PERTHSHIRE, Scotland -- Everywhere you look in central Scotland, there's a postcard waiting to be made.
With its rolling hills and serene country setting, Perthshire is such a beautiful part of the United Kingdom, a sleepy, mostly undiscovered region. It's centrally located -- a little more than an hour's drive from both the Glasgow and Edinburgh airports -- and offers lots of touristy things to do in addition to the legendary courses at Gleneagles, site of the 2014 Ryder Cup.
I know most American golfers want to go to the traditional links golf destinations, but why not plant your feet in Perthshire for a week of golf and sightseeing like I did this summer? You just might fall in love with the region like my fellow traveler, Canadian writer Brian Kendall, who was ready to buy a home after our stay.
Here are 10 reasons Perthshire might be the right home base for your next Scottish golf vacation:
10. Animal kingdom
Staying at Gleneagles is perfect for animal lovers. You can work with well trained dogs at the Gundog School, promoted as the first school of its kind in the world, or try your hand at falconry, what some consider the oldest sport in the world. The Equestrian School is considered among the finest stables in the world.
9. Visit Pitlochry
Pitlochry is a charming town worth exploring. After perusing the shops, walk to the nearby Pitlochry Dam, home to the famous Salmon Ladder, a series of pools that allow the salmon to swim upstream over the dam during mating season. You can watch the salmon run anywhere from April through October from two viewing chambers in the dam. The Pitlochry Festival Theatre, also located along the river, is popular for its variety of shows.
8. Drink it up
The region's selection of distillery tours -- Dewar's Aberfeldy Distillery, Edradour (Scotland's smallest distillery), The Famous Grouse (Scotland's oldest distillery), Blair Athol Distillery, and the Dalwhinnie Distillery -- rivals any region in Scotland.
7. Castle tours
Blair Castle, the ancient seat of the Dukes and Earls of Atholl, was one of the first private homes to open to the public in Scotland. Scone Palace, for centuries the crowning place of Scottish kings, is celebrating its 50th anniversary of opening to the public in 2016.
6. Bang, Bang
The shooting school at Gleneagles seems ideal for buddies golf trips. The facilities are first class and if you've got a competitive bunch, they'll love the challenge of trying to hit a target flying in the air like a bird or rolling along the ground like a rabbit.
5. Hike it
Hiking Perthshire's "Big Tree country" can lead to discoveries such as Europe's oldest tree and "Birnam Wood" made famous by Shakespeare's "Macbeth." Visit www.pkct.org for more. The best option might be to park your car at Queen's View, where a panorama of lake and mountain scenery stretches for miles, and tour the nearby paths. The tough-but-worth-it walk to the summit of Ben Vrackie mountain can be coupled with the visit to Pitlochry.
4. Short but sweet
Perhaps my favorite part of the recent visit was playing two absolute gems shorter than 6,000 yards: the Queen's Course at Gleneagles and Pitlochry Golf Course. The Queen's has more history (it will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2017) and is kept in better shape, but Pitlochry delivers more scenery, more affordability and a memorable collection of par 4s, a handful of them drivable. Rounds on either are fun and fast -- two traits more courses need to abide by these days.
3. Take a day trip
Okay, so here's where we bow to the strong gravitation pull of Scotland's premier golf destinations. Day trips are easily doable. It's 90 miles from the Fonab Castle Hotel & Spa in Pitlochry (where I stayed for two comfortable nights) to reach two of the greatest links of the Scottish Highlands, Nairn Golf Club and Castle Stuart Golf Links. It's only an hour's drive from Gleneagles to St. Andrews.
2. The glamor of Gleneagles
The spoils of the 232-room Gleneagles -- host the G8 Summit in 2005 -- are the premier reason to visit Perthshire. The food is fab. The Michelin-starred Andrew Fairlie is the signature dining experience. The Century Bar, located just off the hotel lobby, has been stylishly redecorated by the resort's new owners. It houses one of Scotland's finest collections of old and rare whiskies. The daily breakfast buffet and dinner at the Strathearn rarely disappoint. Deseo, modeled after a Mediterranean market, features an all-you-can-eat dessert bar where everybody overindulges. Even the clubhouse has two different menus to feed starving golfers. If your golf or hiking muscles start to ache, rejuvenate in the Spa by ESPA.
1. Perthshire's tournament-quality golf courses
As much fun as golfers can have off the course, it's the chance to play the PGA Centenary Course and King's Course at Gleneagles that highlights the trip. They're both very different styles. The King's Course, a Scottish Open host from 1987-94, rolls with the heaving terrain to create blind shots and demanding lies. Conversely, the Ryder Cup venue designed by Jack Nicklaus feels like a modern parkland course. Hardly anybody walks. The Solheim Cup is next on the tee in 2019. If you're still not satisfied, the 36-hole Blairgowrie Golf Club, home of the 2014 Junior Ryder Cup, offers the Rosemount Course with a pedigree that dates back to James Braid and Dr. Alister MacKenzie, and Lansdowne, a course considered the tougher of the two.