St Andrews: the Home of Golf

This blogpost is about a group of Leadingcourses users who went on a trip to play the most famous course of all: The Old Course in St Andrews, Fife, Scotland. In preparation of the big day they played some serious courses that are all within a stones throw of The Old Course.

Leadingcourses Evangelist Leonard van Nunen
By Leonard van Nunen.

The first day we arrived in St Andrews we parked behind the R&A and were immediately drawn to the first tee and the 18th green. It is so nice to see people from literally all over the globe fulfil their wish of playing what is probably the most famous and iconic course in the world; the Old Course in St Andrews. Immediately we started discussing what club we were going to use, even though it was 4 days before our tee time.

The R&A clubhouse behind the 1st tee

How do you book a tee time on The Old Course?

One of the most asked questions in golf is “How do I get a tee-time at the Old Course”? Well this is a simple question with a complicated answer. Basically there are 3 ways;

  1. Multiple Tour Operators offer tee-times on The Old Course. These are often combined with other courses, hotels etc. The downside is that the prices for these combined offers are high. The upside on the other hand is that your tee time is guaranteed and you will have an awesome time.
  2. The famous ballot; every player can give their name via email, phone or at the pavilion before 2PM two days before you want to play and then the same day at 4:30 PM you will hear whether you can play. More details via this link. Upside: if you are a single or two players you will probably get lucky in 1-3 days. Downside: you are not sure so you might come for nothing and bigger groups don’t have chance.
  3. The third way is the one we used and it’s called Advanced Tee-times Ballot. This is available on the Official St Andrews Links Website usually the last week of August and the first of September (in 2019 it was from 21st of August until the 4th of September). Here it is possible to plan 3 options (date wise), and you have to play at least one extra course next to the Old Course. You can reserve for an entire flight and the more flexible you are the more chance you have. You get the results at the end of October and you pay face value (£ 170 per course). The upside is that you pay the normal price, you know far ahead when you are going so you can plan your trip better. You can even change the players, just not the mail applicant. The downside is that it might take you a long time to get in. It took me 4 years before I was in, but then again, I was in the ballot alone. If you enter 4 times you should be able to play within in a year.

The town of St Andrews

What is nice about the town of St Andrews is that it oozes golf from every pore. Every pub is filled with golfers, the R&A building is there with the golf museum just across the road, every shop is a golf shop and the streets are filled with players that are either silently on their way to the first tee or joyeus and loud on their way to the Dunvegan pub after finishing on the 18th.

Crail Golfing Society (1786)

But before playing the ultimate course we decided to have a proper preparation at several courses close to St Andrews. The first one we played was Crail Golfing Society founded in 1786, pre-French revolution! They have two 18-holes courses, the oldest is the Balcomie Links and recently they added Craighead Links. Balcomie was built in 1895 (1st nine) and 1899 (2nd nine) by the famous Old Tom Morris. Craighead Links (1999) was the first design (and built) by Gil Hansen in Europe. He supposedly was on the bulldozer himself for months and the whole development cost less then 1 million pound for everything(!) I guess that the bill for Castle Stuart was a bit steeper. When we were playing Craighead a violent thunderstorm started and with a big blow of a horn we were called of the course as a torrential rain started. While we were waiting for the weather to clear I asked the manager what weather website he was checking. His reply was that they don’t check any websites. So I asked what do you do then? He said they determine the direction of the wind and start calling clubs that are up wind, as they will give them the most reliable thunderstorm information there is….Guess thats how you do it if you’re 230+ years old!

Crail Craighead

Perfect base for a trip to St Andrews

After playing Crail we went to St Andrews and had dinner in one of the more trendy restaurants. Rogue on 209 South Street, great place for steak but a bit upmarket though. From Rogue we went back to the Dunvegan for some pints with golfers from the US, who typically come over to Europe to play 13 courses in one week. Chopper up to Dornoch, and emerge themselves into the links heaven… During our trip we stayed at Drumoig Golf Hotel, which is just 20 minutes north of St Andrews. This is a really nice base for a trip like this. It has big, spacious rooms, traditional English breakfast, a bar down stairs and it costs about £ 65-90 per room. Bonus is that they have a nice, not so difficult Parkland course which is great to play after all the big guns in the area. With a green fee of £30 during the week and £40 in the weekend it has excellent price value.

