Karen Peattie takes a trip down the beautiful Ayrshire coast to check into the iconic Turnberry Resort which has reopened following the first phase of a £200 million-plus investment programme.
FOR over 100 years, Turnberry has stood majestically on the hill looking out over the sparkling Irish Sea, its familiar whitewashed walls and terracotta roof a beacon for those coming to relax, play golf or do business.
This jewel in Ayrshire’s crown has always been synonymous with elegance, luxury and style. Indeed, its clientele over the years – it opened in 1906 – has included members of the Royal Family, heads of state from around the world, pop royalty in the form of Rod Stewart and Abba, opera star Luciano Pavarotti and Bing Crosby.
Its legendary Ailsa course has hosted The Open Championship on no less than four occasions, most recently in 2009 although it was the gripping “Duel in the Sun” in 1977 that saw Tom Watson defeat fellow American Jack Nicklaus to lift the Claret Jug. It put Turnberry well and truly on the world golfing stage.
Fast-forward to the 21st century and Turnberry has a new owner – The Trump Organization. Politics and personalities aside, the US presidential candidate has dug deep into his pockets to create one of the most luxurious hotels anywhere in the UK. Now officially called Trump Turnberry Resort, it epitomises luxury and harks back to the Edwardian grandeur and splendour of the early 20th century when customer service was king.
The Ailsa course has also been the subject of sympathetic changes under the watchful eye of renowned architect Martin Ebert of Mackenzie & Ebert, recommended to The Trump Organization by The Royal & Ancient. In 2017, the resort’s new and much-anticipated Bruce course will open.
Sitting in the Grand Tea Lounge & Bar from where you can watch the sun set over Ailsa Craig with one of over 100 whiskies or enjoy afternoon tea with a tea sommelier guiding you through a choice of 20-plus brews it’s hard to believe you’re just an hour’s drive from Glasgow city centre.
No-one is hiding the fact that this multi-million-pound refurbishment has created a new level of luxury at this time-honoured resort. But it’s a venue that always aimed high. A former British Transport hotel – others include the Old Course at St Andrews and Gleneagles in Perthshire – Turnberry set rarely seen standards in hospitality with its Edwardian opulence and service to match.
With new railway lines opening up the Scottish countryside to day-trippers and holidaymakers these grand resorts became more accessible and their popularity grew, many coming to see for the very first time the type of luxury they had only read about. It may have attracted the rich, the famous and the powerful but Turnberry always remained open to local people and everyone was welcome.
Ralph Porciani, general manager of Trump Turnberry, says this hasn’t changed. “We’re obviously a luxury hotel and appeal to a high-end market plus there are golf packages as you would expect,” he says. “But we’re very aware that we have a loyal Scottish customer base with people coming to stay with us for one or two nights, booking afternoon tea, popping in for lunch or dinner and there’s the romantic break market, too.
“With any five-star hotel there’s a perception that it’s elitist but at Turnberry we don’t think like that,” he continues. “Our golf business and overseas visitors are obviously important but we’re a year-round resort so we have to think beyond that core April-to-September golf peak which is why we’ve rejuvenated our meeting, events and conferences spaces.”
Indeed, the refurbishment so far has created a benchmark for luxury in the Scottish hospitality industry. Porciani joined Turnberry in 2004 and remembers the hotel’s last facelift – ahead of The Open in 2009 – by its then owner, Leisurecorp. “It was a significant refurbishment but we’ve moved into a completely different league since The Trump Organization purchased the resort in 2014,” he points out.
“We’re investing in excess of £200 million and we’re just over halfway there,” says Porciani. “This is a renovation on a massive scale with the first phase encompassing the golf clubhouse, the meeting space within the hotel, all the public spaces and the 103 bedrooms in the main hotel. By next June, the refurbishment of our spa and lodges will be complete.”
Turberry reopened on June 1, its new look delivered by UK-based construction services company ISG. External enhancements at the hotel include the replacement of all windows with new high-performance glazed units, repairs to the roof and dormers, and renewal of render to all elevations of the 110-year-old building.
Bedrooms – including the four suites – feature either dark blue or cream wallpaper with hand-carved, walnut mahogany and gold-gilded beds framed with canopies inspired by Turnberry’s own tartan and sumptuous Italian marble bathrooms with gold taps. Each boasts a 65-inch smart TV.
Says Porciani: “When I attended a major industry trade show in the States and showed examples of the bedrooms people were saying how refreshing it was to see us using colours other than beige and grey – they were delighted to see colour coming back into bedrooms.
“It’s been a really exciting journey because what had happened at Turnberry in the 1950s and 60s was that much of the hotel had come to end of its life cycle – windows and so on – so instead of replacing things there had been a lot recladding done and areas blocked with partition walls to keep heat in.
“So after years of patching things up to keep the elements out we’ve stripped it all back and played to our strengths – when you walk in from the courtyard you can see the sea. The view is a great selling point for us so all along that side of the hotel, from every window, you can see it.”
Meanwhile, all the carpets have been replaced – the bedrooms feature all-wool carpets – while the intricate rose cornicing has been restored or replaced throughout the hotel. Virtually everything is new – from the cutlery, crockery and glassware to the door handles and plug sockets. Attention to detail is Turnberry’s mantra.
Walking around the hotel it’s hard not to look up at the dazzling Austrian crystal chandeliers – around 200 including the Ivanka Chandelier adorning the main staircase, named after Trump’s daughter Ivanka and featuring Swarovski crystals. It took six months to make, and two men two days to hang.
It’s great to hear that Trump Turnberry used the services of local suppliers and trades people during the renovations. “That’s important to us because we’re important to the South Ayrshire community as an employer – indeed, we have staff who have been with us for 30-plus years and even generations.”
Entertainment and event space includes The Caledonia Ballroom, Ailsa Craig and, on schedule to open in August, the Donald J Trump Ballroom boasting floor-to-ceiling windows to make the most of the stunning views. “In the past we’ve had to turn down business because we’ve not had a big enough ballroom,” explains Porciani.
“The Trump Ballroom will be able to seat 660 on rounds of 12 and up to 1000 for a cocktail party or drinks reception plus it divides into two so it’s a flexible space and gives a complete range of facilities for conferences, events, weddings and business meetings that we didn’t previously have here at Turnberry – that’s a big game-changer for us.”
Dining? Named after the year the hotel opened, 1906 is Trump Turnberry’s signature restaurant. This is where guests have breakfast. But in the evening it takes on an Italian theme and becomes Il Tramonto at 1906. Meaning “the sunset” in Italian, Il Tramonto at 1906 allows diners to gaze out of the windows while they enjoy authentic dishes prepared by experienced chefs – some of them from Italy.
Not surprisingly, Turnberry sources quality produce indigenous to Ayrshire and to Scotland – and always in season – with the kitchens coming under the stewardship of award-winning executive chef Alan Matthew, formerly of Fairmont St Andrews. Local farm Dowhill – just 10 minutes from Turnberry – is one of the suppliers.
Scotland needs a strong and vibrant hospitality industry – and projects of this stature can only make it stronger.