Swingers of Scotland

The St. Andrews Bay Golf Resort and Spa, located in the historic Scottish town, has attracted everyone from private equity real estate firms to the heir to the English throne.

Though The St. Andrews Bay Golf Resort and Spa, located on the western edge of Scotland 50 miles north of Edinburgh, is a thoroughly modern establishment, hints of the region’s historic past are hard to ignore. From most rooms, visitors can enjoy a panoramic view of the medieval village of St. Andrews, including the ruins of the city’s cathedral, which dates back to the 12th century. The remains of a 6th-century Roman fort, where soldiers used to scan the North Sea for marauding ships, are reportedly buried underneath the 17th green of one of the hotel’s two golf courses. And the West Sands beach not far from St. Andrews Bay was the setting for the famous training scenes in the 1920s-period movie Chariots of Fire.

But track and field is not the reason most guests make the trek to this five-star hotel. They come to hit the links.

Widely considered the birthplace of golf, the historic village of St. Andrews has 23 courses located within a ten-mile radius, including the Old Course at St. Andrews, arguably the most famous golf course in the world. Dating back to around 1400, it is certainly the oldest.

But St. Andrews is more than just ancient history—as The St. Andrews Bay Golf Resort and Spa makes clear. Opened in 2001, the 520-acre resort was built by Donald Panoz, who made his fortune by inventing the nicotine patch and later turned to resort development under his Georgia-based Chateau Elan line of hotels. Situated just across the bay from St. Andrews, the resort boasts 209 guest rooms, five restaurants, a spa and health club, a 15,000-square-foot conference center and a 100-seat auditorium.

And, of course, some golf courses. The resort’s two 18-hole spreads, the Torrance and the Devlin, which were designed by Ryder Cup captain Sam Torrance and British Open champion Bruce Devlin, respectively, feature a number of holes that hug the rugged coastline. The Devlin allows golf carts, one of the few courses in Scotland to do so, perhaps as a draw to the many Americans who come to the resort.

We don’t want to turn St. Andrews into a golf-related Disney world.

Frank Riddell, leader of community activists oppoed to development in St. Andrews

Though the sport of golf and the town that invented it are now the utmost symbol of gentility, St. Andrews has not always been so peaceful. During the Middle Ages, the city, the ecclesiastic center of Scotland, was the site of violent religious battles. And as Panoz and his team found out, the locals still have some fight left in them. Before construction of the hotel began, local activists staged a bitter battle against the development, opposing not just the impact it would have on local traffic and infrastructure, but also the aesthetic appeal of the hotel’s design.

“It is a bad American version of a French chateau as interpreted in Georgia,” Frank Riddell, the leader of the activists, told reporters in 2001. “It’s a travesty.”

“We don’t want to turn St. Andrews into a golf-related Disney world,” he added.

Despite those criticisms and others—Golf Digest writer David Owen noted that the hotel “from some angles, looked like a modern mega-chateau and, from others, like a huge regional high school”—the resort has proved popular with golfers and glitterati alike. Prince William, during his student years at nearby St. Andrews University, often spent time reading in the hotel’s spacious atrium. In recent years, the resort has also played host to the university’s charitable fashion show—celebrity attendees, often friends of the prince, have included Kate Moss, Elton John and Ralph Lauren. And scenes from the Bobby Jones biopic Stroke of Genius, starring Passion of the Christ star Jim Caviezel, were filmed at the resort’s golf courses.

The resort’s plush amenities have also attracted the attention of private equity real estate investors. Earlier this year, Apollo Real Estate Advisors acquired the hotel from Panoz. And Fairmont Resorts, owned by Colony Capital and Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, was brought in to manage the property, which is now called Fairmont St. Andrews.