagavulin 16 years old from the Isle of Islay.
- The Dormy Clubhouse Bar & Grill: A classic all day menu of favourite dishes from sandwiches and burgers to fish and chips with a tandoor grill. I opted for their tandoori chicken dish which was cooked and presented beautifully.
- The Strathearn Restaurant: This is one of the very largest grand dining rooms I have eaten in and has a tangible air of nostalgia about it. Sitting at the table gazing into the open floor ahead of me I could easily picture the scenes of past decades and I doubt very much the piano playlist or the ceremony behind the crepe suzette the table next door ordered has changed in all the dining rooms 91 year history, a wonderful site to behold. I ate a very decent Crab starter and Halibut main course here and at least one meal in this restaurant is a must for any visitor
- Deseo: a relaxed Mediterranean restaurant serving classic holiday style dishes. This was perhaps my favourite restaurant which I would choose even over The Strathearn Restaurant, mainly because their choice of dishes is almost a checklist of things I personally like to eat on a European holiday. I chose to sample their gazpacho which was every bit as good as in the Mercado de San Anton in Madrid and a Scottish beef Rib eye steak which I can honestly say nudged ahead of Hawksmoor for the best steak I have eaten this year.
- Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles: This is a two Michelin starred restaurant and unfortunately I haven’t eaten here as you would expect you need to book.
The main reason for my visit however was the golf. During my short two night break we had one and a half hour lesson with with Andrew MacRae a PGA Senior Golf Professional and very pleasant and patient coach. In our first session we received coaching on the correct stance and how to strike the ball correctly. Having mastered the stance we had varying degrees of success with striking the ball which we recorded on video and quickly analysed before returning to the driving range to see a marked improvement and further fine tuning from Andrew as he watched our progress. My main issue it seems and where I have been going wrong in the past is leaning backwards as I strike the ball, to quote the famous phrase “it’s all in the hips” and rotating them effectively. I managed to iron out my poor swing by keeping my eyes firmly on the ball and my chin up which I then practised for a while after the coaching ended aided by enthusiasm from the afternoons progress.
The following day we had a one hour morning session where we learned how to pitch and putt. I managed to make good progress on putting but the pitching eluded me somewhat as the technique of cutting dead your swing was an entirely new discipline from driving the ball. Following the session I stayed behind with two enthusiastic members of our group and we practised pitching for quite a while with Andrew’s tips still fresh in our memories until we had improved quite considerably.
After a long lunch in the Dormy Clubhouse we all played the “Wee Course”, a short nine hole course amusingly endorsed in the hotel by Ronnie Corbett himself. The course was great fun and there were plenty of oohs and ahhs as we moved from great shots to howlers as our old habits crept back in, however the marked improvement in our group in just two sessions was clear for all to see. I personally fared very well, even surprising myself by managing to par one hole.
Having only just learned the basics I will need to get some practice in on smaller courses before attempting a full round of golf at Gleneagles but should you already be an accomplished ‘swinger’ you have the chance to play on three of Europe’s very finest championship golf courses.
Gleneagles offers three full size courses:
- The PGA Centenary Course: The host venue for last years Ryder Cup.
- The King’s Course: Gleneagles world famous course opened in 1919.
- The Queen’s Course: A secluded course in a woodland setting with many water hazards and favoured by legendary golfers such as Greg Norman and the one I remember the most Seve Ballesteros.
Enthused by my very rapid progress in just two days I am now looking into my first set of golf clubs and my next golfing invitation which this time will not be declined.
The Gleneagles Hotel
Tel: (0)1764 662231
Travel Info: Simply within one hour of either Edinburgh or Glasgow airport and train stations.