Conserving the “best view in golf” – Conservation & Heritage Journal

In 1902, the view from the top of Richmond Hill was protected by the Richmond, Ham & Petersham Open Space Act of Parliament. Very few views are deemed as important.

In 1974, the game of golf was protected by an Act of Parliament, creating the St Andrews Links Trust to be responsible for the management and maintenance of the historic Links in the town. It is refreshing that views and sport — as well as property — can be protected by legislation for the benefit of all. 

For lovers of golf, the iconic view across the links in St Andrews is, without doubt, worthy of protection. The fairways and greens, the Swilcan Bridge that has witnessed many an Open Champion’s walk up the 18th — and, of course, the buildings that create the iconic backdrop to one of sport’s greatest arena. 

The Dumfries-sandstone Hamilton Grand is the largest and yet — as the “second most photographed building in golf” — doffs a golfing cap to its near neighbour, the Royal & Ancient Clubhouse. 

He saw a vision to build and run the most luxurious hotel in the whole of Scotland. Already celebrated as ‘the home of golf’, it was the destination where aspiring Victorian gentlemen came to play the Old Course. Bathing facilities had been built to make more of the town’s beach as an attraction — and the antiquities of St Andrews and its University attracted many academics. What was lacking was world-class accommodation.  

The arrival of the railway had led to numerous properties being built as well as many being converted into small hotels and guesthouses. What was missing was a truly grand hotel. That is what Thomas Hamilton built — a 100-bedroom luxury hotel, the first in Scotland with hot and cold running water in each bedroom and the first with an elevator.  

From the day it opened in 1895 it wooed and wowed visitors — royalty, politicians, presidents, the earliest Hollywood stars and many-an-Open Champion made their home at ‘The Grand’ … right the way through the first half of the 20th century.

The property’s fortunes changed when requisitioned by the Air Ministry in the Second World War as a home for pilots. After the war, the Grand’s glory days seemed at an end. The University of St Andrews purchased it and converted the hotel into student accommodation. And so it stayed — for 56 years — until it was sold to a property developer in 2005. 

Four years later, it had laid empty and fallen into a desperate state of disrepair. Rainwater poured through the roof. Broken windows offered no protection against the Scottish weather. Floors and ceilings had collapsed throughout the building.

But in 2009, the journey to return ‘The Grand’ to its former glory began when bought by Kohler Co.

Founded in 1873, Kohler Co is one of the oldest and largest privately held companies in the United States — and has an award-winning reputation for restoring property. Included in their portfolio is The American Club in Kohler, Wisconsin, which opened in 1918 as a dormitory for immigrant factory workers. The property was restored and reopened as a resort hotel in 1981. Today, it is an AAA Five Diamond Resort Hotel, recognition it has earned for over 25 consecutive years, and is only one of 36 hotels in the world to be both Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five-Diamond. The American Club is included on a list of Historic Hotels of America by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The company also restored Riverbend, an estate home constructed in 1923 by Walter J. Kohler, then Governor of Wisconsin and President of Kohler Co. It was considered one of the 40 great mansions of North America. In 2001, Kohler Co. refurbished the estate and re-opened it with 31 rooms and its own spa as an exclusive private membership club.

The company built its success across a broad base of business interests – from kitchen and bathroom fittings, furniture and tiles, engines and generator systems to hospitality and world-class golf destinations — including the five red star Old Course Hotel, Golf Resort & Spa in St Andrews.

Mr Herbert V. Kohler, Jr., current Chairman and CEO, remains the prime driving force behind the company’s mission “to improve the level of gracious living for all persons touched by its products and services.” He carries a love and passion for St Andrews and is an avid fan of golf. 

In St Andrews, a year of public consultation and planning was followed by three years of painstaking redevelopment and refurbishment.

Kohler Co inherited a near shell of a building. The outside façade and main stair structure were kept, and although much of the property had to be demolished due to structural defects, critical historic elements were salvaged for reuse and painstakingly restored.

These included key brick and stonework, roof slates, stained glass windows as well as the recreation of the building’s iconic ‘pepper pot’ dome. 

Local artist, Liz Rowley, was called in to inspect the stained glass that had been salvaged.  

In addition to the salvage work, a number of new leaded glass panels of the same style were created and installed in the windows for Hams Hame — the lower ground floor bar & restaurant. 

Liz explains: “It was a privilege to work on the refurbishment. The old glass was typical Edwardian design but from the more complex and ornate end of the spectrum. There was a lot of repair work on the originals as there were many breaks. They had not been treated well latterly, so some of the windows were completely re-leaded. I also had to reproduce two extra windows to the same design using currently available glasses that match as closely as possible to the original.” 

Liz adds: “In the bar and restaurant, we made a complete set of new windows using one small original window as the basis for the design. We also created a bottle screen — a monumental task using over 400 bottle bases.” John Haley, Kohler Co.’s lead interior designer, was responsible for creating the fabulous lobby and residents’ lounge together with the ‘Hams Hame’ bar and restaurant — on the site of St Andrews very first golfers’ club, the Union Parlour. Three years and tens of thousands of man-hours later, Hamilton Grand is restored. All new electrical, mechanicals and windows have brought the building up to current standards. The rebuild allowed for an additional floor and rooftop deck as well as a new entrance to be added. 

The near derelict property inherited by Kohler Co in 2009 has been transformed into 26 luxury residencies consisting of 2, 3 and 4 bedroomed apartments. They range in size from 1,133 sq ft to 2,780 sq ft and are bring bought by those who seek a home of their own in the ‘home of golf’.  

The “second most photographed building in golf” now takes pride of place alongside the R&A. But for those lucky enough to have been inside Hamilton Grand — and for those even luckier to own one of the apartments created in this iconic property — it is not the view towards the building that matters: it is the view from it.  

Joanne Halliday, Sales Representative for Hamilton Grand explains: “The BBC’s ‘voice of golf’, Peter Alliss, visited last summer. Standing atop the deck overlooking the R&A and the entire golfing links, he described it as ‘the best view in golf’. There is no Act of Parliament to protect the view from Hamilton Grand. We are just fortunate that the impassioned acts of some lead to the restoration and conservation of properties that really matter.” 

For any images please contact Joanne Halliday: