Hotel Review: Old Course Hotel, Golf Resort and Spa, St Andrews in Scotland
St Andrews. One of Scotland’s most famous historic towns. Home to the University of St Andrews, the first university in Scotland, founded in 1413 and the third oldest university in the United Kingdom, just behind the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford. Home to West Sands, the glorious two mile stretch of beach, the setting for the opening scenes of the film, Chariots of Fire. Globally regarded as the Home of Golf.
Indeed St Andrews is a global golfing mecca. Many a golf enthusiast from across the world will at some point make a pilgrimage to St Andrews to play on one of its revered courses. 230,000 rounds are played over the seven public courses managed by the St Andrews Links Trust. All profits at St Andrews Links Trust go towards the preservation and enhancement of the courses and the associated facilities.
The most famous is, of course, the Old Course, host to The Open Championship 29 times and the course on which professional golfers most desire to sink the winning putt to lift the claret jug, the iconic trophy presented to The Open Champion.
It is a course that has signature holes whose names are known the world over, such as the Road Hole, described by Ben Crenshaw as being ‘the most difficult part 4 in the world’, the reason being ‘it was designed as a par 6’. Its bunkers are infamous, golfers revere and fear in equal measure ‘Hell Bunker’ – golfing legend Jack Nicklaus took four shots to get out of it during the first round of The Open in 1995, stating bluntly ‘I guess that’s why they call it Hell’.
Winning The Open at St Andrews is viewed as the most sought-after title in the golfing world. Nicklaus in 1978 suggested: “If you’re going to be a player people remember, you have to win The Open at St Andrews.” Tiger Woods commented after his 2000 Open Championship win that “it may be years before I fully appreciate it, but I am inclined to believe that winning The Open at the Home of Golf is the ultimate achievement in the sport”.
Our trip to St Andrews was beginning with a round of golf, not on the Old Course sadly, but on the Eden Course. Unfortunately, a large overseas visiting party of mixed abilities and multiple 4 balls was causing a lengthy tailback before my wife and I had even teed off and we were advised that if we didn’t want our round to take up the best part of a full day, we might be advised to switch to the Strathtyrum course.
Wanting to make the most of our afternoon and evening at the prestigious Old Course Hotel, we accepted the advice. The Strathtyrum isn’t St Andrews golf at its finest. By that I mean you wouldn’t fly half way around the world for a chance to play the Strathtyrum. It’s a neat, flat and short course. It has little to distinguish one hole from another and I would be hard pressed to describe any as a signature hole.
Opened in 1993, it was never designed to be one of the greats, with a focus more on providing a course to ‘complement the tougher championship layouts at the Home of Golf’. What can always keep the courses of Andrews interesting however is the wind, and there was plenty of it. At a two to three club strength, it still made for a bit of a challenge. As did the greens, which were in pristine condition and which have slopes and borrows to test the putter.
After our round of golf, it was time to finally check into The Old Course Hotel, Golf Resort and Spa. One of Europe’s most luxurious hotels, it’s an imposing hotel, dominating the approach into St Andrews. Opened in 1968, it was an architecturally controversial hotel, with an original design certainly of its era and it arguably remains so today, although it has undergone a number of positive external transformations which have much improved its look.
However, you don’t come to the Old Course Hotel for its architectural design. You come to experience its luxurious service and its unrivalled location, where it plays the backdrop to some of the most revered fairway in the world as the hotel overlooks the 17th hole of the Old Course.
The hotel is now owned by the Kohler Company, based in the USA, and has 144 rooms, 35 of those being suites. After a warm welcome at both the hotel entrance and the reception, we were lucky enough to experience one of the magnificent suites, providing the sought after views that only the Old Course Hotel can offer. The suite was very spacious, divided into two distinct areas – a seating and lounge area with large screen television on entry and then the bedroom area and bathroom around a corner.
