In the previous post I announced the gallery of images of the biggest hotel in St Andrews, the Fairmont. The Fairmont is a short drive from downtown St Andrews and from the Old Course. It is a very posh place with large rooms/suites.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the Ardgowan Hotel, built in 1847.
Location Location Location
The key feature to the Ardgowan is its location along with a more affordable price as compared to the Fairmont or other more fancy places in the “Auld Grey Toon.” The Ardgowan is located about a 30 second walk from the 18th green and 1st tee of the Old Course, and a 20 second walk from the most famous pub in town, the Dunvegan. I’ve made that 20 second walk home from the Dunvegan at 2 a.m. on many a night. I’m guessing it was a little longer than 20 seconds, but then again I don’t really remember.
The Ardgowan’s 29 rooms are quite small but clean. They’re so small and the stairway to get to them so tight that most golfers store their clubs in the locker behind the hotel’s front desk.
There are a few different room options which feature single or double beds.
The Ardgowan features the minimum I need as a traveling golfer and nothing more: a place to store my clubs, a bed, a bathroom, a desk with wireless internet connection (for emailing pictures of the Old Course back home to my jealous friends), and a pub/restaurant in the basement (see first image).
I have to share a slightly embarrassing and funny story. One of my stays at the Ardgowan was in the top floor in a single-bed room. The architecture of the building is that of a Georgian townhouse, and most buildings on North Street share the same slanted roof style. The top floor room is basically in the attic, so part of the room “features” a slanted ceiling (see image below).
Ardgowan Hotel Room – St Andrews, Scotland
In the wee hours of the morning and after a few too many wee pints at the Dunvegan, I had the sudden need to get to the bathroom and quick. An urgent need, if you catch my drift. One or two too many wee pints I suppose. When I very quickly got up from bed in the dark I didn’t realize the ceiling was slanted. I hit my head so hard getting up fast that I nearly knocked myself out.
That morning I had to cancel my tee time at the New Course and sleep off the wee pints and the cranial impact. I did however enjoy the rest of the morning exploring the St Andrews castle while my pals were off golfing.
The Ardgowan serves purpose and does it well. It provides a perfect lodging location within walking distance of the Old Course, New Course, Jubilee Course. Strathtyrum Course, and Eden Course. No car required and that’s a good thing. Parking in the Auld Grey Toon can be tough.
This is not the Ritz Carlton. If that’s your fancy, perhaps consider the Old Course Hotel or the Fairmont. If location is important, the Ardgowan is one of the best lodging options in St Andrews.
Fairmont Hotel – St. Andrews, Scotland – As seen from the Torrance Course – click to see full gallery
The Fairmont is quite a place. Very large. The rooms are so much bigger at the Fairmont than the tiny rooms at the hotels close to the Old Course. In fact, I’d guess that my room at the Ardgowan last time was the same square footage as the bathroom in my suite at the Fairmont.
Stay tuned for my Fairmont Hotel St. Andrews review coming soon.
This past summer the Hooked On Golf Blog World Tour was in fabulous Michigan for some amazing golf. Michigan has become a golf home away from home. The courses there are fantastic. I’d much rather play there than Florida or Arizona, though there are some great choices there as well. I lean toward more elevation change, more interesting terrain, and love the trees.
For this past summer’s Michigan golf trip, the temporary world headquarters for the HWT was the MGM Grand in Detroit. I know what you’re thinking. “Detroit?!?”
I’ve not spent any time in Detroit until this year. It is certainly an area which has seen better days, but there are still great reasons to visit, top notch lodging, and dining to be had, like at the MGM Detroit.
MGM Grand Detroit Overview
MGM Grand Detroit is an Art Deco style design featuring 401 rooms/suites. This luxury resort opened in 2007 and is one of a small number of casinos in the Detroit metro area.
The gaming space is very large, clocking in at 100,000 square feet. All of the possible gambling games one might want to participate in are there, including 4,000 machines and almost 100 table games. Having been a very heavy gambler back in the day, it was quite something for me to spend 4-5 days there and not even wager a nickel.
The hotel/casino is located in the heart of Detroit, walking distance from many downtown attractions and restaurants. Tiger Stadium, the home of the Major League Baseball’s Detroit Tigers, is a short walk from the hotel. I was able to catch a Detroit Tigers game. Kansas City came to town and thumped the Tigers. Despite the loss, Tigers Stadium was really a great baseball stadium and the atmosphere was fantastic.
The rooms/suites at the resort are very spacious and well appointed. The service level of the rooms is great, with turndown service and a nice robe with slippers prepared every evening.
MGM Grand Detroit Rooms
The shower and bathroom is very large and nicely constructed with slate tile floors and a cool flare to the design. There’s even a screen built into the mirror in the bathroom (see image below).
There are many restaurants and bars in the resort, including Wolfgang Puck Cucina and Wolfgang Puck Steak. I had the pleasure of enjoying both and they’re as good as you’ve heard.
