Chad Conine is a sportswriter from Texas who spent the summer in Scotland and the town of St. Andrews. He chronicled his golf adventures before this year's British Open, held at the Old Course July 15-18.
AUCHTERARDER, Scotland — With trucks clogging the few narrow streets of St. Andrews, as shops and pubs stock up for the British Open, it was a good time to get out of town.
Perfect then that my dad and mom, John and Shana Conine of Granbury, Texas, arrived for a week of exploring the Scottish highlands before The Open starts on The Old Course. And even better that after I met them in Edinburgh, we headed straight for Gleneagles, which might be the finest getaway resort in the country, though Turnberry would also have a say.
Of course, three days at Gleneagles translated to three days of golf for my dad and I, and we played those 54 holes up against just-about-everything weather. On Thursday it was breezy — like flagsticks-bending-under-the-weight type of wind — followed by rain on Friday and Saturday.
Really though, it wasn't that bad. It was like the type of weather William Wallace (or Mel Gibson, depending on how you look at it) called fine Scottish weather in "Braveheart." The rain came straight down, only slightly from the side.
When my dad and I first played the Gleaneagles King's Course in 2004, I remember being absolutely awed by the scenery here in the heart of Scotland — west of St. Andrews, north of Edinburgh and Glasgow and just at the foothills of the highlands. In fact, at the time I went so far as to call it the most beautiful place I'd ever visited. That day was sunny, with deep blue skies, white puffy clouds and the gorse bushes in full yellow bloom all over the hills that surround the golf course.
But on this trip, those hills were pretty much invisible as heavy clouds produced drizzly rain for most of Friday and Saturday. It didn't do much to dampen our spirits though. The Gleneages courses are magnificent even if you can't see the green hills that surround them.
The Gleneagles Centenary PGA Course will host the Ryder Cup in 2014. The 6,315-yard par-72 layout offers one good hole after another. The par-5 9th, a 505-yard hole with a bunker running parallel to the fairway for the final 155 yards and a three-tier green is pretty typical. This will be an excellent Ryder Cup venue, however — and this probably says more for the Gleneagles courses than anything else could — the PGA course is generally regarded as the third most popular of the three tracks here.
The first hole at the King's course tells you all you need to know about the King's and Queen's Courses, both of which wind through the rolling hills. No. 1 at King's is a 362-yard par-4 that features a deep and wide bunker in the middle of the fairway just before the hole elevates dramatically for the final 50 yards to the green.
Following our round in 2004, my dad remarked to our caddies that it was a beautiful course, to which my caddie replied, "We would'nae know about the course, we spent all our time in the ornamental fixtures." Indeed, this is a place to avoid bunkers at all costs, not that that's anything new in Scotland. But most of the bunkers here make Hell bunker at The Old Course seem more like a walk on the beach.
In fact, my score on Saturday ended up buried in a green-side bunker on the 11th hole, but even though I was drenched by the end of the round, I was still satisfied having birdied two of the final six holes. See, even though Gleneagles puts up a hell of a fight, it gives you a fair chance at times.
My parents seem to have fully recuperated from the taxing transatlantic flight earlier this week, so on Sunday we're headed north for a round on the acclaimed new Castle Stuart course in Inverness, then on to Dornoch.
All the while we're counting down the days. Five more until the pros tee off in The Open.
(Photo: John Conine tees off on the first hole at Gleneagles King's Course)