GBN readers may have seen imposing building behind the 18th Green of The Old Course at St Andrews a hundred times but not know its name nor that it was built in the 1890s by someone who had been rejected for membership of the R&A.
Thomas Hamilton extracted his revenge by placing almost next door to the R&A’s clubhouse a building that was not only much taller but, in its own way, also more imposing. It is called Hamilton Hall.
Since that time the Hall has enjoyed a somewhat chequered history. At one time it was the ‘Grand Hotel’ but then the listed building became a student hall of residence. It has been empty since it was sold by the University of St Andrews in 2005 for a sum believed to be about £20 million.
Advanced state of dilapidation
Wassermann, the American purchaser, planned luxury apartments and secured funding from the Bank of Scotland. Although planning consent was given, the project, known as The St Andrews Grand, was not a marketing success. Far from continuing as a jewel in the St Andrews street scene, Hamilton Hall began to attract publicity for its advanced state of dilapidation. Earlier this year the building was repossessed and put back on the market by the Bank through estate agent Jones Lang Lasalle (JLL).
There has been considerable interest in the property, much of it from overseas. By the end of August it is thought that serious bids had been received from nine groups and over the last few days there have been several reports that an offer has been accepted.
Some say that Herb Kohler, the owner of The Old Course Hotel and The Duke’s Course, is the leading contender to take over Hamilton Hall; others that the favourite is an Irish consortium which includes Dermot Desmond, once owner of London City airport, whose business interests include Sandy Lane Hotel, Barbados and Celtic Football Club; and there are those who fancy the chances of Donald Trump, who needs no introduction.
JLL has declined to confirm the identity of the nine bidders and will not reveal details of their proposed plans for the building but these are thought to include further attempts to convert it to luxury residential accommodation.
Media speculation that Hamilton Hall is ‘under offer’ has prompted protests from those who believe that JLL has mishandled the sale process. GBN has learnt of an investigation into the conduct of JLL during the pending sale of Hamilton Hall. The matter is sub judice with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors which will process the matter and come to its conclusions.
The reasons for the complaint are that JLL are alleged to have failed to ask bidders whether they were prepared to improve their opening offers, to enquire as to the intended use of this landmark property and finally to carry out any consultation whatsoever with the business groups and bodies managing golf and tourism in St Andrews as to their preferred use for the building.
The allegation is based on the claim that the only criteria was the amount of cash to be paid to the vendor, the Bank of Scotland, with no consideration to the building’s unique position in the epicentre of the world of golf.
Pivotal moment for St Andrews
It is not only some of the bidders who are angry. Local business groups are strongly opposed to the use of the building for exclusive apartments because of the fear that these will be only be used very rarely.
“We are aware of better solutions for the property which would generate year-round business for the town”, said one business owner. “This is a pivotal moment for St Andrews. The sale of Hamilton Hall as a ‘trophy’ to the highest bidder without JLL giving the least hearing to the needs of the town and the wishes of the 60 million golfers around the world is quite simply unacceptable.”
Ted Brocklebank is Mid Scotland and Fife MSP and a St Andrews resident. He told local media, “After the disappointment of the Wasserman years, it is essential that the same mistakes are not made by whoever the purchaser happens to be. Hamilton Hall is no ordinary building – it’s a key part of the most famous topography in world golf.
“We can ill afford it to be a target for speculators, not all of whom will put the best interests of the town first. Being almost half owned by the taxpayer, the Bank of Scotland should have concerns beyond the straight commercial concerns.”
Richard Wax, Chairman of Golf Surveys Ltd who has been consultant for the creation of 30 courses including Kingsbarns and The Grove, was involved in one of the bids. His company had refined a concept for the building to provide a golf-rich welcome to visitors to St Andrews from around the world who make the pilgrimage to the Home of Golf as well as a much needed nerve centre for the golf industry. GBN understands Wax had lined up the World Golf Village of St Augustine, Florida to provide their expertise towards the visitor welcome.
“JLL failed to invite us to present our business model which one would think is the very least courtesy the designated agent should show after we submit a highly competitive bid,” says Richard Wax.
“Hamilton Hall is known around the world and for this iconic property to be blighted in perpetuity for private apartments sends out a message totally contrary to the ‘golf for all’ precept of St Andrews,” he stated.
“What would the golf industry like to see happen in Hamilton Hall,” he continued. “A nerve centre for the global industry, a year-round meeting place for conferences, a welcoming clubhouse atmosphere for golfers from around the world or…ten exclusive apartments?”
Finally GBN should also report that there have been rumours that Wasserman believes it was unfairly evicted and may try to scupper a third-party deal. This one is going to run. Watch this space!