THIS year St Andrews is hosting the 150th Open Championship. After a few tumultuous years for the hospitality industry and sport, there is a palpable feeling in the city that this 30th hospitality opportunity really matters.
The multi-million pound refurbishment of the AA 5 * Old Course hotel, which overlooks the world-renowned 17th Road Hole is an indication of the seriousness with which the City of Fife takes this championship. The hotel now has a penthouse, renovated event spaces, 31 additional bedrooms and a brand new restaurant, the Swilcan Loft, in addition to its five existing restaurants and its luxurious Kohler Waters Spa.
On a rainy weekend in December, I headed to the resort. While the Old Course hotel built in the 1960s is quite unremarkable from the outside, it’s the interiors that make the five-star experience. Upon arrival I was taken to my double room with a view of the famous Old Course and West Sands. The bedroom features sleek dark marble desks, emerald green velvet curtains, and olive tile in its huge en-suite double-sink bathroom. Everything was ready for Instagram influencers, as was the Swilcan Loft restaurant. Its floor-to-ceiling windows offer breathtaking views of the much-photographed golf course.
These modern executives feel at odds with their surroundings. To access the Swilcan Loft, diners must pass through the Road Hole Restaurant, which is packed with wood accents, brown tones, and patterned rugs. It might be a classic aesthetic, but it bumps into the less formal, tableclothless spot next door. Tourism has obviously been hit by the pandemic and it’s understandable that the Old Course wants to expand its reach beyond the American tartan crowd it is often associated with, but the resort’s latest offerings suggest a bit of a crisis in the world. ‘identity. Design adjustments here and there may be necessary.
The DESIGN issues are insignificant compared to the quality of the food and service offered. The waiters have extensive menu knowledge and cannot do enough for the guests. When I heard another customer complain about a salad, the staff brought him a new meal from a restaurant entirely separate from the hotel. My partner and I enjoyed the Loch Duart hot smoked salmon salad, the rich champagne risotto with truffle and wild mushrooms, the Black Isle beef rib eye and, of course, cocktails. The Islay Air, a combination of Laphoraig, honey, fresh ginger and chocolate bitter was presented to us as a crowd pleaser, and it did not disappoint. The breakfast (delivered to our room on hotplates) was equally impressive, with freshly baked pastries, high quality Haggis and perfectly poached eggs well received.
IN the spa I received a personalized 50 minute massage from soothing therapist Shona. The masseuse listened carefully to my specifications and gave me one of the best massages I have ever had. Relaxation continued in the hydrotherapy pool, hammam and sauna. The facilities are excellent but could be the subject of plaques explaining what the various features are for – I almost got turned into a block of ice popping into what I thought was a standard shower, but turned out to be a icy “experience” waterfall.
Having lived in Glasgow for six years, I had forgotten how quaint and charming this university town is. Walking along the waterfront the first night felt like a spa treatment in itself. As the sea rolled over the stone buildings and Christmas lights flooded the fog, I enjoyed the calm.
On Sundays, when there is no golf at the Links, guests can take a stroll on the famous course.
It’s only a 10 minute walk to the beach into town, where the cobbled streets offer some of the independent shops that once dominated St Andrews. But these aren’t all chains – there are still a large number of independent pubs and restaurants left. Forgan’s, Ziggy’s, and Doll’s House are local favorites, and the Tailend can’t be beat for fish and chips.
Arts and cultural events have been hit hard by Covid, but when restrictions are lifted, The Byre is a great venue for performances and will even host the city’s first film festival in March. Outdoor attractions like the Botanical Garden and the Cathedral are unaffected by the coronavirus rules and are both worth a stroll on a pleasant day.
ST Andrews is small but perfectly formed and ideal for a weekend away from the big city. It has a lot more to offer than golf, but if golf is your thing, you’ll be happy to visit.
The level of service at the Old Course is beyond reproach – when I noticed I had taken a bus from Leuchars station on the first evening, a car was immediately booked for my return trip to make my life easier. Despite a few modern and classic design choices, the Old Course remains a truly luxurious hotel that deserves its renowned five-star status after all these years.
Room rates start at £ 460 per night in high season (April to October) and £ 220 per night in low season (October to March).