A Royal Challenge
The 13th hole at the King’s Course, Gleneagles
by David McLay Kid

I spent much of my later childhood at Gleneagles in Scotland where my father is the Courses Manager. I could play the lesser known courses—Queens, Princes and Glendevon—whenever I wished but my father only granted me permission occasionally to play the revered King’s Course. I loved playing Braid’s masterpiece then and now, although for over the 20 years since I first teed it up, my game has improved, along with the balls and clubs I use. Collectively, this has completely changed my playing strategy on many holes over this layout. In selecting my favorite hole, I would have to agree with five-time Open winner and renowned architect from the Golden Age of golf course design, James Braid. The 13th hole—originally the 14th—on the King’s course is aptly named "Braid’s Brawest‚" meaning Braid’s Greatest. In April 1914, the Caledonian Railway Company appointed Messrs Braid and Hutchinson, agreeing to pay £120 plus expenses for their design services.

My chosen hole is wild and unpredictable, amid the tumbling Perthshire terrain. Like many golf holes from a bygone era, advances in equipment technology have reduced it to a lengthy par-4, rather than the monstrous par-5 it was in the 1920s. From the men’s back tee it’s a stretch at 464 yards, and the hole still plays as a par-5 from the women’s green tee.

The King’s Course at Gleneagles, and especially "Braid’s Brawest," epitomizes much of the great man’s golf design philosophy. Short and sweet, it is listed below:
• Holes should present variety of: length; demands made of the player; style of bunkering; and method of approach.
Putting greens should be well guarded.
• The size of the green is governed by the length of approach. The shorter the shot, the smaller the green.
• Alternative tees should be provided to enable playing conditions to be adapted prevailing or contrary winds, dry or wet weather.
• Alternative routes should be provided to each hole.
• The bunkering and general planning of holes should reward good positional play.

When standing on the 13th tee, you just know you’ll have your work cut out to secure par figures. Issues conspire against the golfer: the green falls steeply away from incoming shots—front right to back left; there is no approach into the green, making a running approach impossible; and the wind is generally at your back, negating any thought of stopping your ball on the green. Indeed, there are easier holes! For a hole approaching its centenary, it is somewhat surprising that almost all the original bunkers remain relevant and in play. A good drive is essential to clear the ridge and thread the bunkers, while one slightly right of center will normally result in favorable forward bounce. Any tee shot to the left will be snared by a bunker known as "Auld Nick," but stray a little to the right and another bunker added after Braid’s time will claim your ball. Following a bunkered or wayward drive, you really must reconsider playing the hole as Braid intended—a three-shot hole. A good drive by the single digit handicap golfer is rewarded with a relatively flat lie and playable shot of 180 to 190 yards to the green. Canny local knowledge dictates that you aim your approach to the right of the pin, allowing the slope of the green to work the ball down to the pin. Weak shots invariably find the greenside bunker "Young Nick," whereas bold play has its own glorious reward: a ball situated behind the pin, leaving an uphill birdie putt. For golfers who choose, or are forced, to lay up with a short to mid-iron, they will find their ball in a deep hollow in front of the green. This position leaves a short but blind wedge. As an avid golfer and golf architect, I love the challenge of utilizing the contour of a golf hole in the strategy. Target golf is one dimensional and contrary to the very essence of the game.


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