Read our blogpost about Golf & Scotch around Inverness

Drumoig Golf Hotel

Kingsbarns Golf Links (2000)

The next day we got ready to play the first of the (really) big names: Kingsbarns Golf Links. This is probably one of the most famous modern courses out there. Designed by Kyle Phillips and shaped by Mick McShane this course only finished in 2000 but it looks like it’s been there for 100+ years. The holes on this course are amazing. All of them have a view on the sea, they have height differences, great maintenance and excellent service. For a more information about the course and our experience, have look at my review of Kingsbarns on leadingcourses.com.

Kingsbarns

After Kingsbarns we went back to St Andrews and spend some more time watching the players come in on the 18th and teeing off the first. Again we were debating what club to use on the big day. Within the four ball we had one driver, two 3-woods and one 4-iron, for now at least…

The Jubilee Course (1897) at St Andrews Links

The day after Kingsbarns we had a tee time on The Jubilee Course this is one of the 5 courses managed by St Andrews Links in St Andrews. The course was built in 1897 to commemorate the 60 year jubilee of queen Victoria. Initially it was intended for ladies and beginners but in 1988 this course was converted to a championship course and is probably the hardest of them all. The course is right next to The Old Course and in the beginning there are many similarities, deep pot bunkers, beautifully maintained fairways that are never really flat. One of the most beautiful holes of the Jubilee is the 8th just before the turn, at the very end of the course. The fairway of the hole lies in some sort of tub of dunes and the green is completely surrounded by a round dune, beautiful. My favourite Jubilee hole is the 15th par 4, the green of which is tucked away behind a hill on the right-hand side, fantastic!

Just to give you an idea how much of a Golf mekka St Andrews is: next to the Old Course there are The Jubilee, The New Course, The Eden Course, The Strathtyrum Course and the Balgove Course (9 holes), which are all located in the city limits. The Castle Course is just a 5 minute drive south and the most recent (2008) addition. Just to give you some figures; more than 230,000 rounds of golf are played on the seven courses each year with around 45,000 being played on the Old Course alone. That’s a whopping £ 42 million pounds in green-fees per year. What you see as a golfer is very well maintained courses, great service and a super experience.

The Old Course (1552)

Finally the big day arrived. Blue skies, some clouds and a little wind on our way to our 7:50 tee-time. Luckily the ultra well furnished driving range (located behind the Old Course Hotel and fitted with Trackman’s at every bay) was open at 7:00 o’clock. After finishing our warming up we drove to the Old Course and parked behind the Royal and Ancient clubhouse. One thing you should NOT forget is your handicap registration card, because if you can not present that to the starter you will not play!

So we got to the first tee on the right and behind there are spectators, just like we were spectators the last couple of days. The advantage is that the 1st and 18th are next to each other so you have some room to play with, the fairway(s) are about 130 yards wide so no need to worry. Still this shot was by far the most pressure I felt on a first tee-shot in my 20 odd years golfing career. Not so much the fear of hitting it Out of Bounds, but more that I did not want to have the memory of a crappy opening shot on this iconic course.

After all the debating, visualizing and dreaming, finally I decided on a hitting 3-wood. I struck it crisp and straight down the middle…. This actually is heaven!

Ps: video credits: Julien Tizot

1 COMMENT

  1. A 4th option to play The Old Course is to be present very early at the starter at the first tee. Let’s say at 6 o’clock in the morning. Have yourself placed on the daily substitute list. The starter will try to team you up when some persons don’t show up at the reserved tee-times, or when a flight is booked as a 2- or 3-ball. Most players are very co-operative and let you join them.
    Very big chance that you will play that day!

    Rene Kroondijk

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