History of the Hamilton Grand

Graylyn LoomisScottish Golf Travel, St. Andrews5 Comments

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.


Old Tom Morris and company next to the 17th green with the Grand Hotel in view

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.


1946 Open Championship

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 in disuse during 2010

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.


Hamilton Grand mid-construction

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.

5 Comments on “History of the Hamilton Grand”

  1. I visited St. Andrews on a Trafalgar Tour last July…was intrigued by the name Hamilton Grand as I am a Hamilton descendant….my married name is now Bailey..I am from Tambo, Queensland, Australia…..would have liked to have more time there. My ancestors are Scottish on my fathers side. Hamilton Through and through…which is partly our family motto as well.

    1. Very interesting history there! I wish I knew more and could give you the lineage of that specific branch of the Hamiltons… research for the future. Thank you for the comment!

  2. While in Scotland a few weeks ago my husband and I were told the building was built by David Ham, a Jewish man, who was denied entrance into St. Andrews golf club because he was Jewish. So to spite the club members he built the hotel using red bricks so the red flag on the 18th hole would be difficult to see, therefore it was changed to a white flag. Is this story is a myth to tourists? Thank you in advance for you response.

    1. Hi Carolyn, I haven’t heard that one, but it sounds vaguely similar to the story I’ve read (minus specifics about the discrimination). The article by The Scotsman linked below says, “Hamilton Hall opened in St Andrews as the Grand Hotel in 1895. It was built by businessman Thomas Hamilton after he was reputedly rejected for membership of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club.”


      It’s an iconic building – always cool to look into the backstory!

  3. After the war, in 1946, while my Dad, Hugh Donington-Smith, was sent by the Air Force to Hong Kong, Mum, June, negotiated the purchase of 51% of the shares in the ownership of the Grand Hotel, a 100 room hotel that had been commissioned by the air force during the war as a residence for the officers and men stationed there. There was no furniture left in the building, the original furniture having been put into storage during the occupation. My Dad was called back to St. Andrews from Hong Kong to get the furniture moved back in and get it back into operation. We lived there for the next 4 years or so, at which point it was sold to the University of St. Andrews to be converted into a Residence, and our family moved next door into Beach House, Golf Place. I lived in Beach House until I left for studies in Glasgow in 1962.

    I have been living in Canada since 1966, and had the wonderful experience of being invited to visit the current property while on vacation in St Andrews with our daughter and grandchildren in 2017. This was a great experience for me and exciting to see the new structure after many years of vacancy and disrepair.

    How lucky I was to have spent my formative years in St Andrews in such a marvelous setting so close to the Golf Course and West Sands!

    Nicky Waite (nee Donington-Smith)

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