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Beyond The Course: Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland

Larry OlmstedBy Larry Olmsted,
Special Contributor
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Before horse racing, falconry was known as "the sport of kings." Gleneagles Hotel is still its home. (Courtesy of Gleneagles Hotel)

PERTHSHIRE, Scotland - Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland is one of the world's great golf resorts, bar none, and I love the place. But I wouldn't go there to play golf.

The resort's two original golf courses, Kings and Queens, both designed by James Braid, are very good, and perhaps the finest examples of inland links anywhere. With so much links flavor, you might almost forget you are nowhere near the ocean. So I'll remind you - you're not. If I go to the Old Sod to play golf, I go to play links courses on the ocean, so as far as a golf trip goes, being the best inland links in Scotland is sort of like being the best ski resort in Michigan. Hello? Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, anyone?

But I didn't come here to dis Gleneagles. While it's true that said I wouldn't go to Scotland to play the Gleneagles courses, I would absolutely not miss the chance to play them if I found myself at Gleneagles. And I would, without a doubt, go to Scotland to go to Gleneagles.

Did you follow that?

Gleneagles does not have the best golf of any resort in Scotland (that would be Turnberry). It does have the best of everything else, so much so that there is no competition for its other facilities in Scotland - or anyplace on earth. Here is what I mean, and why Gleneagles warrants a visit so you can go Beyond the Course ...

Gleneagles Hotel's shooting school

Sporting clays has rightly been described as "golf with a gun," and if you haven't tried it you must. If you have tried it, you must try it at Gleneagles. Consistently ranked among the world's top shooting clubs, they have 14 stands, each featuring a different type of moving target-recreating real game. "Bolting Rabbit," for instance, is a clay disc that rolls -- quickly -- across the ground form right to left (or vice versa) like a rabbit would. The "Driven Grouse" is small, fast and gives you just a second to commit and pull the trigger. Birds that fly towards you or away from you overhead are much harder to hit then those that go across. At each stand you shoot at 10 clays, keeping score just like golf, except higher is better. I have tried sporting clays at places like The Equinox, Casa de Campo and so on, and Gleneagles is the best, right down to the Beretta shotguns and quilted shooting vests. You will fee like landed gentry, a Scottish laird before you know it, whatever that means. They also offer target shooting with air rifles and archery for the target obsessed.

Off-road driving at Gleneagles Hotel

Again, these schools are offered at grand U.S. resorts like Equinox and the Greenbrier, as well as at Scottish competitors, but when it comes to activities, Gleneagles does not mess around. For starters, you are not merely driving Land Rovers, you are driving the workhorse of the off-road world, the real deal, the Defender 110, a military grade vehicle you can't buy in the States. They don't have heated seats or DVD players and are not for soccer moms. They are for driving where you shouldn't drive. Secondly, they don't follow a purpose made "test track" like most U.S. off-road facilities. This is the Scottish countryside and you go for it in the great wide open. I remember dropping down a steep hill to ford a big stream with boulders and running water, seeing the muddy path up the opposite bank, and having my instructor say "now turn left." I thought he meant once we had crossed, but he meant turn left and drive down the stream, over boulders and door-high water, like it was a road. So I did. That rocked.

Falconry at Gleneagles Hotel

Before having falconry schools became trendy at the big resorts, it was invented at Gleneagles Hotel, when the first such school of its kind opened. Go to any falconry school anywhere and the drill starts the same way: you put on the big leather falconer's glove, known as a gauntlet (as it throwing down), tether your bid and head out the door after some brief instruction. In the States and Ireland what followed next was what they call a "hawk walk," sort of like a dog walk. We strolled along with the instructor and the birds of prey would fly on their own, following us, then return now and then for a treat. Kind of cool. At Gleneagles, we took the birds to the fields and hunted rabbits. It's not for the faint of heart, but flushing the rabbit on foot, releasing the hawk, watching it spiral higher for speed, then dive crashing down, talons extended and - bam! - no more rabbit, was pretty exhilarating. (Before you write in, we gave the rabbits to a homeless shelter for dinner.)

Fishing at Gleneagles Hotel

Charlie don't surf and I don't fly fish, but again, Gleneagles has extensive facilities and, as in every other aspect, world-class staff, instruction and equipment.

Gleneagles Hotel's equestrian center

They take their horse stuff pretty seriously in the British Isles, so when the Gleneagles center is widely recognized as the UK's finest, that says something. They devote 50-acres to it, with vast indoor and outdoor rings, a cross-country course, carriage-driving lessons, and instruction for every level from rank novice to Olympian. You probably would not know their names, but the instruction staff is sort of like Butch Harmon meets David Leadbetter in golf: Renowned trainers including Emile Faurie, Markus Bauer, Andrew May, William Fox-pit, and Jessica Kurten. Always wanted to learn how to play polo? Me too. Here you can. I did not notice that option in Myrtle Beach.

Look at it this way: Gleneagles, as I said, may not be the best golf resort, but if instead it were an equestrian resort, it would be the best. And it is. Ditto for shooting, off-road driving and falconry. It's up there on fishing. They even have a gun dog training school. Tell me, have you ever heard of such a thing?

Back on the down-to-earth side, the hotel has great service, swank rooms and all the amenities you would expect at a world-class resort, from a spa as good as any you'll find (run by top-tier Espa) to a 2-star Michelin restaurant. Oh, and they also have these two good inland links courses.

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Larry Olmsted has written more than 1,000 articles on golf and golf travel, for the likes of Golf Magazine, T&L Golf, LINKS, Golf & Travel, Men's Health, Men's Journal, USA Today, and many others. He broke the Guinness World Record for golf travel and wrote Getting into Guinness, as well as Golf Travel by Design. He was the founding editor of The Golf Insider, and the golf columnist for both USA Today.com and US Airways Magazine. Follow Larry on Twitter at @TravelFoodGuy.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • You bet

    Carl wrote on: Nov 26, 2009

    It's Thanksgiving Day, sure I'm making my plans to go to Scotland right now for next week. Why are we posting a story to Scotland this time of year? I'm heading for Arizona or some place West. East coast golf is boring. Same, same, same trees fairways and more trees. Boring.