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We Spy...Gleneagles

By: George Peper

Appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of LINKS.

THE U.S. IS BLESSED with an abundance of top-notch golf resorts. So numerous and varied are they that it would be difficult to select one as the nation’s single best. In the U.K., however, there is no contest—one star shines more brightly than all the rest. I’m referring, of course, to that monarch of the Perthshire Highlands, venerable Gleneagles. Several years ago, when it was Great Britain’s turn to host the leaders of the free world at the G8 Summit, their meeting place was Gleneagles. And two years from now, it will be the site of the Ryder Cup.

I’d visited Gleneagles several times but not in a while, so was curious to see how the old girl was holding up. Turns out, very nicely, thanks to a recently completed $100 million renovation. The ancient folding-gate elevator in the front lobby hadn’t changed since my first visit more than 30 years ago, but just about everything else had—from the décor in the hallways and common rooms, to the addition of new restaurants and an award-winning spa, to my spacious, gracious guest room, fitted-out with all the 21st-century comforts and conveniences.

The Ryder Cup will be played on the PGA Centenary course which was closed for refurbishment during my visit. That was fine with me, as it’s essentially an American-style Jack Nicklaus course set incongruously in a Scottish landscape. I was happily relegated to the Kings, James Braid’s parkland masterpiece, and the Queens, slightly shorter but only marginally less testing and even more scenic. Both were in fine condition despite much recent rain, and the pace of play was a commendable sub-four hours on both tracks. (Kudos go to the alert pro-shop attendant who, seeing I was playing alone, swapped my tee times on the two courses to fit me into playing windows that allowed for several holes of clear sailing.)

The Dormy Clubhouse serving these two courses used to be a rather noisy, claustrophobic affair where the food options were pretty much limited to scones, scotch broth, and pre-packaged sandwiches. Now it’s sleek and expansive with great views of the courses and an eclectic menu that goes well beyond golf-pub fare.

I was less enthused with the hotel’s new cocktail lounge—a bit too Nouveau Euro for my brass/mahogany/leather taste. But the selection of single malts was impressive. No surprise, I suppose, since Glen-eagles’s owner is mega-distiller Diageo.

The main dining room is the cavernous Strathearn, where hundreds of people may dine comfortably on French-inspired food with a Scottish twist. There’s also Deseo, a lively Mediterranean spot with an open kitchen that allows diners to observe the preparation of their meals. Then there’s Andrew Fairlie’s, the only Michelin two-star restaurant in Scotland. My package deal included fine dinners at the first two,  but I longed to try Fairlie’s—until I learned the price: 125 pounds (about $200).

Indeed, that was my only complaint with Gleneagles—the prices. I mean $50 for an a la carte breakfast strikes me as a bit silly, even if the array of offerings does include a vaunted Arnold Bennett omelet (whatever that is).

I suppose these prices are what they are for the same reason that a round at Pebble Beach is $495—people are willing to pay that much. Just do yourself a favor and book a golf package.

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