KEEN golfer Stephen Hendry will have more reason than most to be riveted to the Ryder Cup this weekend – knowing the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles like the back of his hand.
Snooker’s seven-time world champion is just one of many former and current players that can boast a low handicap on the fairways and greens.
Scot Hendry, 45, was a Perthshire resident for many years and enjoyed membership at the exclusive club for around 20 of those.
And for someone who was there for the official opening of the Jack Nicklaus designed course, seeing the biennial Europe v USA showdown played there is a dream come true.
Sports fans will all become a lot more familiar with the 18 holes and 6,815 yards over the three days of fierce competition as America bids to wrest the trophy back.
And Hendry, who warmed up on the eve of the contest with a round at Wisley in Surrey, was kind enough to share his thoughts on the course, the challenge for the participants, and his favourite holes with Inside Snooker before it all gets going on Friday.
Hendry said: “The other two courses at Gleneagles, the King’s and the Queen’s, are more like traditional inland countryside Scottish courses in many ways – plenty of heathland, what we are all used to.
“Then you have this PGA Centenary Course that is a lot more American in style, having been designed by Jack Nicklaus.
“Locals are occasionally a little negative about it purely because it is next to the other two, but I honestly believe if it was on its own in its own club, everyone would say it was an unbelievable course because it would stand out from others in the area.
“But you still have the beautiful scenery with the hills and everything surrounding it. Links course have their charm by the seaside but for me you can’t beat Gleneagles, although I am a bit biased knowing it so well.”
“I was a member there for 20-odd years, there used to be four courses then closed two of them down to get the Centenary Course in.
“I played the course for its official opening, that was quite an occasion and they flew people like Gene Hackman and all sorts in to mark the ceremony.
“I played the course many times, and because it was my home course I played it mostly with friends, and the head pro at the shop, Billy Marchbank.
“We often used to go out in the late afternoon with no one there, it was beautiful with virtually no one else there, and we’d go round in under two hours in the buggy.
“It was incredible having the course to yourself, because most people came in during the day, and that was the advantage of living a mile away.
“And to be a member there you had the best of both worlds with the Scottish courses and the Nicklaus one as well.
“I always used to think that 3, 4 and 5 were a very tough run of holes. On the stroke index they were always low, and very tough holes.
“So that is the dog-leg right par four with bunkers to catch you out; the very long par three, and then another very difficult par four.
“To be honest playing off the back tees every hole was tough for me, but those three were as hard as it got for me.
“The fourth hole, is about 240 yards now, that was a wood off the tee for me unless it was downwind, and the prevailing wind usually made that one against the wind.
“The next one, the fifth, was stroke index one and probably the best hole on the course – an amazing test.
“The ninth hole is the one that is around a 620-yard par five now – that was never reachable in two for me. But for some of these players the course might even play short.
“Then there is the 14th, I think one of the holes that has been changed a bit I think. That is a 320-yard par four, but that’s probably a three wood for Rory McIlroy or Bubba Watson, which is unimaginable. Most club players would never reach that.
“And the 18th could see plenty of drama but that has been changed a bit as well, the green used to be more hidden for the second shot, round a corner – whereas now it looks more in front of you and maybe more reachable in two. Not that I ever could anyway.
“For matchplay, having two par fives in the last three holes that are reachable just sets it up so nicely for plenty of drama and it should be so exciting.”
The Ryder Cup is always one of the sporting highlights of any year it is played for Hendry – and this staging will simply be that bit more special.
He added: “For me to be watching such a wonderful sporting event on a course I know so well will be amazing, and I will be glued to it on the TV where I think you get the best views and sense of what is happening.
“It is my favourite sporting event to watch anyway, even without the course connection, because of the head to head nature of it. That’s what I loved about snooker, and you can’t get better than that.”
And he is also certain that while fellow Scot Stephen Gallacher may have had the odd sleepless night, his presence in the Europe team guarantees an electric atmosphere – whatever the weather has in store.
Hendry said: “It must be such a huge thrill for Stephen Gallacher to be part of this on home soil, and he is in action straight away on Friday morning.
“I can hardly imagine what it will be like for him – the one thing you can’t predict is the weather. In Scotland in late September no one knows what will happen and that could be a big factor.
“Whether or not the Americans like sideways rain is something we may be about to discover.”
Photograph by Monique Limbos