6 elements about a St. Andrews golf trip that gives it - and destinations like it - a leg up

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — It's impossible to not feel optimistic about the future of golf when you visit its birthplace.

In no place is golf so interwoven into the community in such a simultaneously classy and relaxed fashion.

In the morning, older club members play their regular games mixed in with awestruck foursomes of visitors. In the evening twilight, students come home along the Old Course back nine and boom drives on the Road Hole confidently over the Old Course Hotel. Dog walkers and pedestrians cut across fairways like they own the place (they're not wrong).

Even after a long day walking 36 holes, strolling back towards the town past the links gets you excited to get up and play again. It's aura can't be duplicated anywhere else. Fortunately, while it may be a transatlantic flight away, it really is a destination that goes out of its way to accommodate the droves of golfers who make the pilgrimage.

After my most recent trip last month, I thought about what makes St. Andrews such a special place to visit. When you consider they set the standard for a successful golf destination centuries ago, you wonder why so many places have strayed so far over the years. But in my mind, these are some of the elements that makes St. Andrews - or other destinations around the world, for that matter, with common qualities - a cut above.

Limitless itineraries

A lot of buddy trips will go to the same place every year. Nothing wrong with that. For trip captains, that consistency helps build relationships with properties and eliminate a lot of worry about learning the lay of the land.

But even if you keep returning to the same place, it's nice to add wrinkles. What I love about St. Andrews is the sheer number of courses in the town and throughout Fife. There is always a new course to play. You can put on some miles and venture to Carnoustie and Gleneagles, or not even get a car and walk to the first tee for every round.

An example in the U.S.: It reminds me a bit of Northern Michigan. There are many multi-course resorts like Boyne Highlands and Treetops, but if you're willing to make some scenic drives to Forest Dunes or Arcadia or the U.P., you open up limitless possibilities.

Name your price

I get asked a lot about the difference between Bandon Dunes and Scotland. The first thing I usually say is that while Bandon might have the best foursome of links anywhere, you can't really do it on the cheap. Main-season rates at the four 18-hole courses are $210-265.

But many golf groups would rather play mostly courses that are more affordable and then finish with a bang on a more expensive standout.

St. Andrews has a literal ladder of courses from the Himalayas putting course to modest 18s like Eden and Strathtyrum. There are also varying styles of links and inland courses around Fife. The Castle Course is bound to polarize your group and sets up lively 19th hole banter.

An example in the U.S.: Two new players in this space are Big Cedar Lodge and now, with the addition of the Cradle, Pinehurst. Eight-course Crystal Springs Resort also has layouts of all sizes.

The joy of unlimited golf

Most clubs in Scotland offer "day tickets" which allow for an afternoon replay for just a little more money. It's the U.K.'s version of "unlimited golf." The St. Andrews Links Trust offers 3- and 7-day Links Tickets (£220 and £440, respectively) that afford access to each of their courses but the Old. You can book morning tee times in advance and then get space-available replays in the afternoon.

We've all been on trips where someone is jonesing for some afternoon payback. Unlimited golf packages and day tickets make it easy.

An example in the U.S.: Unlimited golf packages have really grown in popularity, especially during off-peak months (bonus points if it's not humid). The best unlimited packages are at destinations with a lot of courses to offer, like Reynolds Lake Oconee, Boyne and Sunriver, among many others.

There's something always new

It's truly a great time to be a golf traveler. Not only are brand-new golf resorts seeking to emulate the success of Bandon Dunes, but historic resorts aren't resting on their laurels either. At St. Andrews, they've embraced technology in many ways. This spring, they installed TrackMan at the practice center (free to use for anyone who buys a bucket of balls) and recently busted up the virtual monopoly of guaranteed Old Course golf packages. They've made the Old Course ballot system transparent and user-friendly.

When you're a trip leader, updates are a clear sign that ownership is totally committed to a destination and that they know they need to continue to work for your business. Developers Mike Keiser and Johnny Morris both seem keen on the idea of rolling out new courses and amenities every year. It gets golfers excited to go back. Never stop, guys.

A good walk

I don't think every golf course needs to be walking-only (and I wouldn't recommend planning a walking trip in the South in the summer), but anytime my bag gets loaded onto a cart without even asking if I want to walk, it makes me think a smidgen less of the joint. For buddies trips, walking allows for a more natural camaraderie from green-to-tee and tee-to-fairway. The exercise also makes the pints taste better afterwards, and there is less guilt ordering a big dinner.

