Scotland golf: How to play the Old Course at St. Andrews

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If you've ever put a tee in the ground, you've no doubt thought about what it would be like to play a round in the birthplace of golf: St. Andrews, Scotland.

A common misconception of the famed Old Course at St. Andrews is that it's an exclusive, private club like Augusta National. That couldn't be further from the truth.

While it's true that green fees at St. Andrews -- and all of Scotland -- have skyrocketed over the past 30 years, the Old Course is open to the public on most days. For a round, it costs about the same as your normal PGA Tour venue open to the public. Depending on the exchange rate, the 2018 green fee to play the Old Course is 180 pounds, which is about $250.

So how can I make a tee time on the Old Course at St. Andrews?

There are numerous ways to play the Old Course that vary in convenience and price.

The easiest option -- and most expensive -- is to book a golf package with a guaranteed tee time. While the packages used to be almost solely provided by the Old Course Experience, the Links Trust has since spread out the times to about 90 local providers, from golf packagers to local hotels and B&Bs. One new nugget for 2018, the Links Trust has partnered with ReCounter, a photography service that will photograph groups on a guaranteed time on the 1st, 17th and 18th holes and provide those groups with a code to view, share and download their images.

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The smarter way to get a guaranteed tee time at the posted green fee rate for that season is to write or email the St. Andrews Links Trust (www.StAndrews.org.uk). Each fall, the Trust holds an open period to accept group-booking requests. The more golfers you have in your group, the tougher it will be to accommodate everyone, but this is a surefire way for smaller groups that can commit to a date well in advance. Tour operators can help you submit these requests if you'd like to use one for your trip.

But you don't have to plan well in advance -- or shell out more money as part of a golf package -- if you're willing to gamble a little. The Old Course holds a tee-sheet ballot every day the course is open to the public, and golfers (minimum of two) can enter the drawing, which is announced two days prior to play (so Wednesday tee times are announced Monday afternoon). Now, if you have a group of more than four, be prepared to split up or risk some of you not getting a time. You can enter the ballot at the Links Trust website. Results are posted at 4:30 p.m. every day.

So if you stay three or four days in St. Andrews, plan on entering the lottery for every day you are there, but book some "safety" tee times at nearby courses. These clubs know about the Old's ballot policy, and just about all of them are happy to give you a rain check should you earn a ballot spot the day you're supposed to play their course (just mention your plans to do so when booking with the course). Many clubs now offer online tee times as well so you can make last-minute arrangements.

The last option, if all else fails or if you're a single, is to walk on. You'll want to head to the starter's shed at the crack of dawn and give your name to the starter, who will put you on the list and pair you with any incomplete groups. Keep your fingers crossed for no-shows. Golf Channel's Will Gray successfully attempted this method and wrote a detailed column on the experience, along with additional details about the wait list.

The Unlimited Golf ticket at St. Andrews

This is a game changer for St. Andrews golfers. Recently, the Links Trust began selling an "unlimited golf" ticket for three (£220) and seven (£440) days. Good for each of the courses except the Old, you can set up tee times in advance for your morning round at any course and then have space-available replays in the afternoon. This is especially ideal for those willing to enter the Old Course Lottery during their stay in St. Andrews.

A few other logistical notes about the Old Course at St. Andrews

You will need a handicap certificate to play the Old Course. So be sure to register for one with the USGA or your local club in advance of your trip. Maximum allowed handicaps are 24 for men and 36 for women.

The Old Course closes for golf and turns into a public park every Sunday with the exception of days it hosts a tournament like the Dunhill Links or Open Championship. So even if you don't have the money to play the course or couldn't score a tee time in the ballot, you can still walk the entire golf course. Heck, bring a Frisbee, a picnic or a dog along.

The golf course is open year-round (weather permitting), but golf in the winter months requires the use of mats in the fairways in order to protect the turf.

While the Old Course Hotel comes into play on the famous Road Hole, it's not the "official" hotel of the Old Course and its access to tee times isn't much better than any other hotel in town. When Herb Kohler bought the hotel, he also bought the Duke's Course about a mile outside of town. It's a scenic and challenging heathland course that offers wonderful views of the town skyline (not to mention golf carts).

Great golf throughout St. Andrews and Fife

It sounds sacrilegious to say it, but your group could play a week of golf around St. Andrews without playing the Old Course and it would still be arguably one of the best itineraries in Scotland. Seven miles east of town, the spectacular and modern Kingsbarns Golf Links is a top-10 course worldwide. There are five other courses in the town operated by the Links Trust besides the Old Course, the best being the New Course and Jubilee Course, both true links playing on the same soil as the Old.