Also located inside the resort is a great sports bar called TAP, which is packed on a nightly basis. TAP serves great food, stiff drinks, and provides viewing of dozens of sporting events via countless screens.
TAP Sports Bar MGM Grand Detroit
The resort is home to large 30,000 square foot meeting/event space as well as multiple lounges and entertainment venues.
Finally for those like me who like to relax, there’s an on-site spa, pool, fitness area, steam rooms, and private jacuzzis.
MGM Grand Detroit is an upscale, high quality, clean, classy, safe hotel in the heart of Detroit. Whether in the area for business or some of the great golf in Michigan, MGM Grand Detroit is a great choice for accommodations.
This is going to be a tough review. There is no way I can cover all of the fantastic features and offerings one can enjoy at the all-inclusive Bahamas resort, Sandals Emerald Bay on the island Great Exuma. I will focus on my personal experiences and the key features of the resort, which were absolutely fantastic.
Great Exuma Island Bahamas
Sandals Emerald Bay Location
As the saying goes, “location, location, location!” Sandals Emerald Bay is an all-inclusive resort on Great Exuma Island in the Bahamas. Great Exuma Island is a very short 40 minute flight from Miami or southern Florida. The island is southeast of the southern tip of Florida and northeast of Cuba. See the attached imaged to the right.
Because of its proximity, the weather on Great Exuma Island is always warm. The lowest temperatures in the winter average at a lovely 77 degrees and the highest temperatures in the summer average at 89.
The waters of Great Exuma and its surrounding islands are a brilliant coral blue color and crystal clear. The water temperature is nice and warm. Combined with the crystal clear water, the swimming, snorkeling, and diving in the area is as good as it gets.
Sandals Emerald Bay Resort Overview
As one might deduce from the name, the resort is located in a circular bay of water bordering the east coast of the island. The bay wraps around several miles of shoreline. Within the bay all sorts of great water-based activities are available from snorkeling to swimming to sailing.
The resort occupies 500 acres of sandy, palmtree laden paradise with most of its 249 suites and villas facing the ocean. There are so many different accommodation levels ranging from suites to stand alone villas, that it could take an entire article to cover all of them. All suites feature floor to ceiling windows, mahogany furnishings, stone floors, and fresh ocean breezes.
There are three pools, the main which is the largest pool on the island. See the aerial photo below, which I captured with my smaller aerial photo/video multi-rotor helicopter.
Sandals Emerald Bay From Above
The resort offers seven restaurants, providing a wide variance of food options, most of which are included in the resort fee. From French to Italian to grub from an English Pub, there is culinary joy for everyone.
Six bars located throughout the resort insure that one can always have a fabulous tropical drink in hand, if so desired.
Naturally a big reason I’m reviewing this property is the golf travel angle. Sandals Emerald Bay is the home of the very challenging and beautiful Greg Norman designed Emerald Reef Golf Club. I had the pleasure of playing the course a few times, as well as discussing the course design with Greg Norman himself.
Sandals Emerald Reef Golf Course Aerial View – click to view more
Sandals Emerald Reef is a tale of two different nine-hole golf courses. The outward nine winds through the tropical jungle, providing challenging tee shots which reward accuracy. The inward nine travels along a sliver of land on the edge of the bay. Most of the back nine holes featuring fantastic seaside views.
Check out the video below which I captured with my small aerial copter. The lighting isn’t great as the weather was sketchy, but you still get an idea of some of the great holes on the back nine.
My full review of Emerald Reef Golf Club is in the works. Stay tuned.
Naturally one of the biggest features of the resort is the beach. There is a one mile stretch of brilliant sand overlooking Emerald Bay. On that stretch the lovely wife and I enjoyed relaxing and a myriad of water activities.
Looking back at the beach and Sandals Emerald Bay from over the water
Water sports which are included in this all-inclusive Bahamas resort include snorkeling, scuba diving, sailing, and swimming with the pigs (see below).
The sand is perfect on this wonderful beach and the waves are light. I could spend a lifetime in the sand and in that warm blue water. The experience is fantastic.
Swimming with the Pigs
The HOG World Tour has done and seen some amazing and unique things, but this one may be the most bizarre. Each day a tour is provided for guests of the resort to “swim with the pigs.” Resort guests are shuttled to the resort’s own marina, which features 150 deep-water slips. A short and enjoyable boat ride through the pristine blue waters ends up in an area full of tiny islands with very shallow water. Guests get in the shallow water and are greeted by very friendly and anxious pigs who walk off a small island right into the water.
Many years ago a pig farmer moved his pigs to the island because of complaints from locals about the odor. The island pigs eventually became a tourist attraction and are fed by passers by.
Enjoy my swimming with the pigs video below.
My accommodations at Emerald Bay were great. The bed was comfortable and the rest of the suite was roomy and relaxing.
