The new Scottish Re-Formation: Hamilton Hall, St. Andrews and Herbert Kohler
Religious pilgrims were the first to come to St. Andrews in the 10th century, to view to relics of St. Andrew himself, St. Peter's brother. In more recent times, golfing pilgrims have consistently flocked to St. Andrews to pay homage and play on a stretch of weather-beaten land on the edge of the North Sea, where the game was invented over 600 years ago. When contemporary pilgrims set off down the first fairway of the Old Course into the prevailing wind, and it is always prevailing, they walk headlong into history. There is no place like it. It is no wonder then, that over the years many hotel developers have seen the most lucrative of possibilities here, not knowing that the town of St. Andrews also plays a huge part in the history and formidability of any project's success.
St. Andrews is a small Scottish town, that stresses the Scottish traits of humility, distrust of pretense and artifice, and frugality. The hallowed St. Andrews course is an unadorned links course that lies on public ground, where golf is forbidden on Sundays so families can picnic, or just walk on the fairways. Community is crucial, and as it is in any small town, outsiders ususally have to prove themselves.
Imagine, then, in 2006 ,what the local people thought and felt when they discovered the fate of one of their historic landmarks -- Hamilton Hall, a building on the 18th hole of the St. Andrews course. This building was, for over 60 years a University of St. Andrews dormitory, and prior to that a Royal Scottish Army living quarters, and prior to that, the iconic Grand Hotel, opened in 1895. It was discovered that Wasserman Real Estate Capital, based in Providence, R.I., had purchased the building, and was planning on major renovations, so they could sell fractionalized residences for between $1.3 and $3.3Million per fraction, in a project called the St. Andrews Grand.
This did not set well, and due to many legal problems, negative feedback from the community, as well as other reconstruction, and refinancing glitches, the re-formation of Hamilton Hall into the St. Andrews Grand fell through. In October 2008, Hamilton Hall has seen no renovation work and was in a state of disrepair. Several windows were broken or gone, leaving the inside open to the perils of Scottish weather, and the facade of the building was deteriorating as well.
In early 2009, another Scottish based property development firm took the the project management, with their idea being the development of 12 luxury apartments, and keeping the Hamilton Hall name. But THIS revised plan did not take place either, and the building was finally put up for sale in June of 2009. It was purchased in November of 2009 by The Old Course Limited, a subsidiary of Kohler, Inc., headed by Herbert Kohler. His company also owns, and is successfully running the historic Old Course Hotel, a neighbor to Hamilton Hall, also on the St. Andrews Golf course. And, serendipitously, the Kohler family is one of the few who has had historic experience in renovating dormitories into exquisite hotel rooms. The American Club in Kohler, Wisconsin, opened in 1918 as a dormitory for immigrant factory workers, was restored and reopened as a resort hotel in 1981, and today stands as the Midwest's only AAA Five Diamond Resort Hotel, a recognition it has earned for 25 consecutive years. In addition, The American Club is included on the list of Historic Hotels of America by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
I recently interviewed Mr. Kohler, and asked him about the new Hamilton Hall purchase, for between $25 and $25M USD.
" We watched the comings and goings at Hamilton Hall for quite awhile, and also watched how the townspeople at St. Andrews reacted to the plans. We learned a lot from this! And so when the possibility of purchasing this great old building became available, we were elated. This seemed like such a natural for us, especially after renovating The American Club, as well as restoring of the Old Course.
"We appreciate both the support and the enthusiasm the local community has for this property, and have just completed a public consultation process that includes townspeople and others who wanted to suggest what we do with this property. We are grateful for their feedback on how to create a unique and economically living product that will enhance St. Andrews as the world's most substantial golf destination.
" We also have a lot to work with! The apartments are between 1300 and 2500 square feet, and could be between two and four bedrooms each. There is a goodly amount of space -- 45,000 sf and four floors. We asked the community how best to serve them, through expanding the Hamilton Hall legacy. We were, and are, always listening and learning. In the next few months, we will decide, based on this process, how to re-form and restore the vision and the reality of this important landmark. Stay tuned!"