Grand, Elegant, historic — that’s Scotland’s Gleneagles golf resort.
Scotland’s rugged coastline, Highland mountains, lowland valleys, numerous lochs and rivers and 787 islands were created by four major fault lines cutting through her boundaries. Along with dramatic scenery, legendary history, castles, clans, bagpipes and brouges make Scotland a worthy and memorable destination.
On a recent visit, I passed through peaceful rolling hills as I approached the famous golf resort of Gleneagles. The renowned estate, home of three championship links courses and the 2005 G-8 Summit, and elite getaway for the rich and famous, enveloped me in warmth and wealth. Every detail from spit polished brass railings to my room’s electric tea kettle and selection of shortbread spelled top-of-the-line quality and five-star, bend-over-backwards service.
My group arrived at the main entrance: an impressive French chateau-style structure. Stepping inside I found aristocratic touches: marble staircases and columns, hand-carved wood paneling, mica chandeliers and a bevy of uniformed staff. The Gleneagles brochure aptly describes the 1924 hotel as “the palace in the glens which continues to attract those in search of rest, relaxation, and exhilaration.”
Gleneagles sprawls over 850 acres and offers 232 guest rooms, including 26 luxury suites. Overnight visitors choose between traditional Scottish decor rooms in the main building or more modern ones in the wings. My renovated room had a cozy gas fireplace at the foot of a massive and extremely comfy bed. With the wall of windows and patio showcasing full views of the glorious countryside, it proved a romantic setting.
Golf, Spas, Dogs Classes and More
Golf is obviously a huge draw. The Ryder Cup Committee has chosen Gleneagles as their venue for 2014. The grounds house the PGA Centenary Course, designed by Jack Nicklaus, the King’s Course, the Queen’s Course, and the nine-hole PGA National Academy Course, which is used for instruction.
However, the resort also offers a long list of recreational activities for non-golfers. First, there’s the highly acclaimed spa. Regretfully, I had no time for treatments.
I was, however, surprised by the number of families and grandchildren participating in falconry, gun dog classes, off road driving courses, and fishing, riding, and hiking. Day trips are easily arranged for wildlife sightseeing, as well as castle tours and visits to whiskey distillers.
I chose to attend my first-ever gun-dog class, learning how dogs are trained for obedience, agility, and hunting. The class starred two amusing black labs that had simply performed the drills so many times, they began to anticipate and tease with the commands.
I took a turn working with a dog named Debbie. She ran to fetch on command and then sat still. This Debi couldn’t coax Debbie to return until her official handler called her. It was an act I thought was adorable, but the instructor did not.
Following that class, I investigated the falconry mews. Falconry has long been regarded as the Sport of Kings, and birds of prey were traditionally flown by royals. Gleneageles added their Falconry School in 1992 which offers extraordinary introductory through advanced level programs on the grounds.
Having previously worked with hawks, I was eager to try the sport again. The feeling of commanding a bird back to your hand is a sheer delight. It seems the majestic free flying creatures return to please the falconer. The truth is they fly for the food you present.
Due to the size of my group, I was only able to work with a hawk for one flight – not nearly enough. Holding out my gloved arm and watching the raptor fly toward me was sheer delight. Feeling the pressure of his sharp talons through my glove reunited my respect and connection with Mother Nature.
Drink and Food to Match the Surroundings
The temperature felt rather chilly, especially for a Floridian, and I was ready for a wee dram – as is the Scottish custom. But, my wee dram would not be any ordinary whisky. I was invited to The Blue Bar at the Dormy Clubhouse (and one must be invited to visit). I would sip velvety smooth Johnnie Walker Blue Label whisky on a heated leather sofa around a large circular fire-pit.
Although not much of a scotch drinker, my first taste of the superior blend was heavenly, no harsh alcohol burn down my throat. I was instructed to take three sips with water on the side. The first was to sample the flavor, the second to smell the peat and feel some heat, and the third to experience the harmony of the whisky’s fresh orange, smoke, and spices. I admit I savored the precious elixir and would enjoy it at home if the cost didn’t run $200 a bottle. I will have to settle for one of Johnnie’s less famous, but more economical lines like the Green or Gold Label, around $55-$75 per bottle.
The outdoor Blue Bar also includes a cigar menu with brands like Bolivars, Cohibas, Cuabas, H. Upmanns, Montecristos and Partagás, and some pre-embargo Cubans. Those, I could easily skip.
Alas, my evening would not include dining at Gleneagles finest: Andrew Fairlie, ranked as Scotland’s only two Michelin star restaurant. However, I didn’t go hungry. Instead I attended an elegant banquet complete with a tartan decorated table. Following cocktails, we feasted on a goat’s cheese panna cotta decorated with apple blossom and pomegranates. Then, a loin of slow cooked lamb, followed by warm chocolate fondant with sour cherries. It was all quite impressive.
My visit to Scotland was off to a magnificent start and Gleneagles surely lives up to its glamorous reputation.— story and photos by Debi Lander, RFT Contributor