Old Course Hotel, St Andrews unveils swanky new hotel spa - but is it any good?

Fiona Duncan
Old Course Hotel has recently opened its new Kohler Waters Spa and Leisure Centre.

"I’m off to St Andrews tomorrow, to the Old Course Hotel. It has just unveiled a new spa,” I told my neighbour at dinner.

“You’re going to the Old Course for the spa? Anything else? Not by any chance for the golf?” A disdainful quiver played on his lip.

“Well, no, I don’t play golf.”

“So you aren’t aware that the Old Course Hotel overlooks the most famous hole in the history of the game, the par-four Road Hole, not to mention the Swilcan Bridge where every great golfer has posed for photographs?” 

He warmed to his theme. 

“There, on that 17th fairway, have the gods of golf triumphed and fallen. You must at least know that St Andrews is the home of golf, first recorded there in the 15th century, with seven links courses?” He was gripping the table by now. “And you are going for the spa?”

I’m proving absolutely hopeless at late middle age, I’m afraid. I don’t play bridge, I loathe cruising, have a strong antipathy to matinees and I don’t play golf. My companion, Robert, quickly extricated himself; rarely had he met such a silly, superficial woman as me.

His parting shot as we left the house was to ask me to touch the Swilcan Bridge and not to wash my hands until we met again. If that’s old age, I don’t want it.

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The spa area is surprisingly utilitarian, but the treatments and bathing “experiences” are second to none.

Well let me tell you something, Robert. It is entirely possible to enjoy the Old Course Hotel without ever coming face to face with a mashie or a niblick. There’s lovely, historic St Andrews for a start. And it’s not just golfers who gawp at the view from the hotel. It takes in Old Course, West Sands beach (where the Chariots of Fire race was filmed), the Royal and Ancient Golf Club and the landmark Hamilton Grand, famously designed in 1895 by Thomas Hamilton to overshadow the R&A, which had blackballed him. 

Yes, it’s undoubtedly the greatest view in golf, but it’s also one of the great views of any British hotel.

The building was constructed in 1968 on the site of the old railway station. It is no beauty, except for the pretty, whitewashed former stationmaster’s house that, as the Jigger Inn, forms part of the complex.

In 2004, the American billionaire Herb Kohler bought it. As you might expect from a passionate golfer who owns a hotel in Golf Nirvana, he takes care of the Old Course extremely well, aided by top general manager Stephen Carter.

Ten million pounds has been lavished on the hotel: refurbished rooms, new windows throughout and, most importantly, a ball-proof roof. Yes, the 17th fairway is so tricky that errant golfers occasionally caused showers of broken roof tiles. Recycled car tyres made into tiles by a Canadian company have now been installed, and those useless golfers are now quite likely to get their balls bouncing straight back at them. Not Robert, though, I’m sure.

Inside the feel is of a large, smart golf club: quite masculine and clubby, enlivened by old black-and-white golfing photographs. Surprisingly, Jacques Garcia designed many of the 35 suites among the 144 bedrooms. Few know that the designer of Hôtel Costes in Paris, among other decadent addresses, has dabbled in sedate St Andrews (his first complete British hotel, L’oscar, opens in London in May). Unsurprisingly, the results are muted for him, though employing his signature bold striped wallpapers, rich red fabrics and dark wood furniture.

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It is entirely possible to enjoy the world's most famous golf hotel without ever coming face to face with a mashie or a niblick.

Some rooms are more contemporary and feminine with modern artwork and a palette of lighter, creamy colours. The handsome bathrooms throughout are by Kohler – naturally, because Herb Kohler heads the Wisconsin-based international plumbing and bathroom empire.

Another eight million pounds has gone into the new Kohler Waters Spa and Leisure Centre, just unveiled. I found the spa area surprisingly utilitarian for such a lavish sum, but the treatments (try the 90-minute Sacred Nature bliss-out), thermal and bathing “experiences” are second to none. If you haven’t had enough Scottish rain, ask – I kid you not – for a Kohler Real Rain experience.

The food was excellent. I dined on a perfectly cooked steak in the Sands Grill, lunched healthily in the spa café and breakfasted well in the top-floor Road Hole Restaurant. Watching the empty golf course gradually become populated by players, horses cantering along the beach and the sky clearing to blue, I was mesmerised. And meeting Niall, the embodiment of a perfect concierge (local, helpful, knowledgeable) was another bonus.

I shan’t become a golfer, but I could become a golf widow and hang out at the Old Course and its spa with pleasure. 

Double rooms cost from £150 per night, including breakfast. Access possible for guests using wheelchairs.

• Read the full review: Old Course Hotel, St Andrews