Scotland’s Greatest Hits

Pitting legends against each other in a hypothetical context is often as fascinating as it is futile. On paper, Tiger Woods may well have performed at a higher level than, say, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan or Bobby Jones, but you know what they say about statistics…

Comparing these giants of the game in a meaningful way is nigh on impossible because the record books can’t reveal immeasurable factors such as how intimidating a player can be to opponents, the ability to be a great front runner, or even how well each player contends with inclement weather. Had they faced each other during their peaks, who knows how these four players would have actually fared on the day?

You face a similar problem when comparing golf courses or the facilities at top golf resorts. Take Turnberry and Gleneagles, for instance. If you examine the spec sheet, they really don’t appear to differ that much. Both have a worldwide reputation for the sheer excellence of their large five-star hotels, stunning spas, stratospheric levels of service and championship golf courses located on site. Both are in Scotland too, of course. But the similarities end there.

Like a Highland Flummery and a Cranachan, they combine a lot of common ingredients in a mouthwatering fashion, but the way they’re put together makes them truly unique.

Gleneagles drips with history, heritage and a sense of pomp. It has hosted stars of stage, screen, sport and politics since its inception nine decades ago. In 1921, it staged a tournament between the best players from both sides of the Atlantic that gave birth to the Ryder Cup. Hollywood star and golf nut Bob Hope was a regular visitor here and made no secret of his love for the place: “The people are so warm in Scotland – and you’ve got Gleneagles. If only it had California weather, I’d move there!”

The remarkably elegant five-star hotel hosted the world’s most important political leaders and technocrats at the G8 summit in 2005 – due partly to its beautiful isolation and also the sheer excellence of the accommodation and facilities. Gleneagles’ golfing credentials are just as strong with two world-renowned heathland layouts, the King’s and Queen’s, designed by James Braid, and a modern classic in the shape of the PGA Centenary Course, penned by Jack Nicklaus. Nicklaus, who has built a few courses in his time, described the site as, “the finest parcel of land in the world I have ever been given to work with.” Was that pure marketing hyperbole? You’ll have to judge for yourself, but this 7,081-yard test had to stand comparison with the two Braid legends here to have a chance of hosting the Ryder Cup, which it’ll be doing in 2014.

Gleneagles is modelled on a grand country estate of the old school, where pursuits such as shooting, horse riding, fishing, horse riding and falconry can be enjoyed alongside off-road driving, tennis and cycling. The striking Perthshire countryside, the rugged Grampians, Ben Vorlich and the peaks of the Trossachs are the breathtaking icing on this particularly delicious mixture.

The same set of adjectives could be used to describe Turnberry, but the vibe here is different. The still, dreamy, almost otherworldly ambience of Gleneagles is replaced by a more immediate attack on your senses.

The waves crash dramatically on the foreshore, the sea breeze buffets you constantly, the gulls cry and swoop around the magnificent, stark lighthouse while squalls can suddenly sweep through with amazing vigour and then disappear just as quickly. The Ailsa Craig offshore is always a good indicator of what’s coming in the next few minutes. When it disappears from view, get your waterproofs on!

This resort has a very strong connection with the Open Championship. Tom Watson’s now legendary “Duel in the Sun” over 36 holes against Jack Nicklaus in 1977 at Turnberry will never be forgotten, and Watson again, nearly winning the Open here at the age of 59 in 2009, is undoubtedly one of the most memorable Open Championship climaxes.

Turnberry provides not only excitement but also a convenient setting, with the famous Ailsa Course, The Colin Montgomerie Links Golf Academy and the challenging Kintyre championship course all laid out beneath the magnificent hotel with its plethora of facilities including a superb spa, indoor pool and restaurants led by the sumptuous 1906 dining room.

This huge, white edifice stands proud, up on a perch like some temple built up on high to be close to the golfing gods. Like Gleneagles, this resort has so much to offer it’ll answer nearly all of your prayers. Just don’t expect that to extend to your scores!