For only the second time in history, the Ryder Cup will be contested in the country where the game of golf was invented. Scotland last played host to the biennial event in 1973, when Muirfield welcomed 12 of the best American players to the area to play against 12 from Great Britain and Ireland.
The format has changed to add the rest of Europe in the 41 years since, and this time around it’s the Jack Nicklaus-designed PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles that has the honor of hosting golf’s most popular team event. Here’s what the players and fans can expect from the course this week.
Jack Nicklaus was pegged as the designer of the PGA Centenary course in the early 90s and it was open for play in 1993. After visiting the area, Nicklaus was very impressed with what he saw, claiming it was “the finest parcel of land in the world I have ever been given to work with.” Only six years after the course was opened for play, the European Tour signed on to hold an annual event at Gleneagles, the Scottish PGA Championship, which is still being held today as the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles. The tournament is expected to resume in 2015 after taking this year off to prepare for the Ryder Cup.
Unlike most courses in Scotland, the PGA Centenary Course has a distinctly American feel to it, which really isn’t surprising given that Nicklaus was at the helm. Most Scottish courses tend to be wide and sprawling, with little in the way of rough that we see on the PGA Tour, but the Centenary Course feels much tighter than a traditional Scottish layout, with thick rough surrounding the fairways that will punish anyone who is just a little bit wayward.
In previous years when the Ryder Cup was held in Europe, there’s been a thought that the European side held the advantage because of how different the courses are in that part of the world, but that’s really not the case this time around. This is a PGA Tour course that has been lifted out of the United States and dropped into Scotland.
The course has been closed off to the public for the last month or so to keep it as pristine as possible, and from the reports, it’s working. Conditioning will not be an issue and as mentioned above, it’s a very American-style track, meaning that it’s going to look much more like Augusta National than St. Andrews. Since it is their home event, European captain Paul McGinley has control of the way the course is being set up, and he has asked that the greens be more European than American, meaning that they will be softer and slower than most of the greens that the players are used to on the PGA Tour.
The joke around the Gleneagles area has always been that the Centenary Course is the third best on the grounds, behind both the King’s and the Queen’s courses, which have a more traditional feel to them. And in truth, the reviews of the Centenary Course from those who have played it at the Johnnie Walker haven’t always been kind. But the one thing that no one can argue is that it’s a perfect venue for television. The scenery is breathtaking and there’s so much room for hospitality and seating that you can see why it was chosen to host this event. As much as golf traditionalists may not like the venue, this is the state of modern tournament golf.
I had the opportunity to head over to Gleneagles a few months ago with the Telegraph to get a sense of how the course was shaping up. I was able to play the course and preview key holes with James Corrigan, the Telegraph’s golf correspondent, and Andrew Macrae, senior golf professional at Gleneagles.