Gleneagles’ PGA Centenary lends view to a thrill

Gleneagles’ PGA Centenary lends view to a thrill

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Gleneagles’ PGA Centenary lends view to a thrill

AUCHTERARDER, Scotland – The Ryder Cup will set up shop in Scotland for only the second time in the event’s 87-year history – the other being at Muirfield in 1973. Only this time, the biennial matches pitting 12-man teams from the U.S. versus Europe will be held on that most un-Scottish, un-linkslike of tracts, the Jack Nicklaus-designed PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles Hotel.

For better or worse, parkland is nothing new when it comes to Ryder Cup venues on the far side of the Atlantic. Only seven of the previous 19 European sites (until 1979, the team was limited to Great Britain & Ireland) were links in style. Gleneagles’ PGA Centenary, opened in 1993 and ranked No. 42 on the list of Golfweek’s Best Modern Courses of GB&I, is right there in ethos with the past three British host sites, all inland as well: The Belfry’s Brabazon Course in England (No. 50), The K Club’s Palmer Course in Ireland (No. 43) and Celtic Manor’s Twenty Ten Course in Wales (No. 26).

What PGA Centenary has over them is the feel of a modern championship venue in terms of spectator access, crowd flow through the property, and sight lines from bleachers and stadium-style seating. The place is big enough to handle 45,000 fans comfortably.

A superficial case could be made that the European Ryder Cup team will have a competitive advantage at Gleneagles because the PGA Centenary course has been a staple of the European Tour since 1999. But a few days of practice will alleviate any imbalance.

The par-72 course will play to 7,243 yards, which is short by modern tournament standards. A relatively dry summer, followed by extensive rains of late, enabled the course to mature ideally in terms of turfgrass cover, depth and uniformity. Much drainage work has been done over the years. Tree management and a softening of some lines of play have given the layout a less abrupt and more settled look than it had in its early years.

Three holes merit close watching in this Ryder Cup:

• No. 5, a 461-yard par 4, calls for a semi-blind drive into the prevailing westerly/northwesterly wind through a narrow chute of trees. The Gaelic name for the hole, “Crookit Cratur,” means “twisted and undulating” – an apt description of the fairway, which gets narrowest at the main landing zone 290 yards out. From there, it’s a middle or short iron to a wide green perched over an ominous marsh pond covering the entire front-right entrance to the putting surface.

• No. 11, “Laich Burn,” is named for the stream that forms an irrecoverably steep water hazard 30 yards in front of the green on this 350-yard par 4. Unless officials break form and move up the tees, this will be strictly a layup in foursomes and individual matches. The only time we might see someone go for the green from the regular back tee is by the second player in four-balls, provided the first player is safe. Generally, however, it will be anything from a 4-iron to a fairway metal off the tee, to a wide landing area. From 100 to 125 yards out, it’s a flip wedge to a large green atop a plateau, with the second half forming a deck that is protected short right and far left with steep bunkers. Expect a ton of birdies, at virtually no risk.

• No. 18, “Dun Roamin’,” is one of those oft-redesigned holes that shows how hard it is to make a short par 5 compelling for Tour-quality players. It’s only 513 yards but uphill and forming a reverse camber at the tight landing area off the tee. But the real issue is the perched green, 40 yards deep and only 14 yards wide, with both flanks falling off steeply so as to form an elusive landing strip for a bold second shot. A veritable stadium has been created to overlook the last 200 yards of the hole, but historically, only one of six matches reaches the final hole, so the throngs gathered there might end up watching much of the action on huge screens.

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Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the Sept. 19 issue of Golfweek magazine; click here to subscribe.

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