There’s a wee bottle of Fairmont St Andrews whisky plus miniature chocolate golf club and golf ball in your room as a welcome. A gift that’s a gentle reminder that you’re staying in St Andrews, the home of golf. This a dramatic Golf Coast of legends, where the game is almost revered as a religion. Eleven courses are clustered like churches in pre-Reformation times. It’s a town of checked golf trousers where caddies earn a living from guiding players through the bumps, humps, braes and burns of St Andrews’ golfing unique topography.
Though the luxurious Fairmont with its extensive spa, restaurants, sports bar, library and stunning coastal panoramas puts together a pretty convincing case that there’s more to life than hitting a small ball into a hole in the ground. To borrow the old adage, you don’t have to spoil a good walk with golf.
This year 18 testing holes were selected from the Sam Torrance and Kittocks courses for one of the final qualifying rounds for the British Open. Sat in 520 acres, along Scotland’s Golf Coast, the two courses make up the heart of the Fairmont St Andrews resort.
Imagine some 80 golfers jetting in from around the world to compete for just three places. Imagine the tension, the testosterone, the hope … and for one unfortunate golfer the despair of discovering that his clubs had gone missing in transit.
Davey, in his Stewart Clan trousers and Tam o’ Shanter, marshalls his Fairmont team to store clubs, shift luggage and valet park cars. It’s a Highland-honours welcome to immaculate formal gardens and a grey-slate roofed hotel that has a touch of a French Loire chateau to its refined architectural design. Scottish hospitality, celebrating Celtic folklore, merges immaculately with Fairmont’s American service culture.
A towering baronial-style entrance hall, with vast primaeval twisted wood sculptures, welcomes you, the sort of vast regal-power statement that Lady Macbeth would have aspired to. Sea view rooms, looking across emerald acres of fairways are spacious too. A subtle grey tartan to the carpet and arty photos of Tam o’ Shanter hats discretely take up the Scottish theme.
But it’s the golf that’s the main draw. Golfers fly thousands of miles to achieve a bucket-list dream. Breakfast at the Fairmont is like a United Nations of Golf.
If you’ve driven or flown many hours it is probably best to first play the Sam Torrance Course, designed by the former Ryder Cup legend. It is the most welcoming – or least treacherous – of the two courses depending on your point of view. It gifted just 7 holes to that British Open Qualifying Course with the Kittocks contributing the challenging remaining 11.
Of course, every golfer aspires to play St Andrew’s historic Old Course. But you need Lottery Winner luck in the ballot to get a tee-off time. As well as sharing the views over St Andrews Bay, the two Fairmont courses channel the spirit of the Old Course’s 112 bunkers. Kittocks and Torrance do bunkers too: especially pot and revetted. Wooden steps, akin to a First World War bunker, lead down into the abyss.
Golfers are not just playing their opponents, they take on God’s creation too, in epic contests. Swifts ride the squally winds from the north, blowing in over the dry-stone walls. These are blustering winds, bringing scudding clouds that radio shipping forecasts warn of. They are the storms that blew Viking marauders to plundering raids and battered the remnants of the Spanish Armada as it took the long route home.
Fierce winds may hold up your ball, carry it hither and thither before finally casting it astray. Balls drop into yellow gorse, thistles and wispy white grasses in rough so dense that Bonnie Prince Charlie could hide from an army of searching Sassenachs for eternity.
Rough so thick, so impenetrable, that it works its way into the players’ psyche. Occasionally a hobby falcon hovers, battling the squalls, sharp eyes oblivious to dozens of lost balls as it seeks its prey.
And yet, coastal firm fairways drained fast by underlying sand, can be a dream to play. Few club golfers will have played greens as true as these. Though beware of those upturned saucer greens. Overhit a chip and your ball will slide away to nestle amongst thistles. Score a birdie or two here and you will have heroic tales to tell at those 19th holes for years to come.
Golf is always a game of risk and reward but on the Kittocks and Torrance courses, the elements conspire to accentuate the risk. For those hoping to qualify for the Open caution was not an option (nor a swig of whisky from a Harris Tweed covered hip-flask.) They had to attack, going for Braveheart glory, searching out booming drives, looking for extra yards on the Par 5s setting up the short irons, that might just produce a birdie chance. Glad that at breakfast they had stocked up on porridge and haggis for the challenges ahead. A long drive and a saved stroke could be the difference between playing the British Open at Port Rush and watching it, in frustration, on television. Next year golfers will be battling for a place at the 149th British Open at Royal St Georges.
Perhaps Rabbie Burns wasn’t talking about golf when he wrote, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley,” ( translation for Sassenachs: “often go astray”) but on these courses of babbling burns and braes, the margins between success and glory are so small. Schemes “gang aft a gley” rather more frequently here than on more forgiving courses.
If your ball heads towards the cold dark sea, look beyond for consolation, towards a lone fishing boat tossing on the waves. This is the boat that will catch lobster for your supper in the Fairmont St Andrew’s Bar and Grill. After a hard day of golf, you deserve the Seafood Platter, a Magnificent Maritime Seven: oysters, crab, both chunks of salmon and smoked salmon, crevettes, lobster and prawns. As you enjoy your supper, perhaps a Josper-grilled Scottish steak with moisture and taste sealed in, look down on golfers finishing the last few holes of the Kittocks course.
In the distance, there’s the historic ruins of St Andrews Cathedral and the beach where the iconic opening scene of Chariots of Fire was filmed. If that’s not enough romance for you don’t forget that it was in St Andrews where Wills met Kate.
Tell Me More About Fairmont St. Andrews
Fairmont St. Andrews, St. Andrews KY16 8PN
T: + 44 1334 837000
Nightly rates at Fairmont St Andrews start at £179 per night, based on two people sharing on a bed and breakfast basis
Full-price green fees are £95 for the either the Kittocks or Sam Torrance course but there are plenty of deals available, particularly for twilight tee-off times.