Michael Alexander meets Stephen Carter, a proud Yorkshire man who has just taken over as general manager at the prestigious Old Course Hotel in St Andrews.
The foyer of the Old Course Hotel is bustling with a party of wealthy-looking American golfers when The Courier arrives. They are checking-in having not long stepped off a Trans-Atlantic flight.
It’s a busy time of year for the 144-bedroom AA Five-Star resort as the early summer season gets under way.
But the hotel’s newly appointed general manager Stephen Carter might be forgiven for not knowing whether to laugh or cry.
For just days after taking up the reigns, the hotel was last week awarded ‘Best Hotel’ in the prestigious Scottish Entertainment & Hospitality Awards 2016 – a vote of confidence in the management and staff who have been running the hotel for the past few years.
“It just confirms I made the right decision in coming, “says Mr Carter with a smile.
“I wanted to be running an iconic hotel that’s recognised in the industry as being at the top for many years. It’s a pleasure to come in and add my bit over the next couple of years or so.
“But you can look at it two ways – I almost packed up and went home yesterday. What’s the point of being here?“ he laughs with a wink. “The hotel is already at the top of its game!”
It’s certainly true that the Old Course Hotel is already a winner. Located next to the world famous Old Course, the iconic resort is the destination of choice for film stars, sportsmen and locals looking for a prestigious quality break. Some might even play a few rounds of golf!
But Mr Carter says there’s no room for complacency and he is looking forward to “moving the hotel to the next level” during the rest of this decade.
In particular, the hotel is looking to expand its leisure and spa facilities from next January, continue developing its conference facilities, and also tap into thousands of potential non-golfing visitors who will be attracted to the Dundee and Fife area when the V&A Dundee opens in 2018.
“It would be very easy to just sit here and capitalise on these views, “ he says, nodding towards the magnificent panorama looking up the 17th fairway of the Old Course before us, “but we’re not going to do that.”
Mr Carter is no stranger to St Andrews and the Home of Golf.
He became the first general manager of the £50 million St Andrews Bay Resort, now the Fairmont, which opened in June 2001, a few miles down the coast.
Whilst working at St Andrews Bay in the aftermath of the planning controversies that preceded the resort’s construction in the late 1990s, he helped attract a number of high profile conferences including a G20 summit and the Northern Ireland peace talks.
He also fell in love with the area and set up home in Upper Largo where he and his wife still live.
However, despite healthy competition with the Old Course Hotel during his time at St Andrews Bay, he still believes St Andrews is big enough to accommodate more than one big resort.
And Mr Carter, who recently stood down as a director of Visit Scotland, also believes there remains huge opportunities for growth in golf and non-golf tourism.
“I think there are ways of extending the golf market, he says. “Undoubtedly the Old Course itself is a huge draw, but there are lots of great golf courses in the near vicinity. You’ve got the coastal path. You’ve got the building of the Pilgrims Way from South Queensferry through to St Andrews as well. The area is popular with families because it’s a very safe area.
“But we’ve also got the V&A Dundee opening. We want to shine this corner of Scotland onto a very different audience – not necessarily a golf audience – and draw in more people.”
Surrey University hotel administration graduate Mr Carter has spent his whole life working in hotels – and most of that time has been in Scotland. His first job was at the Golden Lion Hotel in Stirling. He went on to work in Edinburgh, Aviemore and Dundee where he worked at the former Angus Hotel in the early 1970s. He joined Holidays Inns – running their first hotel in Aberdeen – worked for Stakis, and latterly worked at Cameron House, Loch Lomond where he oversaw a £50 million refurbishment.
Yet his roots are in Halifax, Yorkshire. And it’s his upbringing there that got him into the industry and lives on in his heart.
“I guess I had a great mentor in my mother who was a great person in looking after people and demonstrating hospitality, “ he laughs. “On winter’s mornings I would come down to have a family breakfast and probably find the postman at the end of the table having his breakfast as well. And on really bad snowy mornings I’d even known my mother to invite the dustmen in for a cup of coffee. And that’s literally true as well!”