It was a chilly morning in 1994 when Jack and Sheena Willoughby made the heart over head decision to purchase the Dunvegan Hotel. They were living in Aberdeen, Scotland at the time but their passion lay some seventy-five miles south in St. Andrews, where they’d often visit for golfing weekends.
Like many golf pilgrims before them, it was love at first site with St. Andrews.
One morning, following an early morning round of golf, the Willoughby’s visited the Dunvegan Hotel bar for a cup of tea. They struck up a conversation with the owner, who mentioned he might be looking to sell. This soon led to a phone call and a major turning point in their lives.
Despite having solid jobs which paid their bills and allowed the Willoughby’s to live comfortable lives, there was something attractive about running a hotel in their favorite town. Despite having no experience in the hotel business, the Willoughby’s purchased the Dunvegan Hotel and abandoned their hometown of Aberdeen.
For anyone fortunate enough to have visited the Old Course at St. Andrew, the Dunvegan Hotel sits just one block from the 18th hole on the corner of Golf Place and North Street. The coasters inside the bar say, “Only a 9-iron from the Old Course,” depending on the wind of course.
The Dunvegan Hotel boasts eight rooms that have no direct view of the 18th hole; a modest restaurant/bar; and no amenities. With a plethora of fancier hotels in town with beautiful views, why has the Dunvegan Hotel become the #1 place to hang out during the British Open? The answer is nostalgia.
Over the years, the Dunvegan Hotel has become one of the great gathering spots during the major tournament that people in Great Britain know as simply “The Open.” The hotel has become a time machine, transporting golfers back in time, forward in time, to a happy place in their lives.
“You see a lot of fathers and sons who come through,” Sheila Willoughby remarked. “You see the sons coming back, the father has passed away and they want to spread some ashes on the golf courses they played together, because that meant so much to them.”
It’s strangely refreshing to sit in the Dunvegan Hotel and enjoy one of the few spots left in St. Andrews that hasn’t been commercialized. It feels local, and the chalkboard in front of the hotel has for many years been reading material for fans as the Willoughby’s scribble rhymes and other eccentric exhortations that fit perfectly with their establishment.
In the evenings – or as Jack Willoughby likes to call “rush hour” – the couple remove the tables to allow for more standing space. Glasses are tucked away and replaced with plastic cups. At rush hour, or rush week, there is simply no time to do the dishes.
If you haven’t already visited, make the Dunvegan Hotel your must-see stop, especially if you’re a young golfer fortunate enough to visit with your father. It will live with you for the rest of your life.
The subjects and quotes in this article was sourced from a delightful piece in the NY Times written by Christopher Clarey. You can read the full article here.