2006: What’s Old is new as Kohler revamps St. Andrews properties

St. Andrews, Scotland

Herb Kohler is not afraid to act quickly in business, and the moves he has made in the so-called Home of Golf are no exception.

It took just 40 days from the time he heard the Old Course Hotel and its Duke’s Course were for sale to close a $40 million deal for the properties in 2004.

Kohler, best known in golf circles for Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run resorts in Wisconsin, renovated the 144-room hotel, which sits on the 17th hole of the Old Course here, and the Duke’s, a five-minute drive from the hotel. He also installed a Kohler Water Spa at the hotel.

In part, Kohler views the Old Course Hotel as a showcase for his company’s plumbing products and its Baker furniture in the U.K. and northern Europe. But he also has bigger plans.

“We are looking at ways of expanding our overall hospitality operations,” he says, adding that those will account for roughly $150 million of Kohler Co.’s more than $5 billion in revenues this year.

The Old Course Hotel was built in 1968 and redesigned in 1984 to coincide with that year’s British Open. Kohler revamped the hotel’s meager conference facilities, more than doubling the capacity to 400 for meetings (320 for dining) and installing new audio and visual equipment. He also spent $1 million to replace the hotel’s water pipes to accommodate the much higher water pressure now available in the hotel. And he hired French designer Jacques Garcia to makeover a number of the Old Course suites in sumptuous colors and tones, adding a strong sense of luxury and style.

Perhaps the most impressive addition, however, was the building of the nearly 14,000-square-foot water spa. Opened in March, it features 11 rooms where visitors can experience traditional massages and scrubs as well as a variety of unique bathing treatments. In addition, the spa has a thermal suite with a hydrotherapy pool and Japanese salt steam room, a 20-meter pool with a waterfall and bench on one end, steam rooms, an exercise studio, and a rooftop deck with a hot tub and open-air shower.

The work on the golf course, a 1995 Peter Thomson design that reopened in June, was overseen by American Tim Liddy, a Pete Dye protégé. The last four holes were redesigned and the Duke’s notoriously inferior drainage was replaced by a state-of-the-art system. Using Alister MacKenzie’s work as a guide, Liddy also reshaped bunkers throughout.

“I was looking to create a more classic strategic design and let the bunkers tell golfers how they should play their shots,” Liddy says.

Though it likely will never have the cachet of the links layouts in and around St. Andrews, Duke’s, set in the Craigtoun Park area above town, is a top-shelf heathland layout that offers players a different brand of golf, complete with sweeping views of the ancient ecclesiastical center and the North Sea.

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