It helps of course when it's not hot and humid, and St. Andrews' links courses are generally flat with short distances to walk between holes.

Golf is better on foot with friends.

The best walking destinations in the U.S. are those where the weather cooperates as much as the course designs. Monterey Peninsula's temperate weather and deep roster of quality layouts is certainly a leader here, along with the Pacific Northwest and historic courses in the Northeast.

A symbiotic relationship with the town

In St. Andrews, it's tough to identify where the Links Trust jurisdiction ends and private businesses begin. Finish up on the 18th green of the Old Course and it's easier to stroll into a town pub like the Dunvegan than to actually go back to the Links Clubhouse. Logo gear is in golf shops all over. There seems to be enough business to fill all the pubs and shops, in such a harmonious relationship that no one plays dirty.

It's a vibe best replicated stateside in the Village of Pinehurst, though Monterey Peninsula and Scottsdale are places where the game is so deeply-rooted it would seem the towns themselves would hardly exist without it. Meanwhile, in Canada, Cape Breton's Cabot Links is enjoying wonderful success as North America's great east-coast links destination and I can't help but feel some of that in-town links sensation there. The 18th green is lit up with a floodlight at night for those groups chasing the setting sun and there is no closer 19th hole to an 18th green in golf.

Cabot Links' 18th hole lit up at dusk.

The resort facilities are sprinkled about and lead up into the town of Inverness, most specifically the cozy new Public House pub that feels like it's been there for generations. Caddies are mostly locals who are excited that an influx of new jobs has reinvigorated this little village.

Cabot has become a darling among new destinations, but what makes it special can certainly be traced to the world's oldest.

I'm curious if there are any common denominators in the golf destinations your buddies trip visits. Let me and your fellow buddy trip captains know in the comments below!

Brandon Tucker is the Sr. Managing Editor for GolfPass and was the founding editor of Golf Advisor in 2014, he was the managing editor for Golf Channel Digital's Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and nearly 600 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at @btuck34.
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Commented on

Took my group to St Andrews for a week and Carnoustie for a week .thru Airbnb rented 4br houses in each area. There are packages for each of these venues so it is relatively cheap(compared to the US). While in Fife, I recommend playing Hill of Tarvot. This is a nine hole national trust property built in 1890s or so. Redicovered recently, for 40pounds , you can play it with hickory shafted clubs, see the estate where it is located, and have a old lemonade and a discussion with the volunteers working the course. Makes a great detour from playing every day and adds a bit of history to your trip. Cost us $2500 per man for 12 days, golf and food. Try finding a better deal in the US. Anyone wanting more info email me and I will be happy to give you some ideas on doing this. Cheers

Commented on

Hi Curt,
I would be love to hear more about the details surrounding your trip. How did you book tee times. I think everything
spins out from there. What time of year did you go? Please email me peterkearns@gmail.com.

Commented on

I have captained 7 trips to Ireland/Scotland. I have also planned trips to Pinehurst, Monterey Penunsula, Bandon Dunes and Kohler, Wisconsin. I live in Kentucky so the easiest trip is Kohler. My guys loved Kohler! The golf is fantastic and the amenities are 2nd to none. Dinner at Whistling Straits after golf was a real treat. However, there is nothing like a week in St. Andrews! We used to bus from place to place but we have found it much more enjoyable to stay and play in one place and the best place to do this is St. Andrews. No place feels as good!

Commented on

Well said Jim

Commented on

Few meandering comments....Have been to Cabot a few times. If you speak with the locals there, they are betwixt as to the development. Their taxes have sky rocketed and many who have been there their whole life can't afford to stay there.....I lead several different groups on buddy trips. One group we go to Atlantic City area and have for 25 years. About 10 great courses and we rent a house on beach in fall. Very economical. Another group we go all over. Our last trip was St Andrews. We rented a huge apartment a par 4 from 1st tee of Old and we played a who's who of great links courses. Having 9 guys in a rental vs in any hotel cuts the cost in half. We also hit Bandon and rented a place just North of resort.....That was a fabulous spot right on the cliff. 8 guys with a week at the cost of one night at the lodge....The secret to many of these places is to be independent vs their captive.

Commented on

Thanks for sharing and yes, the group rentals will definitely shed some cost in St. andrews. Interesting intel on Inverness. "Independent vs. Captive" is an interesting premise, though some resorts' rack rates off the street are prohibitive to that.

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6 elements about a St. Andrews golf trip that gives it - and destinations like it - a leg up