Debbie Taylor was the first woman ever to manage the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh. But she left for an even more prestigious post just a few miles along the Scottish coast
When American Stewart Cink, the winner of the British OpenGolf , proudly held aloft the famous Claret Jug yesterday, he knew that if he were to defend his title next year, it would be at the most famous golf course in the world.
In 2010 the Open will be played on the Old Course at St Andrews, next to the equally famous Old Course Hotel in the Scottish east coast resort.
This, one of the best known British hotels in the world, is now managed by Debbie Taylor, an award winning manager who is also prominent in the Scottish tourist industry. It was the hotel's standing that persuaded her to leave her job as general manager of Rocco Forte's Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh - she was the first ever woman to manage the property in its 101 year history - to take over St. Andrews.
She had worked at the Balmoral between 2003-2007 before joining the Old Course Hotel as managing director. "The main attraction was that it was a very iconic and very famous and there was also a five year growth strategy that I would be spearheading," she said.
Her arrival in 2007 was three years into the ownership of the property by Herbert Kohler, an American businessman whose family regularly features in the Forbes Top 500 list of the world's richest families. Mr Kohler, a keen golfer, fell in love with the place on a visit and vowed to buy it if it came on to the market. In 2004 the Japanese owners decided to sell and the deal was done in 24 hours.
Mr Kohler embarked on a five year plan to renovate almost the whole of the property. Ms Taylor has supervised this for the last three years and it is scheduled for completion when the lobby is spruced up next January and February. The hotel looks very different from what it did in 2004 but regular patrons will be relieved to know the Road Hole Bar with its world famous collection of malt whiskies is in tact.
But Ms Taylor is already working on a new project. Next to the Old Course's 17th hole, the notorious Road Hole where many a dream has come unstuck, is a grand old building. Formerly the home of new fewer than five captains of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club (R&A)and more recently a hospital, it is now being converted into a luxury residence for hotel guests.
"It will be the first members' residence in Europe and we are hoping to open it in 2010," Ms Taylor said.
The hotel is synonymous with golf. Besides being next to the public course of St Andrews which includes the Old Course, the hotel also has its own course, the Duke's which has also been upgraded as part of Mr Kohler's reservations.
It brings in a constant stream of conference delegates from all over the world who invariably tack on a few days to play a few holes or go fishing, hunting or visiting the delightful fishing villages of the East Neuk of Fife like Crail.
"We don't get transient business travellers here. They are people attending conferences who add on a few days. People just fall in love with the place. The guests say it is a little bit like visiting Disneyland.
"They come from all over the world. We had Arnold Palmer (twice winner of the Open) here a month ago. They just want to visit the home of golf.
"But golf is just one aspect. Besides the 12 courses in the area, there is scuba diving, boat trips, fantastic restaurants and plenty of history. A lot of guests like the "Scottish experience" - the castles, haggis, ceilidhs, pipers, the malts," Ms Taylor, who is also chair of the British Hospitality Association Scotland Committee, said.
The Old Course Hotel has 144 rooms and 35 suites as well as 12 conference suites including a ballroom for 300 guests, restaurants, a spa and the award winning Road Hotel Bar. Conference business did inevitably drop off when the recession took hold but now seems to be improving.
"We are starting to see the parties coming back but they are smaller groups, usually about 20-40. These are very much high end groups and individuals as well. This market is still holding up but we were seeing business drop off.
"But we are now getting inquiries for January to April next year so that is coming back. It has been the corporate market that was worst hit," she said.
Before moving up to the Balmoral in 2003, Ms Taylor worked at another property then owned by Rocco Forte, the St David's hotel in Cardiff where she was director of sales and marketing. Previously she worked for Marriott International and also for a now disappeared holiday company Aspro Holidays.
With 25 years in the hospitality business and the collection of awards to her name including twice manager of the year, her enthusiasm for the business is not flagging. "I absolutely love. If you love what you are doing, you never have to work for a living.
"It is more my life than a job. You feel you can create an environment you want to be in. It makes it a great place to work.
"In this industry, we probably spend more time with our colleagues than with our family so I see my colleagues as our extended family. WE get huge feedback from our guests saying they have had a fantastic time.
"We feel we have created our own brand through our really strong team. But you are also meeting people from all over the world and no two days are ever the same," she said.