Wednesday, May 21, 2014

History of the Hamilton Grand

The building that has become the Hamilton Grand is a famous feature behind the 18th green of the St Andrews Old Course. The building features in many photos of the legendary course, and it stands in the background of every Swilcan Bridge picture. Some call it the second most photographed building in all of golf, second to the clubhouse of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club.
Modern day Hamilton Grand seen on the right (click on photos to enlarge)
The iconic landmark was originally the Grand Hotel, built by Thomas Hamilton in 1895. It was the first building in Scotland to have a pneumatic elevator, as well as the first hotel in Scotland to have hot and cold water running to every room. The Grand Hotel set the bar for luxury in Scotland and played host to many prominent figures hoping to visit the seaside town of St Andrews.
Old Tom Morris behind the 17th green in 1902, the Grand Hotel behind
During the Second World War, the Air Ministry of the United Kingdom requisitioned the Grand Hotel for the use of the Royal Air Force. Nearby RAF Leuchars played a valuable role in protecting shipping routes and defending the North Sea during the war. The Grand Hotel was home to many of the "decision makers" protecting Scotland and the rest of the UK.
1946 Open Championship
The requisition by the British military marked the end of the Grand Hotel. Shortly after WWII, the building was acquired by the University of St Andrews, which turned it into halls of residence for students in 1949.
Hamilton Hall, 2010, before any renovations began
Hamilton Hall served students for 56 years before the university sold the property in 2005. Can you imagine living in student housing ten yards from the Old Course, with one of the best views in all of golf? I have met a number of university alumni who reiterate how fortunate they felt at the time. One of those alums was a student who stayed in the building in the late 1940s after returning from war. He ate his meals in St Salvators Hall, just up the Scores, where I lived during my first year at university.
Hamilton Grand mid-construction (click on photos to enlarge)
After an initial sale that led to no new construction, Herb Kohler purchased Hamilton Hall in 2009. Kohler is the man behind Whistling Straits, The Old Course Hotel, and the Dukes Golf Course. The building was derelict in parts when Kohler purchased the property. The previous owner had begun demolition work and removed the roof, before having second thoughts and selling the building to its current owners. The building was left open to the elements, and was eventually almost completely gutted during the renovation process.
Hamilton Grand, 2014, notice the two new top floors?
The Hamilton Grand was completed in 2013. Two additional floors were added to the building, which is now comprised of twenty-six luxury apartments. A roof garden on top of the building offers amazing views of the links courses and West Sands beach. According to my interview with Joanne Halliday at the Hamilton Grand, all of the current owners use the property as a second home. This is an interesting point, because to qualify for a local St Andrews Links Yearly Ticket ("membership" to the St Andrews courses), a resident must spend at least 6 months of the year in St Andrews. Half of the apartments in the building have either sold or have serious interest.
The building is recognizable in the St Andrews skyline
Next time you're out on the Old Course, or see the building during coverage of the Open Championship, be sure to enlighten your friends on the history of the building. It takes on a whole new character once it becomes more than "the old red building behind 18 green."

Thank you to the Hamilton Grand ( for the interview, Tom Morris ( for the historical photo, and the St Andrews Links ( for their photo of the Open Championship. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Yonex EZONE Wedge Review

This equipment review was written by equipment contributor Andrew Rehfeld, who continues to share his large amount of equipment knowledge for the site.

If you’ve read my other reviews, you will know that I’m very particular when it comes to my golf clubs, and this is especially true with wedges. However, I am not the only one. There’s a reason that you see so many custom grinds on the wedges of tour pros. Each player has different specs on clubs throughout their bag, but there is something especially personal with wedge preferences. Considering the short game is where real game improvement happens, it may not hurt you to be particularly choosy as well.

I have played the Scratch 8620 wedges for the past two years, and have always felt short-sided since they are made through the casting process. I also don't love their glossy, chrome finish. However, I really liked the shape, size, grind, and bounce options of the Scratch clubs. When it came time to replace my wedges, I looked for wedges with a similar shape, but a duller finish, and a forged head.  This led me to the Yonex EZONE wedges.

