For those who subscribe to the droll theory that the game of golf is little more than a good walk spoiled, the appeal of owning Hamilton Hall may not be immediately obvious.
But the most avid players and spectators of the sport regard it as a place of pilgrimage, nestled over the 18th green of the Fife town’s venerated Old Course, the very place where golf’s roots first took hold.
From the riveting victory Jack Nicklaus secured over Doug Sanders after an 18 hole play off in the 1970 Open Championship, through to Tiger Woods’ indomitable show of strength and composure in 2000, it has formed the backdrop for some of the most gilded moments in the Old Lady’s history,
All eyes may have been on that 18th green, but look at the photographs and the television footage over the years and you will Hamilton Hall’s resplendent structure, hewn from Dumfries red sandstone, standing sentinel in the background.
Its distinctive bell-shaped cupola, once described by the inimitable BBC commentator, Peter Alliss, as “the sugar cone” is the crowning glory of s design by James Milne Monro, a Glasgow architect
The building, located adjacent to the Royal & Ancient clubhouse, was built on the site of the Union Parlour, the first golfers’ club anywhere in the world.
Completed in 1896 at a time when rail travel was transforming St Andrews in a coveted tourism destination, its first iteration was that of the Grand Hotel.
The elegant bolthole played host to guests including Edward VIII, Rudyard Kipling, Bing Crosby, and Douglas Fairbanks. It was the first building in Scotland with hot and cold running water in each bedroom, and the first to feature an elevator.
The advent of World War II, however, meant that such refinements were an afterthought. Hamilton Hall was requisitioned by the air ministry, who used it as the Royal Air Force’s training headquarters.
Come the conflict’s end, the tourism market struggled to recover, and the building was sold in 1949 for the princely sum of £61,000 to the University of St Andrews, who turned it into a hall of residence.
For undergraduates at one of Scotland’s ancient seats of learning, it proved to be a unique home from home.
The broadcaster, Hazel Irvine, is among those who stayed in Hamilton Hall. In her final year, she resided in room 90 on the fourth floor, which boasted panoramic views of the Old Course’s first fairway and 18th green. Naturally, she positioned her desk right by the window.
During the inaugural Dunhill Cup in 1985, Irvine and her friends cheered on Sandy Lyle from their balcony as he walked on to the first tee. He turned around and waved, before driving his shot into heavy rough.
Hamilton Hall’s young residents were also known to exploit their luxurious surroundings for mischievous ends.
The day after Nick Faldo refused to play a shot on the Old Course because heavy fog was obscuring his view of the 18th green during the 1987 Dunhill Cup, a band of students hung banners from the building’s windows. ‘Hit it here, Nick,’ one urged. ‘SEE THIS ONE NICK’ asked another.
By 2005, the grand property had changed hands yet again. It was sold by the university for £20m to the Wasserman family, real estate developers from Rhode Island in the US.
They planned to transform it into a “fractionalised ownership” model of high-end apartments, where well-heeled golf fans could secure access to their own residence for weeks at a time.
However, the project faltered. It was then that another US property developer by the name of Donald Trump entered the picture.
Perhaps, he like Peter Alliss, realised the imposing building offered “the best view in golf.”