2006: Grand plans for St. Andrews landmark

By Dave Seanor

David Wasserman is looking for a few savvy golfers. He wants players from around the world, those who grasp the essence of the game, who enjoy the camaraderie of a challenging day on windswept links – and revel equally in its afterglow.

If you pass muster, and have the means to invest at least $1.3 million, then Wasserman might offer you one of 100 resident memberships remaining at the St. Andrews Grand.

“I’m a membership committee of one,” said Wasserman, whose Rhode Island-based real estate investment company is converting an iconic building at the epicenter of Scotland’s home of golf into luxury condominiums, featuring amenities that would have made Walter Hagen blush.

Prospective members “have to meet me and understand the vision,” said Wasserman. “I want to know, what do you bring to the party? Then I decide whether or not you’re my kind of guy.”

Those who have made the pilgrimage to St. Andrews – and anyone who dreams of doing so – will recognize the Grand. Looking east toward the Auld Grey Toon’s skyline as the inward eight holes of the Old Course bring golfers back to town, it’s the imposing red-brick building directly behind the 18th green, to the right of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club clubhouse.

The membership prospectus promises that the 112-year-old structure’s fourth incarnation will “merge history and high comfort.”

Twenty-three loft-style residences are planned, each with distinctive two- or three-bedroom floor plans, from 1,400 square feet to the 1,930-square-foot penthouse with a terrace overlooking the Old Course and the North Sea. Furnishings unique to each residence will include Victorian antiques selected by the project’s interior designer, Randall Ridless LLC. Each unit will have a gourmet kitchen, state-of-the-art appliances, high-speed, wireless Internet and – most pleasing to anyone who has suffered the cramped, dated facilities more typical of Scottish accommodations – contemporary bathrooms.

Prices range from £750,000 to £1.9 million ($1.33 million to $4.38 million U.S.). In addition to location, location, location, an investment in the St. Andrews Grand includes:

-Memberships at nearby Crail, Elie Links and Kingsbarns (of which Wasserman is majority stakeholder).

-Personal services such as concierge, daily housekeeping, men’s and women’s spas, health center, grocery shopping, golf concierge and bellman.

-Use of the Grand’s club room, library, private dining room and members’ pub.

-Personalized travel (including helicopter service) and itineraries for golf, cultural events and hunting or fishing on private estates. (Leuchars Airport, six miles west of town, can accommodate private jets up to 737s.)

“This is not a fractional or a time-share,” said Wasserman. “It’s much more like a very exclusive golf club. Not unlike the R&A.

“With a fractional, you typically don’t want to see other people. With this, you see other people, and want to see them.”

Membership is limited to 115 families; Wasserman rang in the new year with 15 in the fold.

Owners are guaranteed at least 10 weeks occupancy annually, but owing to the nature of its limited membership, availability figures to be more frequent. Wasserman said membership was “structured inefficiently” for that very reason.

“You can come here whenever you want,” he said. “It’s the same reason you join a high-end golf club, so you can play whenever you want.”

Built of Dumfries red sandstone quarried in the south of Scotland, the St. Andrews Grand first housed the opulent Grand Hotel, which opened in 1895 and catered to guests such as King Edward VIII, King George VI, Rudyard Kipling, Francis Ouimet and Bobby Jones. During World War II, it was used as a Royal Air Force training headquarters. Business failed to rebound after the armistice, and the Grand was sold to St. Andrews University in 1949. It was rechristened Hamilton Hall, becoming easily the most photographed college dormitory in the world.

The techno lifestyle of 21st-century students rendered it obsolete, and a deteriorating Hamilton Hall was sold to Wasserman Real Estate Capital LLC for a reported £20 million last summer. As part of the deal, Wasserman will fund construction of a new dorm for the university. He also agreed to restore the property to its original grandeur, true to its Victorian roots.

Wasserman and his ownership group take possession in June, with a restoration and renovation by Hurd Rolland Partnership getting under way the following month. With an 18-to-22-month construction timeline, the St. Andrews Grand should be ready for occupancy by spring 2008.

“We’re doing something for the ages,” Wasserman said. “Why not take the time and do it right?”

It’s an understatement to say that St. Andrews Grand membership isn’t for everyone. Wasserman said he doesn’t want to come off as snobbish or elitist; he’s simply looking for well-heeled people who “get it” when it comes to golf. He said much of 2006 will be devoted to interviewing prospective members.

“You’ve got to find a way to reset the clock,” he said of his vision for the Grand. “In order to do that, you have to find people with money.

“The university couldn’t afford to renovate (Hamilton Hall), so the alternatives were to let it continue to deteriorate or turn it into a hotel. This plan makes it less obtrusive, while still bringing in people who will spend money in the area.”

Wasserman Real Estate Capital LLC, based in Providence, R.I., is a family-owned business founded in 1962 by Bernie Wasserman, David’s father. David Wasserman said he is constantly scouting for “off-market opportunities,” and learned of Hamilton Hall’s circumstances during a chance conversation with a friend in December 2003. Wasserman said he expects restoration of the Grand will serve as his company’s springboard for expansion into the United Kingdom and Europe.

“You have to look at it as a historic object,” he said. “We’re restoring it for the town. . . . We want to ultimately be community members.”

As such, members have no special privileges when it comes to tee times on the Old Course – other than the convenience of a concierge to place their names on the daily ballot, where they will receive the same consideration as everyone else.

For more information, visit www.standrewsgrand.com or call 480-237-2070.

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