JACK Nicklaus has admitted this week’s Ryder Cup is not being played on “the most difficult course in the world” but believes the fact it will produce “a lot of birdies” is a recipe for success as Scotland prepares to take its place in the sporting spotlight.
Former Masters champion Zach Johnson, a member of the American team arriving in Edinburgh this morning to start the build-up to Friday’s opening salvos, delivered a damning verdict on the PGA Centenary Course following a visit last summer.
It has also had its critics on this side of the Atlantic, including Lee Westwood, who is making his ninth appearance in the event as part of Paul McGinley’s European team.
However, Nicklaus, who designed it and was then re-hired by Gleneagles Hotel bosses to make tweaks to the layout specifically for the Ryder Cup, is confident the Perthshire course will play its part in maintaining the drama of recent events, notably Europe pulling off their “Miracle at Medinah” two years ago.
“To have Gleneagles, the first course I have designed in Scotland, host the Ryder Cup for the first time in Scotland in 40 years is something that’s very special to me,” the 18-times major winner told The Scotsman.
“I think the PGA Centenary Course, which has a little bit of an American look to it, is a really good test of golf. It’s been modernised in recent years and tweaked for the Ryder Cup.
“I think the players will enjoy the golf course. I don’t think it is the most difficult course in the world, but it wasn’t meant to be the most difficult course in the world. It’s a hotel or resort golf course, and it was designed to service the needs of the guests at Gleneagles.
“But it is has the length that is needed — close to 7,400 yards, maybe 7,350. Weather is going to play a significant role in the tournament.
“The golf course is relatively generous off the tee, but I think it requires you to be very precise on the second shots, the approach shots. There will be a lot of birdies, and I think that’s good for this type of a match.
“Having these matches, which are so very important to showcasing the game I love, at Gleneagles is something of which I am very proud. I think it’s great.”
Nicklaus, who will be part of the Sky Sports team for the event’s 40th staging, is delighted to see his old adversary, Tom Watson, as the American captain in Perthshire.
However, he believes the five-times Open champion is going to have to upset the odds to repeat a 1993 triumph at The Belfry – the last US success on this side of the Atlantic.
“On paper, I think the European team looks very strong. The American team, although very talented, doesn’t look as strong on paper,” added Nicklaus.
“But the beauty is you still have to go play the matches and I think Gleneagles will be a great venue for it.
“I think Watson will do a great job as captain. I think he’s taken the job and his responsibilities very seriously. He did his research on all of the players and worked very hard before he made his captain’s choices.
“He’s kept up with how all the guys are playing, and he has done a good job of trying to get to know the younger players better.
“Tom has such a history in Scotland and he’s very respected among the Scots, just as he is very respected in the United States. I think it will be an event played in the proper spirit.”