Kids golfing at Gleneagles
Kids golfing at Gleneagles

By Eileen Ogintz

Tribune Content Agency

Got your seatbelt on?

Not only is your 10-year-old in the driver’s seat, but she’ll navigate through water-filled ditches, turning to avoid trees on an exceedingly bumpy dirt track, even up a steep stone path.

Gulp! Turns out, she’ll probably navigate the course better than you behind the wheel of the amphibious argocat (eight wheels). “Kids often are the best drivers, said instructor Duncan Eade at Gleneagles Resort in Scotland, where the British School of Falconry offers such unique vacation experiences. “Moms often are scared and dads drive too fast,” he explained.

One Philadelphia teen I met freely admitted her younger brother was the best driver in their family. Was it the Scottish air that had her complimenting a younger sibling in front of him?

How about the steely resolve of the 4 year olds, who navigate the mini obstacle course in their tiny Land Rovers, or blithely hold a hawk on their gloved arm? (This is home to Britain’s first falconry school, but much more about the ancient sport of falconry in an upcoming column.)

Of course, Gleneagles is known for golf — it is home to three of Scotland’s best championship courses and it is where the 2014 Ryder Cup was played. But today, only 30 percent of guests play golf — and some of them may be kids taking lessons.

Millions are heading to Edinburgh this week for the Fringe Festival, the largest arts festival in the world, but with kids, I’d rather be at Gleneagles, which is just an hour from Edinburgh, or five hours by train from London. The upscale resort has a well-deserved and growing reputation as a family resort that gets what 21st-century families want — from complimentary kids’ activities in one of the coziest kids clubs I’ve ever seen to activities you won’t find most places (think training a gundog or learning to take care of a pony) to accommodating restaurants that not only offer innovative kids’ menus but are also happy to provide a half portion for a junior foodie, or allow them to make their own pizza — chef’s hat included.

The resort has just launched a new Family Country Pursuits package designed to encourage families to challenge themselves with activities they couldn’t do at home—everything from hawking to off-road driving, archery, shooting, riding and training those adorable gundogs, among other things.  Cost starts at under $6,000 for a  four-night package  including five activities, breakfasts, dinners and lodging for a family of four,

There are family rooms with bunk beds, time-share homes for rent where families can spread out. Kids are welcomed in the big dining room in their pint-sized robes and slippers for breakfast like 5-year-old Rosie Templeton, whose mom, Kristy, said she’d been looking forward to the made-to-order pancakes at the buffet for a week.

Olivia Charman, 14, traveling with her family from Atlanta, has been happily spending a week here every summer since she was nine. “I like all the different things you can’t do at home,” Olivia explained.

“The hardest thing when we find a place we love is to go somewhere else,” added her mom, Lorraine.

Falconry at Gleneagles
Falconry at Gleneagles

The Gleneagles’ new owners promise to keep the historic 91-year-old resort on the same track, thank goodness, especially since so many customers are now in their 30s and 40s with kids in tow. “Those kids are our future customers,” said General Manager Paul Heery, himself a young dad.

In fact, there were kids at nearly every table for breakfast at the art-deco Strathearn Restaurant designed for vacation indulgence with all varieties of charcuterie, cheeses, freshly made pastries and jams, smoked salmon, free-range eggs (take your pick at the omelet station!) and such classic Scottish dishes as salmon kedgeree (a curried and tomato rice dish served with a piece of salmon and a poached egg on top.) There is Finnan haddock and traditional Scots porridge with Drambuie Sauce, as well as kippers.

Sure Gleneagles is a splurge, families told me, but it’s always a memorable one, starting with the breakfast spread and perhaps ending with Beef Wellington carved tableside.

In between ,there’s fly-fishing and archery, air rifle lessons and for teens, sporting clay shooting, lawn games and this being Britain, a big maze to explore.

Some families come for a weekend getaway, others for a special occasion, like the extended family I met celebrating the grandparents’ 50th anniversary. Come for the holidays when, unlike American resorts, you get a night free, as well as all kinds of special Scottish holiday festivities.

Whatever the season, there’s plenty for parents and grandparents too — the big spa with its wellness programs or the chance to sample a “wee dram” of single malts you won’t find elsewhere — the bar has more than 120 to choose from. There’s the two-Michelin-starred restaurant Andrew Fairlie overseen by one of the country’s most celebrated chefs, and delicious locally sourced food in the other resort restaurants — even apple juice produced nearby through a project to preserve the trees — and the chance to watch the chef cook — pitching in if you like — at the casual Mediterranean Deseo. (This is Scotland’s Year of Food and Drink, by the way.)

Anne Chrun and David Burton are from Washington, D.C., and join their extended family at one of the 53 three-bedroom houses on the 850-acre estate for two weeks every summer. “We wouldn’t come all this way if it weren’t so special,” Chrun added, stopping on a bike ride with the kids just before the pond where the swans were shepherding their ducklings — an idyllic country scene.

There is an equestrian center (26 horses where one of the activities is to learn how to tack a pony), indoor and outdoor tennis, a putting course and a massive indoor pool complex with a swim-to outdoor hot tub and spa, which parents can enjoy guilt-free, thanks to the kids’ program.

No wonder the Martinsons, who are from suburban Philadelphia, figure they’ll have more than enough to keep themselves and their 11-year-old son, Dodge, busy while their teenage daughter heads off to squash camp for a week.

“The perfect family vacation,” said Anne Chrun. “Lots of physical activity and then the big pool to relax in the afternoon. “Exactly what a holiday should be!”

Pass the smoked salmon, please.

(For more about Gleneagles and Eileen’s trip to Scotland, read her trip diaries at Follow @Takingthekids on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.)