The building that has become the Hamilton Grand is a famous feature behind the 18th green of the St Andrews Old Course. The building features in many photos of the legendary course, and it stands in the background of every Swilcan Bridge picture. Some call it the second most photographed building in all of golf, second to the clubhouse of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club.
The iconic landmark was originally the Grand Hotel, built by Thomas Hamilton in 1895. It was the first building in Scotland to have a pneumatic elevator, as well as the first hotel in Scotland to have hot and cold water running to every room. The Grand Hotel set the bar for luxury in Scotland and played host to many prominent figures hoping to visit the seaside town of St Andrews.
During the Second World War, the Air Ministry of the United Kingdom requisitioned the Grand Hotel for the use of the Royal Air Force. Nearby RAF Leuchars played a valuable role in protecting shipping routes and defending the North Sea during the war. The Grand Hotel was home to many of the “decision makers” protecting Scotland and the rest of the UK.
The requisition by the British military marked the end of the Grand Hotel. Shortly after WWII, the building was acquired by the University of St Andrews, which turned it into halls of residence for students in 1949.
Hamilton Hall served students for 56 years before the university sold the property in 2005. Can you imagine living in student housing ten yards from the Old Course, with one of the best views in all of golf? I have met a number of university alumni who reiterate how fortunate they felt at the time. One of those alums was a student who stayed in the building in the late 1940s after returning from war. He ate his meals in St Salvators Hall, just up the Scores, where I lived during my first year at university.
After an initial sale that led to no new construction, Herb Kohler purchased Hamilton Hall in 2009. Kohler is the man behind Whistling Straits, The Old Course Hotel, and the Dukes Golf Course. The building was derelict in parts when Kohler purchased the property. The previous owner had begun demolition work and removed the roof, before having second thoughts and selling the building to its current owners. The building was left open to the elements, and was eventually almost completely gutted during the renovation process.
The Hamilton Grand was completed in 2013. Two additional floors were added to the building, which is now comprised of twenty-six luxury apartments. A roof garden on top of the building offers amazing views of the links courses and West Sands beach. According to my interview with Joanne Halliday at the Hamilton Grand, all of the current owners use the property as a second home. This is an interesting point, because to qualify for a local St Andrews Links Yearly Ticket (“membership” to the St Andrews courses), a resident must spend at least 6 months of the year in St Andrews. Half of the apartments in the building have either sold or have serious interest.
Next time you’re out on the Old Course, or see the building during coverage of the Open Championship, be sure to enlighten your friends on the history of the building. It takes on a whole new character once it becomes more than “the old red building behind 18 green.”
Thank you to the Hamilton Grand (www.hamiltongrand.co.uk) for the interview, Tom Morris (www.tommorris.com) for the historical photo, and the St Andrews Links (www.standrews.org.uk) for their photo of the Open Championship.