There are times when you book something and you hope rather than expect the trip will meet your expectations. In March, instead of hoping on a plane in search of the sun, we headed north for the pilgrimage that every golfer should endeavour to do at least once in their lives and visited the Old Course at St Andrews.
There are three main ways for visitors (assuming you don’t include knowing an R&A member or qualifying to play in the Open Championship in the list) to play on the Old Course at St Andrews.
1) Pay though the nose for a guaranteed tee time, I can think of better uses of a minimum £1500 for a 2 night golf break staying at an excellent hotel admitted, and two rounds of golf, one on the Old and one on of the other excellent links trust courses.
2) The daily ballot, one of the unique things about St Andrews is that the majority of tee times on offer on the Old course are through the daily ballot. 48 hours before (i.e. Monday for the Wednesday) you can enter the ballot which is published on the Monday afternoon. During the summer months the ballot is always oversubscribed, and you will have something like a 3 in 1 chance of playing. During the winter months some days are not oversubscribed, free tee times after the ballot has been made are available to be booked but you have to be fast to get one of these.
3) The third and less publicised way than the other two is a ballot that takes place in mid-September each year. For two weeks the ballot is open for a number of tee times each day throughout the year. This ballot is open to groups up to a maximum of 8 golfers and you have to play an additional round at one of the St Andrews links courses. Once the draw has been made payment has to be made within the required time, the only drawback is that the ballot is entered with specific names and each player must have an official handicap and a certificate has to be shown to the 1st tee starter. Everybody who plays the Old course has to have an official handicap certificate and its one of the few who will stick to it.
The September Ballot allows you to arrange a golf holiday around your Old Course booking with the knowledge that you will be playing on those hallowed turf on a certain day. We came out with a date in late March, June was our original preferred date but after having a wonderful set of new waterproofs I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to test them to the full.
We had a four night Schedule starting off in North Berwick in East Lothian and conveniently close to Edinburgh, staying at the Macdonald Marine Hotel and overlooking the North Berwick links. A stern test of golf at any time of the year and a host to many Open final qualifying rounds when the Championship is held at nearby Muirfield Golf Club a couple of miles away in the next village of Gullane.
As an alternative to golf at North Berwick a round at one of Gullane’s three courses is also a great option, this year’s Scottish Open is being played over a composite course of No 1 and 2. Tee times at Muirfield GC are harder to find than hen’s teeth being only available on a Tuesday and Thursday for visitors and then only a few of those each day.
After North Berwick our next destination was Carnoustie, one of the toughest of all Open Championship courses, having hosted 7 Open’s, 1 Ladies Open and 1 Senior’s Open as well as plenty of top amateur events including this year’s amateur championships . Tight fairways, bunkers from hell and undulating greens make this course tough on a calm day and epically impossible when the wind is up. We only had an “interesting” breeze when we played but glorious sunshine. With 9 of the first 11 holes playing into the wind it had me waving the white flag at an early point of the round before rallying well. With a leisurely lunch in the Carnoustie Golf Club (one of the 10 oldest golf clubs in the world) clubhouse which gave an extremely friendly welcome and had the most interesting collection of Open memorabilia on the walls as well as being great value for money compared to the hotel behind the 18th green.
Again there are multiple courses comprising the Carnoustie links, the Open Championship course together with the excellent Buddon and Burnside courses makes this a golf holiday on its own. The Championship course hosts the Open again in 2018 and the Senior’s Open in 2016. Other good courses close by and worth visiting are Panmure Golf Club and Montrose Links.
We then enjoyed the 40 minute drive from Carnoustie to St Andrews still in gloriously sunny weather. We stayed in St Andrews at the Macdonald Rusacks Hotel which overlooks the 18th fairway of the Old Course, one of the top hotels in the town. For fans of BBC’s Professional Masterchef 2015 winner, Jamie Scott has his two rosette restaurant Rocca at the Hotel. The only thing in our opinion that stops this being a five star hotel is probably the physical size of some of the rooms (not the décor or room facilities), everything else is superb. We especially loved the R Bar at the Rusacks, it provided a perfect spot to watch the 18th fairway through its panoramic windows in the warm for a couple of hours sipping some excellent Darjeeling tea.
Find out about the Rocca Restaurant at MacDonald Rusacks hotel St Andrews
St Andrews splits into two half’s. On one side you have the golf and many of the tourists in the town are here for that, the other half is the University town. With all the students around means the pub prices are reasonable as are many of the restaurants in town, good to know if you are on a budget.
I have to admit to being quite star struck in St Andrews, I have visited there before but never played and with seven courses in the town and a few more a mile or two out of town it is a links golfers haven, this is before you get to the history of the place, the iconic skyline of the 1st and 18th hole of the Old course, the fact that you have to carry your bag or have a caddy gives it a unique feel.
On our first full day in St Andrews we played the New Course, only a 120 years old but as far as golf in St Andrews goes its new. Super course and not as tight as I expected however the first 4 or 5 holes run alongside the adjacent holes of the Old course and you find yourself looking at that rather than concentrating on the course you were playing. By the end of the round I had enjoyed the new course in its own right. That evening we did what every golfer visiting St Andrews has to do! Visit the Jigger Inn by the famous 17th green, the infamous “road hole”. Although it has become part of St Andrews folk law it’s only been a pub since the 1970’s but the place has a sense of history with some great photos of past champions adorning the walls and the Jigger Ale is a very quaffable beer for real ale fans.
Day 2 at St Andrews and the decision of a few whiskies in the Key’s Bar in the town centre the previous evening may have caused problem if it was not for a very respectable 11:30 tee time on the Old course. An extremely leisurely breakfast overlooking the 1st and 18th fairways made the morning go pretty quickly and before we knew it we were strolling over to the starters hut for probably the most nervous tee shot of my life. We need not have worried, two tracer bullet drives were fired down the middle of the fairway and we strolled down the 1st. The Old course is not the hardest links course you will ever play as long as you a) keep out of the fairway bunkers and b) don’t leave yourselves 70 yard putts (something I failed to do on a few occasions) but the condition of the course even in March was spectacular to say the least. You are also helped by the local course rangers who make sure you keep up with play but also let you know the correct line to hit on a few of the blind tee shots, very helpful and needed on probably the busiest golf course in the world.
It’s probably the only course I will ever play for the first time knowing the holes and what’s coming next. All too quickly we found ourselves on the 17th tee, bottled the tiger line and found myself on the rough on the left, still with miles to the green a five was a realistic score so was delighted to have a chance of Par with a snaking 10ft putt (missed).
Standing on the tee of the 18th I wanted to go round again, despite the fact the back nine playing into a stiff breeze and it was freezing, however the best was still to come my approach to the famous last green was straight down the pin and after a quick look at the cup it finished only a few feet from the hole. 5 foot for birdie with a slight left to right break, what 150 professional golfers would give for that in the middle of July this year and unlike the 17th it was in all the way. A great finish to probably our most memorable game of golf, truly wonderful.
If you would like us to arrange your St Andrews golf holiday please give us a call and we can help you organise what is every golfers dream holiday. There is a huge range of golf courses on the east coast of Scotland that will suite every level of golfer and budget. Green fees at the Old Course in the summer are currently £175 per player which is one of the cheapest of the Open Championship courses in the UK, play during the winter and the price drops to £80 and if you’re as lucky as we were played in perfect conditions.
If you are interested in a Scotland golf tour please contact the Quality Golf Destinations email us on firstname.lastname@example.org