Race against the clock to rescue St Andrews golf icon

A BILLIONAIRE who bought one of the most iconic buildings at the home of golf has warned he is facing a race against time to prevent it from "crumbling" away.

• The building overlooks the 18th green

Herb Kohler – the American plumbing magnate who won a bidding war for the former Grand Hotel overlooking the 18th green at the Old Course in St Andrews – published a series of pictures yesterday highlighting its condition.

The previous owner, US developer David Wasserman, who bought the former Hamilton Hall student flats complex from St Andrews University for 20 million, abandoned a scheme to convert it into luxury apartments in October 2008.

Mr Wasserman started work gutting the six-storey building, but the project ground to halt during the economic downturn.

Mr Kohler, who also owns the nearby Old Course Hotel, bought Hamilton Hall last year for 11m from banking giant HBOS, which was owed money by the previous owner.

He has unveiled plans to spend 30m converting the building into a series of one-bedroom luxury time-share flats, or two to four-bedroom apartments, linked to services provided at the Old Course Hotel.

Mr Kohler already owns the Duke's Course at St Andrews and two leading courses in the United States – Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run.

• The interior of the former Hamilton Hall student flats complex, set to be converted into luxury flats

Speaking ahead of his company's consultation with the local community over the plans this weekend, Mr Kohler said: "Something needs to happen to it very soon, because within another year the exterior will start to crumble.

"We are looking forward to the public consultation as it is going to affect how we do things.

"We have certain intent but that intent will be modified by this experience."

The company has said it is aiming to create a "a unique and economically viable" facility which would enhance St Andrews' reputation as the world's premier golf destination.

Ted Brocklebank, Conservative MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, said: "It's hardly surprising that the inside of the building looks like a wrecking ball has been taken to it. The work to knock out the interior of the building was halted halfway through.

"It's a real icon in St Andrews, overlooking the Old Course, and it is a very important public building. It's vital that the Kohler Company listens to the views of people in the area and wins their support for its plans."

Hamilton Hall opened in St Andrews as the Grand Hotel in 1895. It was built by businessman Thomas Hamilton after he was reputedly rejected for membership of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club.

During the Second World War, the Grand was requisitioned by the armed forces and never reopened as a hotel. Shortly after the end of hostilities, the hotel was bought by St Andrews University.

The building opened as a student hall of residence in 1949 under the name Hamilton Hall.

Mr Kohler is chief executive of the Kohler Company, which makes a large proportion of the world's bathroom fixtures.

• US developer David Wasserman started, and later abandoned, a scheme to convert the building

The Kohler family is the most powerful in Wisconsin, the state they helped to build. The Kohler Company was founded in 1873 by Herb Kohler's grandfather, John Michael Kohler, a 29-year-old Austrian immigrant.

The public consultation is being held tomorrow and Saturday in St Andrews Town Hall.

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