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  • Alistair Tait

King’s course makes welcome return

Senior Tour players will be able to snub their noses up at their junior counterparts two years from now with the news that Gleneagles is to host the 2022 Senior Open. After a long hiatus, a tournament is to be held on the best course at Gleneagles.

Yes, the Senior Open will be held on the King’s, not the PGA Centenary course which has become the favoured layout of the three Gleneagles venues in recent years.

Europe’s elite have been forced on to the Jack Nicklaus designed PGA Centenary course at Gleneagles in recent years. The now defunct Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles was held for 14 years over the PGA Centenary, while the King’s lay idle a medium to short iron away. It’s a bit like going to St Andrews and opting to play the Castle rather than the Old Course.

The 2014 Ryder Cup and last year’s Solheim Cup were both staged over the PGA Centenary. Why were the best team events held on Gleneagles’s worst course? For the same reason the European Tour switched from the King’s to the PGA Centenary back in the late 1990s: the King's is another layout which is arguably too short to host the best players in the game. Nicklaus also designed the PGA Centenary, formerly the Monarch’s course, as a stadium course designed specifically to host big events like the Ryder and Solheim Cups.

You only have to look at the respective yardages of both courses the last time a European Tour event was held on them to show how distance has changed the the choice of courses. The King’s measured 6,739 yards to a par of 70 when Carl Mason won the 1994 Bell’s Scottish Open. The PGA Centenary checked in at 7,296 yards for Tommy Fleetwood’s 2013 Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles victory.

The Kings first hosted European Tour golf with the 1974 Double Diamond Strokeplay. Nick Faldo won his first European Tour title – the Skol Lager Individual – over the King’s three years later.

The layout then played host to eight consecutive Scottish Opens between 1987-1994. It was a favourite stop on the European Tour calendar. It will be a welcome return to top flight golf, as R&A Executive Director of Championships Johnnie Cole-Hamilton confirmed:

“This is another great ‘first’ in the history of The Senior Open and we could not be more thrilled to be staging the championship on The King’s Course at Gleneagles. With such a strong pedigree in hosting championships, The King’s is a fine test of golf and we know the players will relish the opportunity to play there.
“Adding another renowned venue to the roster is a clear indication of the continuing development of The Senior Open and I’m sure there will be a real sense of anticipation among the players and fans for our first visit to Gleneagles in two years’ time.”

In his seminal book The Confidential Guide, architect Tom Doak said this about The James Braid designed King’s course:

“The King’s course combines rare scenic trappings with some exceptionally good golf architecture and there are several holes (the 5th, 7th, and 13th, to name but three) that any course would be proud to own.”

The PGA Centenary looked completely out of place when it opened in 1993. Nicklaus might be the game’s greatest player, but he didn’t seem to clock the Gleneagles ethos when he designed the resort’s third course. Huge bunkers and seemingly miles and miles of cart paths were ugly on the eye. As Doak noted:

“Its wall-to-wall cart paths set a horrifying precedent for Scottish golf.”

Stepping from the King’s or the Queen’s layouts onto Nicklaus’ layout was like stepping from Perthshire, Scotland to Anywhere, USA. Take away the scenery and the weather and you could have been forgiven for thinking you’d been transplanted to Ohio.

The PGA Centenary course is better now than it when it opened. A sub-air system means it's open for play when it normally would have been shut. However, it’s still not a patch on the King’s or the Queens. Put it this way, if you can only play two of the three Gleneagles courses then the Kings and Queens get the nod every single time.

Thankfully, some of those playing the 2022 Senior Open will also have played those Scottish Opens of the 1980s and 1990s. It’ll be like a homecoming for many to play the best course at Gleneagles again.

#JustSaying: “Why would I want to be out there with all those young guns” No sense playing the flat bellies when I can play the round bellies.” Lee Trevino on turning 50

Photograph courtesy of Gleneagles

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