A large bay window provided sweeping views over the hallowed turf of the Old Course to the left, to West Sands beach straight ahead and off to the right, the 17th green, final 18th and the view up to the famous clubhouse of the R&A. For a golf aficionado, few views could be better. The rooms are decorated in a traditional luxury style – heavy marble topped coffee tables, dark red curtains, dark mahogany closets and striped silk walls. The bed is vast and wonderfully comfortable. The bathroom features a huge and powerful shower, alongside a generously sized jacuzzi bath.
In the afternoon, we visited the Kohler Waters Spa, the only one outside the USA and a spa that has rightly secured numerous awards over the last few years. I experienced a blissful 75 minutes of a hot stone massage, ‘an extraordinary ancient ritual for the body which begins with a body massage using warm and cold stones, which immediately bestow relaxation, alleviating tension, stress and anxiety and promotes detoxification.
This treatment eases aches and pains, stimulates the metabolism and restores vitality and balance’. The spa also features a lovely swimming pool and hydrotherapy suite. Overall it was a hugely relaxing way to spend the late afternoon. There’s also a decent gym and a further swimming pool, although if you want to spend time in the sauna and steam room, you need to pay for access to the Kohler Spa.
In the evening, our first stop was the fourth floor bar, enjoying floor to ceiling windows designed to maximise the views. The setting is enviable, the décor of the bar now perhaps a touch tired, but with the views on offer, all eyes are gazing out of the window with single malt or cocktail in hand. Talking of whisky, the bar has quite a collection, providing over 300 to select from for your pre or post dinner drink.
We dined that evening in the AA Three Rosette Road Hole Restaurant, also on the fourth floor, enjoying the finest table there, situated right in the corner at the windows, with night time views towards the R&A clubhouse, backlit by the evening’s full moon. Other lights of the town sparkled in the distance. ‘With the finest Scottish ingredients on our doorstep you can expect the highest quality dining at the Old Course Hotel’, reads one of its marketing brochures. This is not an exaggerated statement however. The dinner was simply exquisite. The service exemplary.
For starters, we enjoyed corn fed chicken, langoustine, oyster tempura with a tarragon sauce and west coast hand dived scallops with pickled apple, black pudding mousse and celeriac puree. Mains followed of north atlantic halibut with potato gnocchi, samphire and lemon butter sauce. I opted for the Scottish Black Isle beef ribeye, accompanied by gratin dauphinoise. A sumptuous chocolate dessert finished a truly delicious dinner.
Whilst I would head back to the Road Hole Restaurant at any opportunity, the hotel has a number of dining options, including the famous Jigger Inn, housed in a building which dates back to the 1850s when it was the Station Master’s lodge, which serves traditional pub food and Scottish beers. There’s also the Sands Restaurant on the ground floor and you can eat away from the hotel at its pub and grill ‘Hams Hame’ which is situated in the town opposite the 18th green of the Old Course and in the Duke’s Clubhouse.
Waking up and opening the curtains to an early bright St Andrews October morning provided a moment to savour. An inspiring view to start to the day. Breakfast was back in the 4th floor Road Hole restaurant, where we had been the night before. Once again, we enjoyed a seat by the floor to ceiling windows which provided another spectacular setting, whilst we relaxed reading the newspapers, watching the early golfers make their way down the first couple of holes and indulging in the vast array of breakfast choices on offer. There’s no chance that you will finish breakfast at the Old Course Hotel feeling hungry.
A trip into the historic town followed by a short visit to the gym and swimming pool and our brief sojourn to St Andrews was at its end. Whether you’ve sought out St Andrews for the golf, to visit the spa or to experience the history and heritage of the town, the Old Course Hotel provides the finest of bases to do so.
It’s not a surprise to learn that the Old Course Hotel was awarded Scottish Hotel of the Year in the 2018-2019 AA Hospitality Awards. Fair recognition for this luxurious hotel.
Address: Old Station Rd, St Andrews KY16 9SP
Phone: 01334 474371