The EZONE wedges come with stock shaft offerings of either Dynamic Golds or the Nippon NS PRO 950GHs. Since I have the NS PRO shafts in my Miura irons, I chose to get the same shafts in my wedges. I ordered the shafts in stiff flex, which will be useful with half and three-quarter swing wedge shots.

I ordered two wedges – 56º and 60º.  Yonex doesn’t offer any grind or bounce options, and these came standard with some trailing edge relief and 12º of bounce in both clubs. This lack of choice did not bother me, because the stock grind and bounce options are to my liking, but others may prefer more choice. 
Over the years it has become more difficult to find wedges offered without any plating – “raw” and unfinished. I was pleased to find these wedges in a special release, raw finish.  It’s always annoying when you’re using a chrome wedge and the sun reflects directly into your eye on a chip shot.  It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it sticks firmly in your memory.

The EZONE wedges look great. The markings are very clean and simple. I especially like the fact that the sole of the club has no markings. I’m eager to see how the raw finish begins to rust. The wear that you see in the pictures has come from only two light practice sessions.

Yonex claims that these clubs have an “onset." Unlike nearly every other club on the market, the EZONE wedges actually have a leading edge that is in front of the shaft.  This was part of the reason I picked these clubs. My Scratch wedges had the same sort of bulging, rounded leading edge, and it does seem much easier to hit.
Yonex really hit a home run with these clubs, and they have luckily turned out just to my liking. The grind on the 60º isn’t exactly like the Scratch 8620 D/S wedge from which I switched, but the important factors are still present. The trailing edge relief allows me to open up the face without adding bounce, and that bulging leading edge is right on the money; I feel like I can hit it off any lie without a problem. Out of the bunker, it performs exactly like my Scratch wedge – perfectly.
The 56º does not have a similar grind to the Scratch 8620 D/D.  However, I knew this in advance, and I was looking for a change. I wanted the grind to be somewhere between the 8620 and my old Mizuno MP-T11, and the EZONE slots in perfectly. It’s great on full swings and around the green.  With some trailing edge relief – unlike my Scratch wedge – it slides through the turf very well.
I’ve heard it said that many blade wedges are cast (rather than forged) due to mishit shots being less detectable off the face, especially when compared to cast irons. This being said, I have always found that my Scratch wedges produce a “clicky” sound at impact, which has not been present with previous forged clubs. This is not the case with the cast EZONE wedges – they feel soft and smooth. Apparently the raw finish makes them even softer, which only adds to the effect.
I’m very happy with this purchase.  My only complaint is that I wasn’t able to order them to my specs.  I had to cut them both down ¼” and changed the grips upon arrival. Outside of these routine changes, the clubs have been perfect.

Yonex is hard to come by in the US, but they make very high quality clubs.  Some golf shops carry them, but they can always be purchased from the Yonex website.  This wedge is expensive at $179 a piece, but if you do some deep digging on the internet as I did, you’re sure to find it for less. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

St Andrews Eden Course

The Eden course does not immediately come to mind as a “destination course” for those on golf trips to St Andrews. The start of the course is a twenty-minute walk from the center of town, so visitors rarely stumble across the Eden. However, if you have played the Old Course, you have seen the Eden course to the right of the 13th and 14th holes. Like a number of other St Andrews Links courses, the Eden does not receive the credit it is due.

Harry Colt designed the Eden Course, which was opened in 1914. As with many Colt designs, the short course layout requires strategy to score well. Due to expansion of the St Andrews Links in the late 1980s, Donald Steel was brought in to re-design a number of holes on the Eden. Three holes were lost to creation of the driving range, and additional land was acquired to add to the back nine. The result of all this work is an enjoyable characterful course, which is less challenging than the New, Jubilee, or Old courses.
The St Andrews Eden Clubhouse
Many of the local clubs in St Andrews hold their medals and competitions over the Eden course. I have also been told that the Eden receives the most local play of any of the St Andrews courses during the height of season. This doesn't surprise me at all considering the massive amounts of visitor play the other courses receive during the summer. The course has two of my favorite par 3s in St Andrews (the 5th and 8th). The greens are devilishly sloping, and the course plays harder than it would appear on a scorecard.