Other more classic links include Crail's Balcomie Links, located to the east. Modern courses lack the history but dazzle with views like the Fairmont St. Andrews Torrance Course and Kittocks Course. The Castle Course is one of the newest golf courses in Scotland and features the best vantage point of the town skyline to go with a rugged David McLay Kidd design atop bluffs.

Expand your radius a little more and you're just an hour from Gleneagles and East Lothian's storied must-plays links like North Berwick, Muirfield and Gullane.

Tickets to The 150th Open in St. Andrews

The R&A has announced that for the first time ever, general admission tickets for the 150th Open in St. Andrews will be awarded via ballot. The ballot is open from July 1 thru October 4th. In order to be eligble for the ballot, you must be a member of the The Open's One Club, which is free to join. Those accepted in the ballot will be notified in late-October/Early November. Sign up for The One Club and enter the ballot here.

8 Min Read
July 13, 2018
St. Andrews is one of the most coveted golf destinations in the world, but it can be enjoyed on a budget, too. Brandon Tucker offers value tips to the Home of Golf.

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.
23 Comments
Commented on

Is anyone know when is the best time to plan a golf trip to Scotland? and have a bester chance to play the Old course? Man 24 HCP is just around my HCP cut line.
Thanks.

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Hi!!! I'll be in Scotland from 1st to 17th of april 2020. Is it a good time to show up as a single golfer without a tee time? Any advice on wich day of tve week is better to do that?

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Will be in St Andrew area with my family. Wife and two adult sons. Dates Sept 16/17th. Possible four spots but would look at any spots available. We are coming off river cruise so have to rent clubs.

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Looking to play Old Course on August
26 or 27th, planning to try as a single but throwing out possibility of joining someone or finding another single wanting to join in the ballot since you have to have minimum 2 players

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We have 4 coming over to play 1 round there before playong Carnoustie and then heading to Ireland. Do we have to stay at St Andrews facility to make a tee time? Also can we even book a foursome for 1 round in advance?

Staff
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Your best bet in getting the guaranteed foursome is writing the trust during the application window in the fall. It'll be harder to get a foursome in the ballot but possible. You don't need local accommodations, but many local accommodations do have some guaranteed tee times to sell, so it may be worth your while.

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Does the old course rent clubs

Staff
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Yes you can rent clubs from any of the Links Trust clubhouses for 35 pounds/round 45/day

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Does it help to have a PGA professional with you?

Staff
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For preferential booking? Not that I'm aware of.

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We will be on the Princess Cruise ship to the British Isles and in Edinburgh on July 24th 2020. since our port stop is only for 12 hours what would be the best way to get a tee time for the Old course since our dates are not flexible? This golf destination is on his bucket list so really trying to work this out for him. I understand if we book in advance we have to play 2 rounds paid in advance but is it possible to play 2 rounds back to back during that time period? Does it have to be the same person’s name on the reservation? What is the best way to get there from the cruise terminal? Thanks so much!

Bill Irwin staff
Staff
Commented on

Janis,
Hi. This is going to be hard to pull off. For starters, July is the month of the Open Championship; no matter where it is, demand to play The Old Course is at its highest. Also, many dates in July are “busy dates” and as such have restricted play or possibly even no play. Those dates for 2020 won’t be posted until sometime in July of this year. Second, all applications for advance tee times on the Old Course must be submitted on-line sometime between midi August and mid-September. Check standrews.com for updates and specific policy instructions. Note that a handicap certificate is required.

While it is possible to meet the 2-round requirement by doing both rounds on the same day, the other big limitation will be the distance of the port in Edinburgh from St. Andrews. I just called the St. Andrews booking line and was told it’s a 1.5 hour drive from Edinburgh to St. Andrews. So, your plan might be feasible, but it will be tough to pull off and you’ll need a lot of luck. Your application will have to be selected as a winner in the on-line lottery.

Otherwise, as a single he can show up on that day and the starter will try to get him on, but other people will have been queueing up in the wee hours for such a chance.
The only other option is to try to get on through an Authorized Provider. You’ll have to google to find them, but they are golf package providers. You should talk to a St. Andrews rep to get their advice. Call 011-44-1334-466718. I hope that helps.

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Has the price gone up that much? I got a twosome when I asked the caddy master after flying in from Finland and it was 85 pounds a person. What a glorious day. Got to play the other courses of St Andrews on a 75 pound all you can play 5 day deal. Wow

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How does the Castle Course compare with these others?

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Scotland golf: How to play the Old Course at St. Andrews