Whisky Educator & Journalist | Whisky Tastings by Ray Pearson
Photo Courtesy of Hamilton Grand
Our tour to view progress in transforming former Hamilton Hall into the magnificent Hamilton Grand was scheduled for the afternoon. In preparation, with my fix of morning coffee satisfied, I joined June Riches and a small band of explorers on Links Crescent in St. Andrews, Scotland. Riches leads medieval walking excursions around the historic town. “We’ll walk through about 12 centuries in an hour,” was her promise. I needed to gain a sense of time, place, and perspective before learning about Hamilton Grand, located at golf’s cradle and crown.
The story of this ambitious project, to create 26 homes of distinction at golf’s most revered site, is without parallel and spans centuries, just like the medieval tour. A brief history: Golf’s birth is generally agreed upon to have been during the 12th century, specifically on the current site of the Old Course Hotel. About 500 years later, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club was established, and became the recognized authority for the sport’s rules and structure, and, in 1854, opened its iconic headquarters on the 18th hole of the Old Course.
In the early 1890s, Thomas Hamilton’s application to the R&A was denied. In retaliation, Hamilton constructed his own building, taller and larger than his adjacent neighbor, naming it the Grand Hotel. Through the years, the hotel served the elite, became a World War II training center for the RAF, and a dormitory for the students at St. Andrews University. As a dorm, it was renamed Hamilton Hall, in honor of the Duke of Hamilton, then Chancellor of the University. In 2005 the building was closed. 2009 saw the Kohler Company buying the building, and renaming it Hamilton Grand, respecting the names in its history.
Within weeks of acquiring the property, Herbert V. Kohler, Jr., Kohler Company Chairman and CEO, hosted a two-day consultation process, inviting the people of St. Andrews to offer their thoughts on how the renovated Hamilton Grand could best fit in their community. One of the results of this interactive meeting was the creation of Ham’s Hole, an intimate bar and grill, open to the public. Its convenient and prime location, on the southwest corner of the building, is diagonally opposite the Royal and Ancient Golf Club. Finished in warm, dark timbers, Ham’s Hole is the perfect spot to enjoy a glass of fine wine, rare single malts, or a pint of local beer. As the renovation nears completion, townspeople still express praise for the way Kohler Company has gone about the entire project.
Owners of a home within Hamilton Grand will share the building’s pedigree of Victorian grandeur. Nearly 40 years ago, the distinctive dome was destroyed by fire, and a less-than-authentic fiberglass replica installed. Now, a three and a half ton, lead-clad timber frame, true to the original structure, and made in Scotland, stands proudly on the roofline. Another nod to tradition is the building’s unaltered exterior: distinctive red sandstone. When most of St. Andrews' buildings were made using granite, the Hamilton brought “...a splash of color to the auld grey toon.”
“The space within becomes the reality of the building,” said Frank Lloyd Wright, more than a generation ago, and his words resonate today with what’s happening with the interior of Hamilton Grand. There is a feeling of coziness, within the embrace of stately elegance. Individual homes within Hamilton Grand range in size from 1330 to nearly 2800 square feet. Awesome views of golf courses and links, West Sands Beach, the North Sea, the R&A, or St. Andrews’ town center are shared by most of the homes.
Within the building are 22 two-bedroom, one three-bedroom, and three four-bedroom residences. The top-floor penthouse features a private elevator and wrap-around balcony providing a limitless 360-degree view of the world’s heart of golf, the sea, and steeples of St. Andrews Castle, Cathedral, and University. Homes can be delivered fully furnished, or in what Kohler Company describes as “White Box,” meaning the buyer is responsible for the design and furnishings. Prices start at ? 1.3 million.
Jack Reese, lead interior designer for the renovation, is applying his signature style of “Theatrical Renaissance” throughout. Nuances in architectural detailing, unique pairings of contemporary and classic period pieces, and multi-layering of textiles, fabrics and finishes are some of his hallmarks. Reese’s previous work has included historical home and yacht interiors, and home entertainment complexes. His projects have spanned the globe, from New York to French Polynesia, Beirut and Abu Dhabi, but none are as unique as Hamilton Grand. Given his love for vintage cars, it’s fitting that one of Reese’s favorite phrases about his current work comes from a classic Ferrari advert, “What can be conceived can be created.”
Amenities for residents of Hamilton Grand include: A Private Members’ Library, with many volumes centered on the local area; a lush Italian Garden in the central courtyard; a Meeting Room accommodating up to 20 people for business or special events; membership to The Duke’s Course with guaranteed tee times; valet parking, butler service and, at an extra premium, Hamilton Grand Concierge, providing services like shopping, laundry, shuttle, meal preparation, and turndown service.
A short walk from Hamilton Grand, down the quaint street called The Links, is St. Andrews Old Course Hotel, Golf Resort and Spa. All Hamilton Grand residents have hotel VIP access and privileges, including the Kohler Waters Spa, elegant Afternoon Tea, and world-famous restaurants like the Jigger Inn (“Scotland’s most famous 19th hole”), and The Road Hole Restaurant on the hotel’s fourth floor. Here, the renowned seafood of St. Andrews and the fishing village of Anstruther, 10 miles up the coast, is a mainstay of the menu.
Ownership at Hamilton Grand is more than living at the heart of golf. It is about the overall lifestyle that St. Andrews offers. Golf is arguably the primary pillar, with 11 courses within 10 minutes of the town center, seven of them championship standard, and a further 30 courses within a 10 mile radius. It is also a university town, and has been since the early 1400s, making it the oldest university in Scotland, and the third oldest in the English speaking world, after Oxford and Cambridge.
It is consistently ranked among the world’s top Arts and Humanities universities, and is the alma mater of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Thirty-percent of the students come from over 100 countries, bringing vitality, diversity, and a cosmopolitan character to the town. Edinburgh and Glasgow International Airports are about 60 and 90 minutes away, respectively.
Leaving Hamilton Grand for dinner at the Old Course Hotel, I headed to West Sands Beach for a bracing run. With the majestic theme to “Chariots of Fire” playing in my head (the inspiring opening scene of the 1981 movie was filmed here), I thought back across the centuries, and how St. Andrews and Hamilton Grand have been entwined in this very special part of Scotland.