Hole #1 - 326 Yards
The first hole of the Eden course has one of my favorite greens on any of the St Andrews Links courses. The two-tiered green has large slopes, and is framed by a stone wall behind the putting surface. The hole was a par 3 in the original layout.

Hole #2 - 449 yards
This long par 4 borders the Old Course on the right and the green sits on a natural plateau. A large swale runs along the front of the green, causing havoc on approach shots. 

Hole #3 - 417 yards
The tee shot on the dogleg right 3rd hole requires nothing more than a 250 yard shot to reach the perfect landing area. OB runs along the right side of the hole, which borders the Old Course.
The approach shot into the 3rd hole is fairly nondescript, but the green has a slight dome shape, and reading putts can be deceptively difficult.

Hole #4 - 273 yards
The drivable 4th hole is a favorite of many who play the golf course. Depending on the wind, the hole is in reach for many golfers. The Eden estuary borders the right side of the hole and is visually intimidating. It can be very difficult to hold balls on the raised dome green in firm and fast conditions.

Hole #5 - 144 yards
The 5th is one of two very strong par 3s on the front nine. The green is set into a nook, which is surrounded on three sides by slopes and gorse. The two-tiered green requires accuracy to avoid three putts. 

Hole #7 - 346 yards
The tee shot from the rear medal tees on the 7th hole is particularly challenging. Thick grass borders the right side of the fairway, and the Eden estuary bears down from the left. Bold drivers can take on the corner, while conservative players hit long irons into the meat of the fairway.
The photo above is taken from 100 yards out. The green falls off to the right, with bunkers guarding the right edge. Err left with approach shots, but anything too far left will end on the beach.

Hole #8 - 178 yards
This is the second of the great one shot holes on the Eden course front nine. This par 3 seems to typically play into the wind, and a massive false front sheds off any short approach shot. Two very deep bunkers guard left and right.

Hole #10 - 196 yards
The 10th green is nearly 40 yards deep, and the surface slopes heavily back to front. Distance control is valuable on this approach shot, as very long putts are common.

Hole #11 - 375 yards
The 11th tee shot is fairly straightforward. A line of bunkers sitting nearly 300 yards from the tee protect the hole from long hitters.
The real interest with the 11th hole lies in the green complex, which is viewed from the 12th tee in the photo above. The raised sloping green is guarded by bunkers in front and a stone wall in the rear.

Hole #14 - 350 yards
Holes 12-15 are not particularly strong. They are flat, and oddly, there is a lake that features on the 14th and 15th holes. The lake looks unnatural on the links land. The photo above is taken from 125 yards out on the 14th hole. 

Hole #15 - 170 yards
The 15th green is fairly flat, and the lake doesn't come into play for any approach shots that reach at least green-high. 

Hole #16 - 568 yards
The long par 5 16th is no slouch, and layups are affected by rolling slopes and bunkers in the fairway. The green is challenging in its own right, with subtle slopes wreaking havoc on putting lines. 

Hole #17 - 432 yards
The drive on the 17th has OB running down the entire right side of the hole. The tee shot feels like the 16th of the Old Course, with a number of bunkers protecting the left side of the fairway.
The green on the 17th hole is shaped like an hour glass, and a single bunker sits on the left side. A myriad of difficult pin positions are possible on the 17th green.

Hole #18 - 351 yards
The final hole of the Eden course is a dogleg left. A 3-wood or long iron leaves a short iron or wedge into the large green. Strategic positioning in the fairway is crucial in order to set up the correct angle into this green.

The St Andrews Eden course requires excellent strategy in order to shoot well. The sloping greens and odd tee shot angles put a premium on control and accuracy. If you are looking for an enjoyable evening round to polish your game while you are in St Andrews, play the Eden course. It may not have the ranking or prestige of its neighbors, but you will walk off of the 18th hole knowing that every aspect of your game has been thoroughly tested.