Sandals Emerald Bay Suite – click for more
The lovely wife and I enjoyed the spaciousness of the suite, especially the balcony. We enjoyed room service breakfast on the balcony on the occasional morning, and wine with cigars in the evening.
A Day In The Life
Here’s a typical day for us at the resort:
In the early morning we would walk down to Cafe de Paris, a “Parisian-style patisserie with pastries, crêpe, coffee and tea.” We would order a latte and enjoy some French pastries.
Following the latte we would make our way to the buffet at the Bahama Bay restaurant. Bahama Bay serves buffet style breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There are different themes there on a daily basis. Some mornings we opted for a room service breakfast which we would enjoy on the deck of our suite (image below).
Breakfast on the deck at Sandals Emerald Bay
Following breakfast the wife and I would head back up to the suite, dawn our bathing suits, and head for the beach. We would enjoy a few hours of beach time, then make our way to Bahama Bay for lunch or perhaps one of the other restaurants, depending on what mood we were in. We enjoyed eating right in the sand near the water at the Barefoot by the Sea restaurant.
Tropical drinks! Often I had no idea what they were, but they tasted fabulous!
More relaxing beach time after lunch, plus we would get in some snorkeling in the beautiful waters. Through the day we would visit one of the many bars at the resort and enjoy some fantastic tropical drinks and local beer. On occasion we would visit the quiet pool and hot tub, as the big pool was often quite raucous.
On different days we would enjoy various activities. I would hit the golf course and the wife would enjoy the beach. On another day we hit the spa (more below) in the afternoon after a day of snorkeling.
In the late afternoon and early evening we would drag ourselves away from the beach and get ready for the night’s activities which would be dinner in one of the restaurants and live entertainment on site.
To cap off the day, we would relax on the deck of our suite with a nightcap and a cigar. Cuban cigars are available in the gift shop by the way.
Red Lane Spa – Sorry, no photos of the bride and myself getting our “treatment”
Red Lane Spa
Red Lane Spa at Sandals Emerald Bay offers “European-style massages, facials, body wraps, scrubs and more – all with Sandals’ tropical signature twists.”
The lovely bride and I enjoyed a very nice couples massage.
In every review I write I try to point out areas of critique, in hopes that the company featured can make adjustments and improve its product. The experience at Sandals Emerald Bay is top notch, but resolving these few issues would make it even better:
Following the couples massage at Red Lane Spa the wife and I were escorted to a room together to have a sip of water, relax, and recover. The room was freezing and that compromised the experience. The poor shivering wife could not relax.
The concept of time in the Bahamas is not quite what one might be used to in the big city. One example was the room service. Even when specifying that we needed the order to arrive at 8 a.m. so we could make our other morning activities, it arrived at 9 a.m. On another occasion room service took so long we decided to cancel and get on with our day. I do understand that people on vacation at the resort are relaxing and “laid back,” so there’s an element of “no problem” there.
The two above critiques are minor but the following was my biggest issue at the resort. The wife and I love peace and quiet, and greatly enjoyed the relaxing sound of the ocean waves and the breeze on the deck of our suite. On one evening however, a stage directly below our room’s balcony was the site of a band playing. As a musician I could appreciate the skill and quality of the band members, though I was not a fan of the song selection. The music was so loud that the wife and I could not hear each other talking on the deck. “I love you honey,” I’d yell. “What?!?!?” she would yell back. Not exactly romantic. In order to hear each other talking we had to shut the windows and close off the sliding door to the deck until the band stopped. Thankfully the band did not play too late.
My favorite part of the resort was the beach. I’m landlocked at home. Beach time is a special thing for me and the lovely bride. Nothing better than looking out over the coral blue water, walking in the sand, and swimming in the warm waters of the Bahamas.
Second is the great golf course. Though not known primarily as a golf destination, the resort’s Emerald Reef Golf Club is a very challenging test, and the back nine scenery is stunning.
Late in the evening we would find a comfy chair near an open fire pit in one of the pool areas and stare up at the stars.
Pool area at night…
This is the first true all-inclusive experience I’ve had. It is quite nice to order a latte in the morning with French pastries, then have a breakfast buffet, enjoy all sorts of drinks (alcoholic and non), enjoy lunch and dinner, without ever whipping out my credit card or signing a tab for the room. That even includes the water sports activities.
The weather and conditions at Sandals Emerald Bay are fantastic year-round. The water is warm and blue, and the temperature is perfect. All that combined with the activities and amenities this 500 acre resort has to offer adds up to an experience of a lifetime. I hope to get back there very soon.
On the last HOG World Tour stop in the Bahamas at Sandals Resorts on the island of Exuma, I had a small window of time to do some aerial shots of Greg Norman’s golf course there. Emerald Reef is the name of the course and the back nine has some very scenic holes as you will see in the video. Unfortunately the weather was rainy and cloudy and my only window of time was late in the day. As a result the lighting is a bit dark. That said, the shots are still stunning. What a piece of property! Enjoy.