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Golfing – and More – at Gleneagles


Preconceptions are dangerous things, especially when you are travelling. It’s all too easy to make a decision about a place without giving it a chance. Some of the best trips are those when you take a bit of a risk. Not that staying in Scotland’s first 5 star hotel is really that much of a risk. You know it’s going to be good, very good, possibly superb. What you don’t know is whether you’re going to have to share the place with loud American golfers wearing even louder checked trousers, or Japanese golfers adorned head to toe in Burberry checks (but here I am slipping into the habit of making preconceptions again).

I was delighted to find that this wasn’t the case. In fact, Gleneagles continued to surprise throughout my stay. You feel a bit of a fraud disembarking from an Easyjet flight at Edinburgh airport to be met by a chauffeur dressed in a kilt and driving a subtly branded Gleneagles people-carrier. I could have requested a Mercedes if I wanted to, but that would have been a little brash. It is only a 60 minute drive to the hotel, but what a drive – over the Forth Road Bridge and then through some beautiful glens until you drive up to the main entrance.

Gleneagles Hotel

The first thing that strikes you is the size of the building – it’s big, big and rectangular. Yet when it is squeezed into the 850 acres of stunning Perthshire scenery which make up the grounds, everything seems to fit into perspective. Gleneagles was designed in the style of a French chateau and Capability Brown, the celebrated 18th century landscape gardener, inspired the landscaping. The hotel celebrated its 75th anniversary in 1999 but certainly hasn’t rested on its many laurels (Conde Nast 2002 Best UK Leisure Hotel & Best European Resort 2000 & 2001). £58 million has been invested to ensure that this is no old fashioned highland hotel but a luxury destination for the 21st century. £250,000 was spent refurbishing the Royal Lochnagar Suite alone. Braid House, a new accommodation wing costing £10 million was opened in 9 months ago and boasts 59 luxurious bedrooms, many of which have balconies. 90 of the bedrooms in the main building are being refurbished at a cost of more than £10 million.
I was expecting garish tartans on the carpet, the bed, the wallpaper and probably even the towels. Once again, my preconceptions were blown away. Baird House is stylishly designed in dark woods and subtle lighting which are more reminiscent of a Japanese theme than highland Scotland. The room did have tartan on the bed but it was a wonderful subtle mixture of greys rather than bright red and green. The room had modern black and white photographs on the walls, all taken around the estate and had all the mod cons you would expect from a 5 star hotel room.

Eating is a problem at Gleneagles. With four restaurants to choose from, deciding on which one to dine at can be a problem. However let me make things easier for you – this is one which should not be missed. The Strathearn Restaurant has been selected as one of the world’s ten Great Hotel Restaurants. The style is French influenced cuisine, under the watchful eye of Michelin chef, Andrew Fairlie, named Scottish Chef of the Year.  The restaurant received Michelin Star rating in January 2002, a mere 8 months after opening. Rumour has it that it is well on its way to receiving a second Star.

The Club at Gleneagles is the place to relax and unwind after the exertions of the day. Over £3.7 million has been spent in developing The Club with the very latest in gym equipment and facilities. These include a 20 metre length lap pool, leisure pool and Jacuzzi, and outdoor hot pool. The Club restaurant is equipped with a wood-fired pizza oven and wood-burning grill. Adjoining The Club, The Spa offers the usual extensive range of beauty care and therapeutic treatments.

Falconry course

However, what sets Gleneagles apart from its rivals in the South are the range of activities on offer. Golf is what immediately jumps to mind, with three championship courses offering unrivalled views of some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. James Baird, five times winner of The Open, designed the King’s and Queen’s courses, whilst Jack Nicklaus, Golfer of the Century, designed The PGA Centenary Course. The 2014 Ryder Cup matches will be played on the latter. There’s no doubt that playing golf at Gleneagles is something special which will stay with you for the rest of your life. I can still remember the feeling of nerves I had the first time I stood on the 1st tee of the King’s Course. There’s room for improvement for everyone and The Golf Academy provides expert advice and tuition.  The Dormy Clubhouse provides the perfect place to lie about those amazing shots you have just played.

To come to Gleneagles and only play golf is to do the place a dis-service and miss out on a huge amount of fun. The Gleneagles Shooting and Fishing School (set up by Jackie Stewart) provides world class instruction with guests coming from all over the world to test their skills and learn more. More than 1100 wild Atlantic salmon are taken annually on the Gleneagle’s beats. The Off Road Driving School pits you against two of Britain’s most challenging, purpose built courses. A Challenger Tank seemed to be the only way to conquer it when I first looked at the hideously steep slopes and deep ditches. However, after some expert instruction, I’m soon bumping my way around, covering the Land Rover in mud. Quarter size Land Rover replicas provided the same sort of fun for the younger members of the family.

The Equestrian Centre is renowned as one of the world’s finest equestrian facilities and is one of the largest training and examination centres for British Horse Society qualifications. The facilities are huge and state of the art, with more than 20 mounts available for guests. Courses at the British School of Falconry at Gleneagles are internationally acclaimed as the finest introduction to the ancient sport. I never realised that an hours lesson would pass so quickly and that I could assimilate so much knowledge in such a short space of time. The hawks are amazing and to have one of them taking off and landing on your gloved hand is quite something. Even with all there is on offer at Gleneagles, the hour I spent with my hawk Heather, was definitely the highlight of a fantastic few days.

Hang on, that’s a baseball cap.

Gleneagles is also geared up for children in a big way. There are the usual full baby-care facilities, along with a playroom, outdoor play area and daily events and parties. Activities such as falconry, golf lessons, horse riding, archery and off road driving have been adapted for even the youngest. There is even a colourful website, gleneaglets.com, to keep them up to speed with what is happening.

So who should consider visiting Gleneagles?  Well any golfer who wants to play some of the best courses in the world. But also anyone wanting to escape from the hustle and bustle of normal life for a few days. Gleneagles is easily accessible from the South and even a few days will leave you feeling as though you’ve been on holiday for a week.

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