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Crossing Scotland, Day 9 - Gleneagles
As the march across Scotland winds to a close it is pleasant to be at Gleneagles, the magnificent resort an hour from Edinburgh and the site of next year's Ryder Cup. Not as much fun as playing the great links courses, but pleasant.
The starters Hut at Gleneagles
With 800 acres, three golf courses and a huge, historic hotel, Gleneagles is a match for any golf resort in the world. It's similar, certainly, to Europe's last Ryder Cup venue, Celtic Manor in Wales.
Construction of the hotel - by the Scottish railway - was halted during World War I and finished in the early 1920s. Gleneagles hosted golf's first international match, a forerunner to the Ryder Cup. The Brits beat the Americans, who came across the Atlantic on a sister ship to the Lusitania to play here. The Ryder Cup itself would start six years later in Massachusetts. "Pretty as a picture," said American Walter Hagen of Gleneagles at the time.
To give you a sense of how secluded and exclusive the hotel is, it was the site of the 2005 G8 meeting of world leaders. It makes, only business sense I guess, that the Euros haven't played the Ryder Cup on a links course - their home fields - since 1973, when the matches were staged at Muirfield, site of this summer's Open Championship.
The Queen's Course by James Braid
And, to top it off, the course they'll use for next year's matches - the PGA Centenary Course - was designed in the 1990s by Jack Nicklaus. The other two courses - the King's and Queen's - were designed by the redoubtable James Braid, who played for Britain in those first matches here.
When the Ryder Cup finally came to Ireland it was played on the K Club, an Arnold Palmer design that surely isn't links golf. So it is in this era of money.
The original courses here have bunkering and designs that are found at the great links courses. The Centenary course by Nicklaus is surprisingly playable, but while it offers great spectator locations it's unmistakably American, with water and white-sand bunkers you can actually see from the tee.
Overlooking the 2014 Ryder Cup Course
But that's not to demean Gleneagles. It's a beautiful, bucolic getaway apart from the motorways and winds of the coastal courses. We particularly enjoyed the Queen's Course, a little shorter than King's but well positioned among the glens. In some ways, you get the bunkers and fairway bumps and occasional blind shots of a links without the fast and firm surfaces. At least we didn't this week as Scotland continues to suffer from a cold, wet spring.
Right now, the Nicklaus course is undergoing drainage improvement projects, something you needn't worry about with the links courses.
As you might expect, there is plenty of Ryder Cup talk around here. The logical choice to captain the Euros at Gleneagles is Scotland's own Colin Montgomerie but, instead, Irishman Paul McGinley was selected to command the 2014 European Ryder Cup squad. McGinley has never lost in the Ryder Cup.
The Ryder Cup Course with Its Water and White-Sand Bunkers
"Not sure how Monty would have been at inspiring people," sniffed one Scottish caddie.
Since players from continental Europe were invited to play with the British and Irish, the Euros hold a 9-7 edge over the Americans and have won five of the past six Ryder Cups, even if they've been played at places that look American.
Blaine Newnham has covered golf for 50 years. He still cherishes the memory of following Ben Hogan for 18 holes during the first round of the 1966 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. He worked then for the Oakland Tribune, where he covered the Oakland Raiders during the first three seasons of head coach John Madden. Blaine moved on to Eugene, Ore., in 1971 as sports editor and columnist, covering the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. He covered five Olympics all together - Mexico City, Munich, Los Angeles, Seoul, and Athens - before retiring in early 2005 from the Seattle Times. He covered his first Masters in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman, and his last in 2005 when Tiger Woods chip dramatically teetered on the lip at No. 16 and rolled in. He saw Woods' four straight major wins in 2000 and 2001, and Payne Stewart's par putt to win the U.S. Open at Pinehurst. In 2005, Blaine received the Northwest Golf Media Association's Distinguished Service Award. He and his wife, Joanna, live in Indianola, Wash., where the Dungeness crabs outnumber the people.